Tag Archives: First Baptist

Thanksgiving’s a time for thanks—what are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving will be celebrated soon. This started me thinking about local faith community practices at this time of year. Last week, I noted Thanksgiving Blessing, a huge effort by the faith community and the Food Bank of Alaska. It takes many people to make this event a success and I’m thankful for those in our community who lead or participate in these efforts.

The story of the Pilgrims offers a teachable moment.

It’s a familiar story: After a harrowing transatlantic voyage and a disastrous winter, the surviving Pilgrims were grateful for the bounty offered by their first harvest and Native American neighbors.

Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, the story of the Pilgrims links it to American faith traditions. Few of us have ever suffered the privations they endured. It is a proper time to truly give thanks, and to teach others the spirit of the day. Some faith communities show their thanks by emulating that early Thanksgiving by incorporating those around them in that practice of celebrating and sharing.

The Pilgrims fled Europe because they were restricted in free practice of their religion, and sought to return to worshiping as they believed the early church did. I’m thankful for the four freedoms President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated in 1941 that symbolize what our country represents to the world: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. These were artistically and forcefully expressed by illustrator Norman Rockwell in four paintings, used as covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

Many people in the world do not have these freedoms as we celebrate Thanksgiving. According to Freedom House’s 2016 assessment of liberty, “Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 (44 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) Not Free.”

Few non-Catholic churches in Anchorage seem to be offering Thanksgiving services this year (Most Catholic churches do offer Thanksgiving Mass. Check your local schedule for times.). I would guess it’s probably due to preoccupation by families with dinner, football, etc., but many people of faith have found value in using this day to take time to be truly thankful for the gifts God has placed in their lives. And a few churches are offering Thanksgiving dinners prior to Thanksgiving, but just a few.

Clear Water Church, First Baptist Church and Skilled Missions Alaska are embarking on an innovative approach this year. They will be ministering to displaced families with relatives in Providence Alaska Medical Center. They will accomplish this by providing a Thanksgiving meal and fellowship at the Walter J. and Ermalee Hickel House.

For those unfamiliar with Hickel House, it offers an affordable, comfortable “home away from home” for outpatients and their families receiving medical attention at Providence. I think this is an exciting opportunity to show some true Thanksgiving spirit. (If you’d like to participate, call Clear Water member Brian Whitson at 268-8659.)

Joy Christian Center is holding a Thanksgiving service at 7 p.m. followed by a pie social on Thanksgiving Day. It’s located at 4335 Laurel St. A few local churches are offering Thanksgiving services during the week, but I was unable to locate others offering services on Thanksgiving Day through an internet search.

Bean’s Café and Brother Francis Shelter will serve Thanksgiving dinners Thursday. The Downtown Soup Kitchen is closed on Thanksgiving Day. Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday because People Mover doesn’t run buses on Thanksgiving.

Bean’s, Brother Francis, and the Rescue Mission would sincerely appreciate donations of items such as turkeys, canned vegetables, mashed potatoes, hams and yams to support these special events.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this coming week, take time to consider things you are truly thankful for. The “Four Freedoms” are a good place to start. Whether or not you are a person of faith, Thanksgiving is an ideal time to pause and reflect on those things for which we are truly thankful.

Merton lecture series was well-attended

The recent Caroline Penniman Wohlforth Lecture Series held at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Nov. 4-6 was well-attended and introduced participants to the prayer and meditative concepts of Thomas Merton. Many people are seeking deeper spiritual relevance and time for reflection in their daily lives.

The Rev. Hugh Grant from Washington state delved into the life of celebrated Trappist monk Thomas Merton in a Friday evening talk to a capacity audience. The lecture, captured by church staff on video, can be viewed at St. Mary’s website. Grant summarized Merton’s life, writings, brief time in Alaska and his relevancy to our everyday lives.

Saturday’s lecture was a time of reflection, training in centering prayer, personal meditation, and practical instruction about how to slow down to perceive God’s speaking to us. Sunday’s lecture focused on observations about what nature can tell us, especially about ourselves.

Coming just days before the election, the lectures offered insights about how to deal with stress and contentious issues. Merton, writing about the spiritual life, said “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”

A key lecture topic was contemplation and centering prayer. Merton, writing on the subject, said, “Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart – it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God.”

This lecture series was a gift to the community, and a good number of people took advantage of the opportunity. Thank you, St. Mary’s, and the Wohlforth Lecture Series.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.

Cool Advent Reception at First Baptist

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A recent visit to First Baptist Church, one of Anchorage’s largest congregations years ago, helped usher in the Christmas season but not in a way I expected. As a former choir member and regular attendee, I was not recognized or greeted by anyone except two members who used to greet me by name. Both greeted me as a total stranger. Just before the service, my old friend Pastor Keith Bennett, the minister of music, came by and acknowledged me but that’s it. Also, as experienced in some other Anchorage churches, I did not receive a bulletin, although they were evident. The “Hanging of the Greens”, a Christmas tradition at First Baptist, was a major feature of this day’s service. From the theater-like screening of church advertisements before the service, the 3-point sermon, to the final trademark Baptist alter call and baptism, the service felt cold and impersonal, which may account for what appeared to me to be a decreased number of attendees.

The Beginning
A few years ago I attended First Baptist Church, sang in the choir, and participated in a number of their activities. Initially, it took some time to get their attention but there was usually a warm welcome when I attended their sole Sunday morning service. During the oil boom days, this church had a huge congregation and was very active. Conveniently located at 10th and L Street, First Baptist offers great access.

It has been several years since I last attended First Baptist. I felt it was time for a revisit to see how they compared to the other Anchorage churches I’ve been visiting. Entering by the front door at 10:50 a.m. on December 7, I was surprised to be neither greeted nor to be offered a bulletin. Except for being visited at my seat by two members who knew me from my past association with the church, I was left alone. The minister of music did stop by to acknowledge me but I was not particularly greeted by anyone nor welcomed. This is particularly strange as this was an advent service. What better time to reach out to one’s community than this. Members were greeting each other however. Christmas music played over the sound system and theater-like advertisements for church activities were being flashed on the screen in front.

Music Pleasing
First Baptist has offered a terrific music program as long as I’ve known them. The piano/organ prelude was quite nice. From the strains of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on violin and piano, to the children wandering in with candles, to the choir’s entrance with white poinsettias, this was clearly an advent service. The adult and children’s choir sang beautifully, as always, except they were largely unsmiling with the exception of a couple of children’s soloists who did smile. The choir’s song, “I Have Seen the Light”, should have been reflected in the faces of the singers but sadly was not. Maybe the music was not felt by the singers.

Television Taping
First Baptist’s services are taped for replay on Anchorage Baptist Temple’s TV station at various times during the week. To facilitate this, several elevated TV cameras with operators are at work during the service. Consequently, First Baptist is more punctual in their order of service than other churches.

Pastor Ed Gregory had interesting remarks, accented by PowerPoint slides onscreen, about “The Tree of Christmas vs. The Christmas Tree”. He noted the Christmas tree came from pagan roots, but observed “Let’s not let them take away a beautiful symbol.” Continuing, he noted trees decorate our homes, but behind them stands another tree, the tree of the cross. Although this is a great sentiment, Christmas trees do have pagan origins, as do many other religious traditions. Because pagan traditions have crept into church services, it might be better to dispense with referring to them altogether than explaining them away during the advent season.

Pastor Gregory ended the service with the traditional Baptist alter call, and a baptism.

First Baptist is not as warm as I remembered it. They certainly could be as attentive to visitors as they are to each other. This may have been a fluke, but Christmas and Easter are two times in the church year that see an increase in the number of visitors. Why miss a tremendous opportunity to show visitors that they are welcome?
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