Thanksgiving Interfaith Service – Great Idea!

Thanksgiving, historically, was not a religious celebration. Rather, it was a harvest meal in the early days of the Plymouth Colony recognizing a bountiful harvest that would stave off a repeat of the famine that originally decimated the colony.  Thanksgiving has grown into a secular holiday in our country as seen by recognizing our bounty with huge feasts, football, shopping, and gatherings of family and friends.  There is much to be thankful for in our country, but it is also appropriate to recognize Thanksgiving in a joint faith community manner.

In what has become an annual tradition in Anchorage, the Interfaith Council of Anchorage, in conjunction with First Christian Church, will hold a Thanksgiving Eve service. Local faith communities will gather to give thanks and provide the music and messages in a spiritually uplifting venue. The program will begin with a drum circle, and there will be drums available for those who want to participate. Featuring short readings, brief messages, reflections, and music from an interfaith choir, the program will focus on celebrating joy, thanksgiving, and our strength as a community, with all of our shared traditions as well as our wonderful differences.

This year the service will be held at First Christian Church, 3031 LaTouche St., Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 7 p.m.

At the conclusion of the service, a reception will be held with savory and sweet finger food being served.

Thank you Interfaith Council of Anchorage for keeping this tradition alive. At a time when few local churches recognize the strengths and joy of true Thanksgiving, it great to know the interfaith community is making a difference.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Evensong Blessing on the Feast of All Saints

Gavin Duncan, All Saints Episcopal Church’s organist, was playing Bach’s Fantasia in G Major as I entered their beautiful sanctuary on November 1. The church was respectfully quiet with a sparse collection of worshipers present who were awaiting the service. The purpose of my visit was to attend their Evensong service for the Feast of All Saints. As I entered, a greeter handed me a beautifully printed, colored, special 10-page order of service for the evening, which included all of the readings and music used in the service. (see attached pdf)

If you are unfamiliar with Evensong services the Episcopal Church describes them in this way. “Since the late middle ages “evensong” has been the popular name for vespers (from the Latin vesperis, “evening”), the Evening Office of the western church. Cranmer used it in the 1549 BCP. Although in 1552 he replaced it with “Evening Prayer,” the common name remains “evensong.” In many Anglican cathedrals and other large churches, especially in England, evensong is sung by clergy and choir as a choral liturgy.” (see https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/glossary/evensong)

The order of service noted “the Feast of All Saints or the Solemnity of All Saints, is an ancient Christian festival celebrated in honor of all the saints, known and unknown. This day is celebrated with the firm belief that there is a powerful spiritual bond between those in heaven — the Church triumphant — and the living — the Church militant.”

This was a strongly participative service with choral, spoken word, congregational singing, and prayer. Mr. Duncan directed the choir from the organ, as he played, no small feat. Greg MacDonald, worship leader, led the congregation in singing and responsive readings. Rector David Terwilliger delivered a brief homily.

I don’t know how you do church, but found this evening to be a blessing, filled with thoughts of friends here, and those departed.  Having recently experienced the loss of a loved one, I was deeply moved by this entire service.  I encourage this fine congregation to continue this wonderful tradition. I’ll be most happy to spread the word in advance. Thank you All Saints people!

All Saints Evensong program

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

500th Anniversary of Luther Nailing 95 Theses to Church Door in Wittenburg is Today

On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar in Wittenburg, Saxony nailed 95 Theses, or arguments, against the sale of indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. Indulgences were being sold in the area. The purchase of indulgences essentially granted sinners forgiveness of sins, freeing them from purgatory. Luther pressed the argument that salvation is free to all as a result of the sacrifice of Christ.

Luther’s action, influenced by reformers John Wycliff and Jan Hus, created a Reformation movement that rapidly spread across Europe. This gave rise to Protestants, or those who protested against certain practices of the Catholic church.  Luther wanted to reform the church, but created a separate religion, Lutheranism, when he found that to be impossible. Many other reformers rose up after this period, creating other main religions of today.

Luther’s movement and others in the reformation emphasized the key essentials of Christianity: faith alone (soia fides), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus).

Luther from painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Modern Protestantism is deeply in debt to the early church, Catholic and Orthodox, especially with regard to the teaching and writings of early church fathers which helped to develop the essential doctrines most Christian religions observe today.  It’s all too easy to be impelled to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Luther first wanted to reform the Catholic church, but when that became impossible, he created a purer religion than was being observed at the time.

A modern day heresy, the prosperity gospel, is being called out for the error that it is by too few. In my opinion, it is just as dangerous as the sale of indulgences was during the time of the reformers.

My heart was warmed by the joint service between Catholics and Lutherans last Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral.  I’m planning to share some of the aspects of that service in an upcoming column.  The main takeaway was that Christians need to emphasize their unity rather than where they disagree.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

 

Catholics and Lutherans Commemorate 500th Year of the Reformation This Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral

Too often, denominations fiercely defend their theological differences rather than celebrate their agreement regarding items of faith.  This coming Sunday, October 29, Archbishop Etienne of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, and Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) will come together to preach at a service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the reformation.  They will be using a liturgy first used under the leadership of Pope Francis and Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Martin Junge in Sweden last October. In so doing, they will be join others around the world in sharing in this commemoration.

This special service will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe co-cathedral on Wisconsin Street, Sunday, October 29 at 2 p.m.

Last year the Vatican released a statement regarding these special worldwide commemoration services. “In 2017, Lutheran and Catholic Christians will commemorate together the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect. They have come to acknowledge that more unites than divides them: above all, common faith in the Triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ, as well as recognition of the basic truths of the doctrine of justification.” Source — http://www.vatican.va/

In commenting about the Lutheran perspective on this service, Bishop Shelley Wickstrom said, “Our shared commemoration reflects a deepening conviction that because of Christ, what unites us is stronger than what divides us.  The liturgy we use in this commemoration is one being used around the world by Roman Catholics and Lutherans and first used by Pope Francis and members of the Lutheran World Federation in Oslo. It includes statements of how we have not been charitable to each other.  There are Lutherans who grew up hearing they should not date Catholics (or Norwegians, Swedes,…) The same is true for Catholics in regard to Protestants.”  (I’m sure many of us can recall hearing similar statements as this. Growing up Protestant, I heard them in my home.)
“This shared commemoration”, continued Bishop Shelley, “also acknowledges the differences that remain between our two traditions. My prayer is that our common prayer and confession will open hearts and minds to what God would have us do in Christ’s name for the sake of the future God prefers for us all.”
Following the service, a reception will be held in the adjoining Lunney Center.
I wonder, if there were more commemorations like this, whether some of the divisiveness so prevalent in our current society might be ameliorated. I look forward to attending this special service.
Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Silence Service: What, in a church?

Few churches in our fair municipality offer any form of silence, or meditative quiet. In many of our local churches, the noise levels before and during services exceed 100 db, which, in my opinion, detracts from the purpose of one being in a church.  Most church services are called worship services because they are ostensibly for worshiping our God and Creator. Personally I don’t believe God confusion in place of worship

During my world travels, I’ve experienced many churches where silence and reflection are valued qualities. In Mexico, for example, no matter how much busyness and noise is outside the church, it’s usually peaceful and quiet within, with people of all ages coming in to pray and meditate.  In this town, most churches are closed outside of worship hours due to vandalism, disrespect, and dare I suggest, lack of interest.

With joy I discovered St. Mary’s Episcopal Church has begun offering an Evening of Silence at their lovely sanctuary at Tudor and Lake Otis.  Organized by member Heidi Marlowe, a lay monastic, it was initially announced to parishioners by internal church media, and word of mouth. Their first Evening of Silence was held this past Thursday evening, 6:30-7:30 pm.  The church was dimly lit, except for service candles, and attendees were given a printed vesper booklet to use as they saw fit for their time there.

Ms. Marlowe prepared the booklet using the Liturgical Press ‘Shorter Breviary’ based on the Rule of Benedict. It uses a two-week Psalm cycle, which Marlowe also conformed to the Book of Common Prayer. Her booklet, titled “A Vespers Office for a Thursday”, starts with a prayer, and includes an Ambrosian Hymn, Psalmody using three Psalms (with Antiphons), a short NT Reading and Responsory, the Magnificat, a Litany, the Lord’s Prayer, the Kyrie, a Concluding Prayer, and the Final Blessing.  Most of those present, but not all, used the booklet. (see link to booklet at bottom)

The time was truly one of silence, reflection, meditation, and prayer.  I was reminded of Christ’s words, “My house shall be called a house of prayer…”.

Michael Burke, rector of St Mary’s, responding to my question about his impressions about the Evening of Silence said, “Given everything going on in the world right now, silence is probably the most counter cultural thing a person could do.” He also shared the Francois Fenelon quote, “There is also a modification of prayer, which may be termed the prayer of silence. This is a prayer too deep for words. The common form of silent prayer is voluntary. In the prayer of contemplative silence, the lips seem to be closed almost against the will.”

It was a time of refreshing for me, long overdue in my fast-paced, noisy existence. I’m looking forward to the next “Evening of Silence” at St. Mary’s and will announce it in these pages. Thank you St. Mary’s community.

Evening of Silence Vespers 2017.10.19  Vespers Booklet

Beer and Hymns – Fun and Successful!!!

Pastor Dan Bollerud leading and Jamie Berge playing piano at Beer and Hymns

Last Sunday night featured fellowship, conversation, tasty food, and wonderful hymn singing. Oh, and the best part, over $11,000 was raised in two hours by this cheerful crowd of Christians from multiple churches and denominations.  The proceeds of the fundraising went to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) whose executive director, Alan Budahl, made the round of tables with an iPad collecting donations of those present.  Alan mentioned how great the need was at this time and how helpful these contributions were in meeting that need.

It was a capacity crowd in Mo’s O’Brady’s restaurant. Empty seats were in short supply as the evening progressed. Pastor Dan Bollerud led the singing using a new song-sheet compilation of hymns old and new.  Jamie kept up the tempo at the piano, while John filled in with guitar and harmonica.  I feel like a broken record when I say it just keeps getting better and better, but it’s true. Trust me, you won’t hear hymn singing like this in most churches.

Pastor Dan told me the next Beer and Hymns will likely be in the spring, and many of us can’t wait. While many local evangelicals concentrate on getting people saved and baptized, our friends the Lutherans fill our community with love, grace, and a social gospel which reaches out to the poor and those in hunger. Thank you Lutherans for this expression of love for the Other.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits.com

2017 Wieland Hunger Print Now Available!

“Lord of the Dance” 2017 Hunger Print

There are a number of exciting projects individual churches or their members sponsor. Last year, I was excited to discover the Hunger prints by Marianne Wieland, local Alaskan artist. Now in its 38th year, it has provided approximately $300,000 to help combat world hunger.

My ADN column on this project is at http://www.churchvisits.com/2016/09/for-nearly-40-years-an-anchorage-artist-with-the-help-of-her-church-has-used-her-work-to-fight-world-hunger/. Each year Marianne donates art materials, her studio’s equipment, while her volunteers, working under her direction, donate their time to help her produce copies of this limited edition print.

Marianne shared her inspiration for this years’ print. “Pastor Mark began the inspiration with the comment that in the village, there was nothing more enjoyed than to have song and dance in the worship service,” she said. “Development of the image began with the soapstone carving of a native dancer presented to me by Bishop Shelly at the Wasilla Council meeting last year,” she continued, noting “The title came when Jan Whitefield sang Lord of the Dance at our Christmas service.” Wieland gave appropriate production credit to her team by identifying them as “dedicated and talented volunteers: Margie Paulson, Linda Bender, Marilyn Martinson, JoAnne Mueller and Karen Voris.”

“The print, Lord Of the Dance, is offered with the hope,” artist Wieland concludes, “that it will bring to the viewer the joyful spirit of the village Christians.”

Inspiration for 2017 Hunger Print

Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod of the ELCA, offering additional background on the soapstone carving that provided Marianne’s inspiration of this years’ print, said “The synod gives a soapstone carving by Eric Tepton III to our honorees and keynote presenters.  In delightful serendipity, this soapstone dancer has the pose that Marianne used in a print “Women of Joy” that she made for the Alaska Synodical Women’s Organization in the 90’s.”

 

The 2017 hunger print is limited to approximately 250 individually signed and numbered prints. Each print comes shrink-wrapped on mat board and makes an ideal gift. You may order your print directly from Gloria Dei Lutheran using the attached order form.  The beauty of this project is that 100% of the price of the print goes directly to address world hunger. 2017 Hunger Print Order Form

Thank you for your vision and hard work Marianne!  It’s an inspiration to me and many others.

Ready to Sing Hymns? Beer and Hymns Coming on Sunday – 10/8/17

One of my favorite events, Beer and Hymns, is coming back, this Sunday, October 8. It benefits Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA). It’s held at Mo’s O’Brady’s Restaurant in the Carr’s Huffman Business Plaza. Google Map  Things get rolling promptly at 6 p.m. so be sure to arrive early to grab a table and seat; they go fast!

Pastor Dan Bollerud, retired pastor of Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, leads the singing with his marvelous baritone voice. Jamie Berge, pianist extraordinaire, will tickle the ivories in a delightful manner. I hear John Klapproth will play along with guitar & harmonica. Attendees choose from over 60 hymns in a special hymnbook. It’s all about requests!

Lutheran Social Services of Alaska provides a variety of services to Alaska families including a local food pantry. Alan Budahl, LSSA executive director will be on hand to answer questions regarding their activities, and accept your donation. No fees charged for this wonderful event, and attendees end up donating a respectable sum of money between 6 and 8 p.m. Recent Beer and Hymns events have seen $7,000-$10,000 donated during this brief time.  I find it very interesting how singing praises opens the purse strings.  Meeting new friends and greeting old friends is a key part of the charm of this worthy get-together.

Pastor Dan usually asks for a roll call of the various churches represented. I’m continue to be amazed by the great diversity of faiths there. It’s common to hear Catholic, Episcopal, Pentecostal, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, to name a few, chiming in to register their faith community.

If your heart needs an uplift, I urge you give this event a try. A few people are put off by the juxtaposition of beer and hymns., Martin Luther is famously quoted as saying, “It is better to think of church in the ale-house than to think of the ale-house in church.”  Mo also has plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, and O’Brady’s tasty dinner entrees.  I’ll be there and would love to meet you if you choose to come.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

 

 

Greater Friendship Baptist – Warm & Welcoming

Greater Friendship Baptist Church – East Side View

I visited Greater Friendship Baptist Church twice in September (see greaterfriendshipbaptist.org/). This church is not hard to find in its Fairview location at 13th & Ingra. Each time, I was warmly greeted by a number of individuals upon arrival. The first time I was escorted to a pew on the side which offered a view. Several times before the start of their 11 a.m. service, members came up to me, greeting me again and extending my welcome. This is an uncommon experience in most of my church visits. Mostly I get a bulletin and greeting upon entering, and the customary “meet n’ greet” where often true guests are avoided like the plague.

Greater Friendship’s website offers important clues as to their affiliation. “Greater Friendship Baptist Church was founded in the year of our Lord, 1951, thus becoming the first Black church in the state of Alaska. In addition, Greater Friendship Baptist Church was the first Black church in America to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention.”  I was deeply impressed about their status and I’m glad I had an opportunity to experience these worship services.

Their pastor, Michael Bunton, previously served at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, a church destination I’m fond of visiting for their friendliness to guests and each other. Pastor Bunton and his wife, Natalie, who is known as the First Lady, is the 13th pastor of Greater Friendship. First Lady Bunton is heavily involved in their ministry as deaconess, directing their media ministry, choir director, Bible study teacher for elementary and middle school children, and in their women’s ministry.

My latest visit last Sunday, found the church a bit noisier than I remembered from my first visit. It was raucous with loud conversations, laughing, and noise I don’t associate with the commencement of a worship service. When I hear this much noise, I whip out my sound meter to measure the sound level; it was 100 db, equivalent to the sound of a power mower, power drill, blow dryer, subway, helicopter or chainsaw. My point is that’s a marked contrast to the start of a worship service. In fact, Pastor Bunton was going to be talking that day about “A New Approach to Worship”.

At my first visit, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to their choir. Yesterday the choir did not sing. I asked an associate I recognized from the choir why they were not singing. She said they are periodically encouraged to participate in the service from the member pews, which I think is a great idea. For those churches with choirs, I believe few members understand what a significant time involvement and dedication is involved with choir participation. That said, I love the choir’s contribution at this church. Prerecorded music was played during the various parts of the service yesterday, while the choir sang and a small ensemble played at the previous service I attended.

The services tend to follow a “call and response” form of worship, usually led by the pastor. “Can I hear a witness?” or “Give the Lord some praise!” us usually a prelude to a vigorous applause. This is a major theme during all aspects of the service.  The pastor was led in to the platform by a young girl usher. He started the service by leading the singing the old Baptist hymn, “We Have Come Into His House”.  It was a great prelude to his sermon on worship. The youth function as ushers in this church and were ushering people in, handing out fans, and offering tissues to the congregation.

Scripture and prayer was delivered by a woman member who wiped her eyes first because of the emotional beauty of the song just sung. I’ve rarely heard a more sincere and heartfelt prayer, in any of my local church visits, than what she prayed. She was clearly connected to her God.

Like the previous visit, there was a baptism. Baptists practice full immersion water baptism and children and members of the families of those being baptized were invited forward to the platform to witness the baptism. Nine individuals were baptized yesterday by pastor Bunton. Believe it or not, but the early church practiced full immersion baptism until 1311 when the Roman church changed from immersion to pouring.

After the baptism, people were asked to stand and identify themselves if they were visiting. A packet of information about the church was given to each of them. Personally, I think this practice keeps many people from 2nd visits, but it must work for Greater Friendship; it seems to be part of their church DNA.  A  “meet n’ greet” time was then announced, governed by a countdown clock on the monitors, roughly about five minutes. I was warmly greeted by many, although some of those heartfelt crunches were painful for my arthritic thumbs. (Next time I’ll wear a sturdy hand brace.) 

Meet n’ Greet Time – Greater Friendship Baptist

While the offering was taken up, the congregation began to spontaneously sing the traditional gospel song, “I Know it Was the Blood” which in nine verses describes the crucifixion. The pastor joined in with a call and response form of singing. (see lyrics below)

Another prayer was offered at this time, by another woman. It was a spirit-filled prayer that one rarely hears prayed in church services anymore. It was followed by the song “The Battle is not Yours”, sung by a woman who sang sincerely and wonderfully. There is so much talent in this church.

Pastor Bunton Singing – Greater Friendship Baptist

By this time, an hour had passed and it was time for the pastor to speak.  Bunton restated he’d be doing a series on worship, and yesterday’s installment was “What’s Stopping You from Worshiping God?”.  Beginning with Hebrews 10:25, he continued on to pose some key questions about things stopping congregants from worshiping God. He mentioned:

  • don’t feel like it because we’re fearful
  • we’re embarrassed
  • we feel condemnation
  • we feel a lack of worthiness

I enjoy Bunton’s method and style of preaching.  He’s a good speaker and has an easy to follow outline for his thoughts. The monitors display his points, and Bible references to them.  He’s very direct, telling it like it is and does not soften the blows.  He is an encouraging pastor helping his congregation to live a more Christian life, and to grow in the knowledge of the word.  They are putting their youth front and center in Christian service.  He said the solution to many of the problems in their neighborhood was not criticizing the youth, pimps, prostitutes, and addicts, but getting them into the church house and into the Word of God.

You can watch the entire 2-hour service through their Facebook link. Apparently they do not feed the audio from the sound system into the live video so it is incredibly difficult to follow as the microphone must be located in the back of the church. I hope they fix this soon, as I find the feed distracting from and otherwise worthy church service.

Bunton ended each service with an altar call, which ultimately included more than half the church. He mentioned that several people he’d hoped would come up didn’t. I heard Rev Patterson of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church use the same remark at my last visit there.  It’s one of the things that makes me personally leery of altar calls. They come across as being somewhat manipulative.  That’s a hallmark of Southern Baptists and many other evangelical religions.

Overall, I really enjoyed my second visit to this fine, growing church.  I felt more welcomed and accepted there than I do in many of my church visits locally.  They enjoy their music and so do I. If you are ready for a spiritual vitamin B-12 shot, I recommend a visit to this church !

I Know It Was The Blood lyrics

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com
www.churchvisits.com

 

Church Signs Tell Strong Stories…Or Do They? Part 1

I’ve written about church signage in Anchorage several times over the years. When I was being published in the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage Daily News), I was unable to get my photos of church signs included with my columns. I’ve decided to regularly give examples of great signs and those needing improvement. Signs are needed to identify your church, service times, and hopefully your website where more information about the church can be found. They should be readable when passing at the posted speed limit for that roadway. It is not necessary to put the name of the pastor on church signs, a vanity sign of bygone days.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral – Wisconsin Sign

I enjoy visiting Catholic services and find them of value to people of that faith and others. Many Catholics and Catholic clergy are close personal friends of mine. While the sign in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an improvement from the previous sign, it still cannot be read by someone driving by at the posted speed limit. It’s unfortunate it’s not posted perpendicular to their beautiful cathedral. It also contains too much information to digest. This information should be available by referring to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s website, the address of which is missing from the sign.

Faith Christian Community – Wisconsin Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two blocks south of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Faith Christian Community’s sign is simple, can easily be read on both sides while passing at the posted speed limit. It contains worship times and the church website address. I’m always amazed how efficiently and inexpensively this church has used the same sign for dozens of years to great effect.

Cornerstone Church – Seward Highway (Brayton Drive entrance)

For many years, Cornerstone Church has prominently displayed their sign along Brayton Drive and the Seward Highway. Easily viewed when passing at 65 mph, their signage is often changed as the seasons dictate, e.g. Easter, Christmas, etc. What a cost-effective and efficient way to communicate their presence, website, and service times to travelers on a busy thoroughfare.

Churches need not dedicate tremendous sums of money to have effective signage.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com