Tag Archives: First United Methodist

If you don’t already observe Lent, consider giving traditions a try

Two and a half weeks ago, Lent began for a large portion of Christianity with Ash Wednesday (Orthodox churches begin observing Lent on March 13). Some local Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal clergy brought “ashes to the people” in downtown Anchorage that day. I applaud this approach because it brings clergy to the people, instead of people expecting to have to go to clergy. This may be Christianity at its best.

“Sharing ashes on the street is an opportunity for Christians to practice very public theology, said participant Nico Romeijn-Stout, pastor of discipleship and social justice at St. John United Methodist Church and one of those clergy. “Our practice was to take a moment with each person asking their name and how we can be in prayer with and for them. Even in a short moment a relationship was formed. What was striking for me was that the only people who received ashes from me were a couple of homeless men. One said that he hadn’t been ‘blessed’ in years. When we take the risk to do ministry with people where they are, we meet Christ in profound ways.”

Taking “ashes to the street” did not substitute for the Ash Wednesday services those clergy later held in their own churches.

Many Catholic clergy feel ashes should be applied in the church as a rite.

“We take ashes to the homebound, but the distribution of ashes is best done in the sacred assembly at Mass,” said St. Benedict’s Rev. Leo Walsh. “Catholics understand Lent, and all the associated rites, as a communal act of penance by the whole believing community. “It’s possible those attitudes may change over time, as I’m noticing an increasing numbers of news stories of Catholic and Episcopal clergy taking ashes to the street.

Regardless of how one receives their ashes, on the street, in bed, or at church, this rite is an awe-inspiring moment in which one can take stock and recognize we’re mortal and will return to dust.

During my personal preparation for Lent I came across an excellent guide prepared by the Society of St. Andrew, which sponsors a gleaning ministry for food rescue and feeding the hungry. The society’s 44-page downloadable PDF guide offers a wealth of Scripture, reflections, and prayers for Lent.

During Lent many churches host extra evening services or other activities.

First Congregational Church is conducting Tuesday evening Taizé-style services at 5:30 p.m. through March 22. The services will include music, chants, times of silence and readings from the Bible and other sources, but no sermons or discussion.

Many more churches’ Lent activities are offered on Wednesday evenings. Central Lutheran Church has soup suppers, study, and a service through March 16. All Saints Episcopal Church offers a soup supper at 6 p.m. followed by a lesson on spiritual gifts. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having Lenten soup suppers at 6 p.m. followed by a discussion on the intersection of Lenten themes and immigration. First United Methodist Church is serving Lenten suppers through March 30 at 6 p.m. with a Lenten study following. Anchorage Lutheran Church offers Lenten worship at 7 p.m. with supper at 6 p.m. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church provides a soup supper and fellowship at 5:45 p.m. followed by Holden Evening Prayer worship at 6:30 p.m. Joy Lutheran in Eagle River serves a soup supper at 6:15 p.m. followed by Lenten worship at 7 p.m. Much can be learned from partaking of these simple suppers, and the brief services connected with them. It’s a time for personal growth.

Instead of Lenten suppers and services, local Catholics, focus on the exercising what the Rev. Tom Lily calls the three Ts: “Time, talent, and treasure are common terms we use when talking about being good stewards of all God has entrusted to us. How do we generously give a proportionate amount of our time, talent and material resources back to glorify God through serving our neighbor?”

For example, Lent projects in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, where Lily is the pastor, address all three T’s by supporting Catholic Social Services’ St. Francis Food Pantry. Each member is encouraged to participate in the Knights of Columbus’ “40 Cans 4 Lent” campaign, where 40 cans of food, one for each day of Lent, are donated. Members also donate funds for perishable dairy, fruits and vegetables. parish members also provide hands-on assistance at St. Francis house, as well as actively advocate support for the federal SNAP program through after-church letter-writing efforts.

Local pastor, the Rev. Rick Benjamin, raised in a Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition that didn’t observe Lent calls himself a non-Lenter but connects with the custom of fasting and prayer as performed as Lenten tradition.

“Many important decisions in our church’s history, and in my own life, came out of times of dedicated prayer and fasting,” he said. Rick’s local relationships made him aware of the liturgical calendar and Lent. He became intrigued, saying, “Lent was similar to fasting, sort of an extended semifast, and a time of self-denial and preparation for Resurrection Sunday.” His experience with Lent has been positive. He points out, “I have benefited from Lent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other ‘non-Lenters’ like me out there, I suggest you give Lent a try.”

My tradition was also a non-Lent observing one. Over the years, as I’ve matured in my faith, I’ve been exposed to this meaningful time of the church year dedicated to self-examination and rethinking one’s relationship with God. The music I hear in Lent-observing churches during this time becomes more thoughtful and intense. Like Benjamin, I encourage you to explore Lent, by attending any of the church activities I’ve noted above. I think you’ll be glad you went.

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

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

2nd Advent 2013 – First United Methodist

A Little Background For This Visit
Last year my 2nd Advent Visit was to First United Methodist Church in Downtown Anchorage. My post of that visit is HERE. (Visit hyperlink unavailable at this time) Tragically, Pastor Myers was involved in a head-on collision on the Seward Highway the next day. 11 people ended up in the hospital.

I was pleased to see him preaching this morning, although his recovery from this accident has been painfully slow.

Unusual Service Start – Candle Lighting
I was greeted by Reverend Myers and a congregation member as I entered this morning for the 11 a.m. service. Pastor Myers gave a warm Christian greeting at the service start, inviting first-time visitors to raise their hands to receive a freshly-baked loaf of bread as a token of their visit to First UMC. Another Anchorage Church Visits first was then experienced as Myers, and a choir member, led the congregation in the Gathering Song, “Prepare the Way of the Lord”, but done in the style of rounds. I loved it. Nice choice!

A 2nd Advent responsive reading preceded the lighting of last week’s Hope candle, and today’s Peace candle. Churches that do not punctuate their services with an Advent candle lose an opportunity for a powerful lesson, on these Advent Sundays, to be shown.

Reflective Sermon
Myers sermon titled “What Street Do You Live On?” was filled with Biblical sharing based on the Gospel Lesson text Matthew 3:1-12 regarding John the Baptist, reflections on members, Mandela, and his own life. Mandela was quoted as saying he wasn’t perfect, not a saint, but if you could count sinning but growing toward God, maybe. Myers exhorted his congregants to “lean into God’s dream” by repentance, noting that repentance was also John the Baptist’s ministry theme. In the end “Love triumphs!” He finished by urging members to invite people into our neighborhood, preaching hope and joy instead of judgment, certainly a theme of Mandela’s later life. Myers noted that Advent is time to prepare for the new life. I considered this time a wonderful time of bringing his congregation together, functioning as a true pastor. In my opinion, First UMC is a gem of a church in Downtown Anchorage. I’m surprised many more do not take advantage of its closeness and adherence to preaching the gospel.

Musical Glue
I love visiting this church because my visits are always enhanced by the musical talents of Janet Carr-Campbell. A true artist, both on piano and organ, she excels in bringing a sense of ministry to this church. Services at First UMC are seamlessly tied together through Janet’s efforts. This morning the choir director was sick, and she also directed from the piano. I cannot conceive of this church’s services being as effective without her artistry. There is no grandstanding or showboating here as I see in other local churches. I thoroughly enjoy my visits here.

Bread for Me
A nice lady came up to me after the service and offered me a loaf of bread, after Pastor Myers extended the loaf invitation to 1st time visitors and guests. I was touched by this gesture, a rare one among Anchorage churches. There is no hesitation on my part to recommend this fine church for a visit. You’ll not be sorry you’ve done so.