Category Archives: ADN Blog

Advent Music Here

Too many churches fail to recognize Advent by jumping into Christmas right after Thanksgiving and continuing the pattern of Advent and Christmas carols until New Year’s celebrations. Anchorage’s local classical music station KLEF-FM, 98.1, presents a wonderful sacred music program Sundays, from 6 – 9 a.m.  Host Jon Sharpe always seems to find sacred music for every mood and taste.

During Advent, Jon’s focusing on Sacred Advent and Christmas music. For 15 years he’s been producing a program on KLEF-FM 98.1 called “Sacred Concert”.  It airs every Sunday morning from 6 to 9.

His remaining December lineup includes:

European Advent and Christmas music will be featured on December 4.

Early American Advent and Christmas music will be featured on December 11.

An English Christmas Celebration will be featured December 18.

Christmas Day, “Christmas in New York”, is the special feature.

KLEF’s website is at They also provide an internet streaming experience over the internet. ( If you are outside of Alaska, remember the time zone differences from your locality.

Thanks to KLEF, it’s sponsors, and Jon Sharpe for fine sacred concerts Sunday mornings. I’ve been listening for years and have never been disappointed.

Thanksgiving Blessing almost here

Thanksgiving Blessing is an annual event to give families a turkey and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal, especially for those who otherwise might not have the means to do so. It is sponsored by the Food Bank of Alaska and a number of local food pantries.  I mention it in this week’s Church Visits C\column in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Distribution in the Valley will be on Saturday, November 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the following locations, and is zip-code dependent.

Faith Bible Fellowship, 14159 West Hollywood Road, Big Lake (Mile 2.5 Big Lake Road)
Available to residents in zip code: 99652, 99624, 99623 (near Big Lake), 99694
Fellowship Lutheran Church Mile 1.1 Petersville Road, Trapper Creek 907-355-1410 (LouAnne)
Available to residents in zip code: 99683
Wasilla Bible Church, 1651 West Nicola Avenue, Wasilla 907-376-2176
Available to residents in zip codes: 99623 (near Wasilla), 99629, 99654, 99687
Real Life Church, 10697 East Palmer Wasilla Highway, Palmer (Mile 2 Palmer-Wasilla Highway) 907-745-5673
Available to residents in zip codes: 99645, 99674
Upper Susitna Senior Center, 16463 E. Helena Street, Talkeetna (Mile 98.5 Parks Highway)
907-355-1410 (LouAnne)
Available to residents in zip codes: 99676, 99667
Willow United Methodist Church, Mile 67.5 Parks Highway, Willow 907-414-7555
Available to residents in zip code: 99688, 99694
Distribution in Anchorage will be on Monday, November from 12 – 4 p.m. at the following locations, and is zip-code dependent.
Crosspoint Church (Dimond and Minnesota, in the Burlington Coat Factory mall): 99507, 99511, 99515,99516, 99518, 99522, 99523, 99540, 99587
New Season Christian Center at Spenard Recreation Center (2020 W 48th): 99502, 99517, 99519
Central Lutheran Church (Cordova and 15th): 99501, 99503, 99510,99512, 99513, 99520, 99524
St. Patrick’s Church (2111 Muldoon Road): 99504, 99509, 99521
Joy Lutheran Church (1011 E Eagle River Loop Road): 99505, 99506, 99567, 99577
12-8 p.m. only for this location:
Mt. View Community Center (315 N Price, off of Mt. View Drive): 99508, 99514

Orthodox Great Lent and Pascha Information

The following links connect to major Orthodox websites for Pascha information.
Music (this site is maintained by an OCA priest but broadly represents aspects of most Orthodox faiths)

The Troparion in short is a hymn of the day, the words relate to which day in the Church calendar it is sung upon.
This first English variation is the slow version, we sang a faster version Pascha morning for prayers for breakfast. There are 8 tones (melodies) for our music, and many variations that we sing: Byzantine, Georgian, Russian, Greek, Bulgarian, etc. So each is a bit different in melody, but the words are the same. (courtesy of Lesa Morrison)

Holy Pascha Music (from Greek Orthodox site)
Listen to the music used in Pascha with the resources on this website.

Pascha Feast
The Great and Holy Feast of Pascha –

The above site contains informative descriptions, from a Greek Orthodox perspective, of the celebration of Pascha.

Easter Sunday: The Holy Pascha

Orthodox Church in America’s (formerly Russian Orthodox in Alaska) website about Pascha observances.

Great and Holy Pascha

Antiochian Orthodox website describing Pascha from their perspective.

The Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom
This sermon is a part of most Pascha services.

Fasting and Great Lent
This Antiochian site describes fasting in general and with a great degree of specifity during Great Lent and ending at Pascha.

Complete Russian Orthodox Pascha Service – 2016
This video, over 3 hours long, shows the Russian Orthodox Pascha service in Moscow earlier this week.  It was attended by the Russian president and illustrates the beautiful blending of music and liturgy during these services.

Holy Week: The End Approaches

The Anchorage area is well into Holy Week, the culmination of Lent, which leads up to Easter Sunday. Many churches, Protestant and Catholic tradition alike, celebrate the various ritual days of Holy Week. The most important observed days, are today and ahead. In Anchorage Daily News’ Thursday paper, a double center section highlighted all the various services available, noted below, with their times.

Thursday, today, is known as Maundy Thursday. It commemorates the last supper and the institution of the Eucharist or Communion.

Friday, tomorrow, is known as Good Friday and commemorates the day of Christ’s death. A mournful day, it is a time of reflection on the mysterious nature of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity.

Saturday, known as Holy Saturday, commemorates Christ’s time in the tomb. Generally, it is observed with silence, prayer and vigils.

Sunday, known as Easter Sunday, often starts with sunrise services to commemorate Christ’s morning resurrection. In many churches, Easter Sunday services are the most attended services of the year. These services are joyful and filled with praises to God and much hope.

However, some churches do not recognize Easter by special observances. In these churches, they attempt to emphasize all aspects of Easter throughout the year as they are so integral to Christian belief. Wikipedia has a thorough discussion of Holy Week observances here. Our Christian traditions are full of meaning and hope. Please take an opportunity to learn of a new tradition of which you may be unfamiliar.

Crosspoint Community Church Revisit

Sunday, May 11 found me entering Crosspoint Community Church for a revisit. My last visit to Crosspoint was posted over 5 ½ years ago. That visit review can be accessed HERE . When I have a less than satisfying visit, longer intervals creep into my revisits. This of course is what happens to church guests with unsatisfactory visits, except they’re unlikely to ever revisit. My revisits sometimes feel like a tedious job, but occasionally I find there have been miraculous changes in congregational behaviors.

What Greeting?
The sole door greeter cheerily greeted me with “Happy Mother’s Day”, an unhappy reminder my mother is no longer here, passing several years ago. In need of a strong cup of coffee, I went to their coffee stand and paid for an Americano with a couple of espresso shots. The nice woman working the stand basically said nothing to me, a missed vital connection to the church. I was reminded of this humorous video where coffee and churches was linked. For a good, but introspective laugh, watch it: If Churches Marketed Like Starbucks.

Conspicuous Seat
Going in and finding a front row seat in order to be conspicuous to the congregation, I sat a couple of chairs away from the pastor. At no time did he greet or acknowledge me. [img_assist|nid=164163|title=Crosspoint Praise Group Performing – May 11, 2014|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=194]

Whatever Became of “We Invite You to Stand and Join Us in Praise to God in Song”?
The service started a few minutes late with the command “Please stand up”. This church believes that you must stand for the music. The praise group of seven worked their way through seven songs while we were standing. As with my previous visit, they were basically unsmiling through their music set, as if they were doing a job instead of conveying Good News. Many in the congregation were not singing, just listening. The sound level was initially 85-100 db but at the end was consistently hitting 105 db. That’s a bit loud for any music in a confined space.

My Mother is Gone
The audience was then told to say Happy Mother’s Day to those around you. A little general for me, considering many were not mothers or had lost their mothers.

All Were Asked to Give
The morning offering was taken and no one was excepted from giving. Excepting guests from giving is one of the most guest-friendly actions any church can do, but one I rarely hear. Asking for money turns out to be one of the greatest turn-off’s for guests.

Sermon Impersonal
Pastor Dave Van Berkel delivered the sermon. You can listen to it HERE. Be sure to select May 11 as the sermon date. Warning, any clips he played cannot be heard as the sound is not tied into the recording. This was sermon 3 in a series called ‘Transformed’. Van Berkel was tied to his notes and it didn’t seem as though he was talking to me. Essentially the sermon was a meditation based on Psalm 23. One good thing was that he spoke of the Sabbath in a detailed manner, a first for my 15 years of living in Anchorage and attending local churches. Van Berkel’s sermon ran 35 minutes.

Sole Contact Departing
Leaving the church, no one said anything to me except Pastor Dave Kuiper who has gone on to other roles in the community. During my two visits, Pastor Kuiper was the only one who spoke to me both times. One might conclude this is an unfriendly church not eager for guests. I suspect it will be another five years or so before I visit this church again.

Website Needs Work
Their website is functional, containing scrolling marquees, but no information about where they worship without scrolling to the bottom of the page and finding it inconspicuously hidden in tiny print down there, hard to read. If one does not know how to enlarge web pages, they wouldn’t know where to go. Two things every potential guest wants to know is where to meet and when. The “when” is supplied by one of the scrolling marquee pages but the “where” is not. This could and should be quickly remedied.

Beast Feast: Great Food and Conversation

Recently Bob Mather, Sr. Pastor of Baxter Road Bible Church, invited me to an event for men called Beast Feast. Held at the church on a Saturday afternoon, it featured wild game dishes and other tasty food brought by the men of this church.

The focus was on manly conversation, food, and a guest speaker. It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and we ate outdoors. I sat with Pastor John Carpenter, and several other members. We had a great discussion, and a comfortable time. Pastor John, former Channel 2 sportscaster, has made a marvelous transition to BRBC. He has quickly become an essential part of the fabric of this delightful church. He and Pastor Bob share preaching and other ministerial responsibilities.

Our state bird, the mosquito, was out for an early romp. We had a delightful time keeping them at bay before they carried us away. After lunch, we were invited back inside to hear member Gene Moe regale us with stories of his adventures in the great outdoors in Alaska.

Yes, Gene did tell us the marvellous story of his bear encounter. Just Google “gene moe bear attack” to find a number accounts of his bear adventures. Gene is clearly in love with God’s country, nature in Alaska, and has a healthy regard for God himself. It was a pleasure to meet him and hear his stories.

This was my second invitation to BRBC’s Beast Feast and each time it has been most enjoyable. I sincerely appreciate their emphasis on activities for men, something that few Anchorage churches have.

35 of BRBC’s men have planned a float fishing trip on the Gulkana River later next week, with a definite spiritual emphasis during the trip. It promises to be a great experience, and will be led by Pastor Carpenter.

I hope to share highlights of this trip in the future as I’ll be joining this fine group of men. My thanks to Pastor Bob and Pastor John for showing me exceptional Christian hospitality.

Church B Revealed

Last month I wrote about my visits to two different churches in Anchorage, churches of differing faith traditions. I used my column to draw a contrast between them. As usual, some of those posting comments took the opportunity to poke fun at me and the words I wrote describing the differences between the services, and Christianity or religion in general. If you’ve not read this particular column, you can read it HERE.

Church B was Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church. My visit to their fine church was a high point of my Anchorage Church visits. They were welcoming and friendly to a fault. Their music was sheer joy, and so Spirit led. No one could dare call it entertainment. It spoke of their journey and where they were going.

The messaging delivered by the ministers and singers was clear, not cloaked in some unintelligible “churchese”. I was clearly left with the impression this church loves and respects their clergy, their musicians, and each other. Sunday morning is sacred time to them and they spend it with gratitude and joy.

What I do has no similarity to restaurant reviews. People in Anchorage are seeking churches that feed the soul, and help them grow spiritually. So many churches these days are splitting up over fractious social and spiritual issues. It’s such a joy for me to visit a church that seems to have it all.

Thanks to the fine people of Shiloh for a wonderful visit! God bless you as you shepherd your members and guests in their faith journey. Thank you too for showing me Genesis 18 hospitality!

First Congregational Church Revisit: Not Bad – Room to Grow

My only visit to First Congregational Church was in 2008, shortly after I began this blog. You can read that review HERE. (link not currently available) I can’t believe almost 6 years have passed since that first visit.

Last Sunday I made a return visit and discovered similar characteristics of that previous visit still present. Arriving a few minutes late, the service was just starting. Grabbing a bulletin and a smile from the greeter at the sanctuary doors, I took a seat just behind the bell choir. From my vantage point, I had a striking view of this beautiful sanctuary. It appeared the congregation was slightly smaller than it had been previously with less than 100 present.

First’s services start at 10:30 and the first hour was taken up by the progression of the liturgy. The sermon and New Testament Lesson took about 10 minutes. The sermon was brief but very good, delivered by Sr. Pastor George Blair, III. It may be read HERE. After the lengthy preliminaries, I was concerned the sermon would make for a much longer service. Most liturgical churches seem to aim for about a one-hour service. However, after a closing hymn we were out of church before 11:45.

Things I Liked
*Ceremony accepting new members to the church
*Bell choir special music
*Choral anthem
*Beautiful sanctuary
*Sound at acceptable levels
*Great, biblical based sermon
*Several members greeted me separately, and kindly

Things I Didn’t Like
*Meet n’ Greet – Was awkward as a guest. 2-3 people greeted me.
*Reading the sermon
*Long pauses and dead air as pastor wrote down special prayer requests
*Call for people to introduce themselves if they chose
*Children’s story seemed above their heads
*Call for offering didn’t except guests
*Queue in front of pastor at door after the services
*Pastoral microphone picked up pastor’s breathing

In all, my visit wasn’t unpleasant. I’ve known some of their congregation over the years, but none seemed to notice me this day. To grow, a church needs to draw. To draw, prospective members need to be attracted. For one of the more beautiful and attractive churches in Anchorage on one of Anchorage’s most heavily trafficked thoroughfares, I’m surprised First can’t attract more members. It can’t be the theology.

The choir had shrunk and was less than half the size previously. A good choir can be a great draw. The website was cleaned up in the interim and is much more functional, especially showing the church address prominently on the main page. The sermon title “Sin Boldly” was prominently displayed in Matters of Faith in Saturday Anchorage Daily News religion section. My lasting impression of First is that it’s staid and proper. A breezy sense of informality could go a long ways here. That can go far in making lasting impressions with potential members.

In closing I’ll add I was asked to come downstairs and join the congregation for coffee and fellowship. Time did not permit me to join them this day, but I’m sure another opportunity will come.

Abbott Loop: Incredibly Loud Music – Great Sermon

Third Visit to ALCC
I made a return visit to Abbott Loop Community Church on February 16. My previous visits are posted HERE and HERE. (These hyperlinks currently unavailable) In many respects this visit was very similar to my first visit with respect to having loud music but presenting a great sermon.

ALCC has two Sunday services: 9 and 11 a.m. I attended the 11 a.m. service.

It’s been nearly 2 years since their ceiling collapsed, but the rebuild turned out well. Church was meeting in the gym this time. I was greeted with “Good Morning!” by the gentleman who opened the outside door. A bulletin was handed to me but no one else greeted or spoke to me until former Pastor Rick Benjamin came over to greet me. I’ve since come to know Rick better and have an intense respect for him and his service in the community.

No Service Information in Bulletin
A bulletin/worship guide had been handed to me as I entered. Perusing it I was astounded it was chock full of coming events and information about small groups, but not a word about the service that day. Church guests like to know what is happening and in what order. Typical with many charismatic services, when church started, there were still many empty seats which slowly filled until the preaching started.

Punishingly Loud Music
ALCC’s praise band of seven started promptly at 11 and pummeled our eardrums with up to 117 decibel music for almost half an hour. Their lyrics were generally theologically sound but the music was rock turned up to 11. I love rock music, but I now know how problematic it can be in church services. Glancing around me, I noticed that few people were singing. When the music is too loud, people figure it doesn’t matter if they sing or not, and because the auditorium was blacked out, the praise band appeared as “stars” presenting what essentially amounted to entertainment. I was shocked to glance across the aisle and saw mother holding a newborn whose delicate ears, statistically, were being damaged as this music played.

Many of the songs they played and sang were unfamiliar to me, but elicited charismatic responses from those in attendance. Music lyrics were shown on a screen behind the stage. I liked the endless numbers of individuals portrayed holding signs with sayings such as “Finding joy in Christ”, “Giving God Control”, “What if I Don’t go to Heaven?”, etc. The real gotcha for churches is that it’s been proven that an overly loud music service, affects worshipers ability to focus on the sermon and retain that information.

Meet ‘n Greet – Why?
A meet ‘n greet was announced after the half hour of music. It was very long and many people around me seemed to be embarrassed with greeting others. For the most part, those who greeted me did so only with their names, and nothing else. I’m guessing many people did not know each other.

Worthwhile Sermon
The sermon that day was delivered by Mark Drake, who everyone seemed to know but was not really introduced to those present. From the internet I gained he got started in the Jesus Movement, but found no information about where he currently lives. He appears to head a ministry preaching God’s plan of salvation, plus printing and delivering related books and literature in the U.S. and various countries around the world. South Africa, Zimbabwe, and SE Asia were given as examples.

Mark’s sermon was well delivered, lasting close to an hour. You can listen to it by clicking HERE. ALCC took over 1 ½ weeks to post this sermon. Last time I went to ALCC, I also heard a fantastic sermon, but it took several months to post it. When I queried ALCC when it would be posted, I was told that work was done by a volunteer and that they had no control over the process. Many Anchorage churches post sermon recordings the same day or in one or two days. If not posted immediately, people lose the urge to listen to a sermon again or share it with friends. Maybe this practice is deeply ingrained in ALCC’s corporate DNA.

ALCC Website Not Helpful to Guests
When I went to ALCC’s website to view their service times, I couldn’t find this information easily. I finally scrolled down to the bottom of the page and found it there. That’s a sign of poor website design. Potential guests visit a church’s website for two things: church location and service times. What a shame this information is not more prominently displayed on every church website. I believe ALCC’s sermons can be top notch. Personally, I recommend skipping the music, to save your hearing, and showing up at 11:30 for the preaching.

Alliance Bible Church – Long Service and Gaps

Last Sunday I visited Alliance Bible Church on Dowling between Seward and Old Seward. I’d visited this church several years ago but never wrote up that visit. In the years I’ve authored this blog, there have been times I chose not to post a visit, either because the service was so disturbing, or some other reason.

I was greeted by a smiling woman who held the door open for me. That’s always nice and a practice I rarely see in Anchorage. There were two younger women passing out bulletins and smiles as I entered the church. The church is boxy inside with unusual contours.  Unfortunately I picked seating I later discovered would not allow me to exit unless I walked in front of the entire congregation.

Until the Meet ‘n Greet time, no one spoke to me. At the Meet ‘n Greet, I had about five individuals approach me, welcome me and subject me to the “20 Questions” routine. You know the kind. “Is this your first visit here?”, “How long have you been in Anchorage?”, “What brought you here?”, “Where do you worship?”, etc. These are lost opportunities for sharing why they come to this church to worship, offers to answer questions about the church, or share some significant activities people enjoy there. Churches and service organizations make huge mistakes by trying to get people to married on the first date, i.e. first meeting. One doesn’t pop the question on the first date do they?

As I reviewed ABC’s bulletin, I was astounded its eight pages did not contain an order of service, a disservice to guests unfamiliar with their services. Additionally, it contained three inserts making it quite a packet. The music service started with a little bit of musical riffing, rewarded by audience applause. They played one song, “Glory to God”, and stopped. Pastor Jeff Wiesinger came up and proceeded to read the announcements already printed in the bulletin. He and a couple of other announcers took over fifteen minutes to cover, longer than some Anchorage church sermons. Good church service practice does not permit double announcing to happen, but it did here.

ABC’s musical group of seven was good, singing mainly theological accurate songs with lyrics displayed on the screen above the stage. The sound level, measured in decibels, was extremely high peaking out at 117 db! I believe the shape of the sanctuary, and the sound technician’s efforts, contributed to this level more than the musicians, but damage to the hearing is nonetheless inflicted. I timed the musical portions of the service at close to 25 minutes, a long time. Studies show that music of this loudness, and its length, contributes to inability of worshipers to focus on the sermon.

They had a guest speaker J.B. Heckock, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) missionary to Russia. The pastor briefly alluded to some mission meetings held during the week, but as a guest, I really had little idea of what had transpired during them.

Heckock preached a sermon titled “The Imperfect”, a sermon of three parts dealing with Joseph (Jacob’s son), Mary Magdaline, and the Apostles. Preaching for an hour, his transitions between the three sections were rough, making focus extremely difficult.

As Heckock started, he said we didn’t have to get our Bibles out as it would all be on screen. Sadly, the scriptural passages were improperly formatted. Imagine his reading this passage of scripture (below) during the sermon.


In internet parlance, this is the equivalent of shouting. His thoughts were good, but as a missionary, he gave little hint of their mission (JB and wife). I wish I could share his sermon with you but the church website hasn’t posted it yet. Note to all churches. If your sermons are not posted immediately, it’s less likely they’ll ever be listened to online.

I would have left earlier, but as mentioned previously, I was trapped. After the speaker quit, ABC continued with another 15 minutes or so with a presentation of Christian Missionary Alliance funding for missions, and an appeal to commit to a level of giving for the year. At this point, I was beginning to get desperate. When churches do these kinds of presentations, they should be kind and offer a minute or two for their guests to leave, but ABC did not offer this choice. Finally, after two hours, church was dismissed. Unfortunately, no one said a word to me as I leisurely left the church. How many other guests do they let slip through their fingers?

There were things I liked about the service, and obviously things I did not like. This church appears to very friendly to each other but not to guests. All told there were 75-100 attendees at the service. In the critical 5-8 minutes that guests make a decision about returning, I was ambivalent. By the end of the service my mind was made up. Their website contains many pictures of lakes, mountains, rivers, and other nature pictures. Churches have nothing to do with tourism. They should relate “…to the gospel going to all the world”, graphically showing how they are accomplishing that. Sadly, the website does not include, on their all important first page, or splash screen, the address and phone number of the church. You have to hunt for it, but it is the #1 things website visitors are seeking. Several other times the service was dysfunctional for me.

Yet, all told, four or five good service tweaks could produce miracles in their service. I hope they do. Usually, churches do not make the effort. I will go back to see if they have made needed changes and find each visit is the same.