Tag Archives: Pastor Bob Mather

Three churches, three approaches to Christmas

Last Sunday I attended three separate services. After focusing on Advent this month, I wanted to experience services at evangelical churches not observing Advent. While I believe Advent, rightly observed, can be an antidote to the crass commercialism hijacking Christmas, evangelical churches should also be urging their parishioners to keep focused on the true purpose of Christmas, Jesus.

Anchorage Baptist Temple

This megachurch, Alaska’s second-largest with approximately 2,500 members, is always a feast of sight and sound. Everything seems to be larger than life with an enormous center-stage video screen, flanked by two large video monitors to the right and left. Spirited singing by choir and congregation was underway as I entered the 11 a.m. Sunday service.

The music was a blend of Christmas carols, along with some modern classics such at the “Little Drummer Boy.” Hymnals are not needed as the words are projected on the screens, which use incredible animation to bring the words to life. A vocal group composed of Anchorage Christian Schools youth sang a number of songs, and a singer sang a lovely song.

The stage was decorated with the traditional icons of the season. I counted six decorated Christmas trees on the stage, plus eight more lighted trees in the choir area. There were stacks of presents, teddy bears and candy cane poles all over the stage.

Throughout the service reminders were given about the Christmas pageant to be held this weekend, donations to ABT’s bus Christmas store, and sacrificial giving to the church’s 2016 Christmas Miracle Offering. I was bothered when the Rev. Jerry Prevo mentioned the purpose of this offering as being for employees of the church, the school and church missionaries.

Prevo made a very hard sell for this offering, the likes of which I’ve only seen in one other church — a certain prosperity Gospel church in Anchorage. The goal was $30,000, and I was concerned they were thinking more of each other this time of year than those desperately in need of physical and financial assistance.

Prevo presents well-prepared sermons. He interrupted this one, “Two Kinds of People,” to show a dramatic 12-minute short film to illustrate his talking points. The video illustrated people who respond to invitations to help and those who do not, which he later typified as the “lost” and the “saved.” My ABT visit showed me a “Christmas as usual” attitude with much giving expected, heavy appeals to give to the Miracle Offering, and a significant emphasis on the upcoming Christmas pageant, quite a contrast to my next two church visits.

Baxter Road Bible Church

Less than a mile from ABT, lies Baxter Road Bible Church. The church offers two services on Sunday: 10 a.m. and noon. Arriving at the noon service a few minutes late, I found Communion already being served. The church’s musical group is enjoyable to listen to and sing along with; it presented hymns and carols of the season, typical of non-Advent practicing churches.

Children presented several songs. No matter how good or poor the singing is, this is a time of wonder for the adults. Many of us have been there before, and can only remember the faces smiling back at us.

The Rev. Bob Mather’s sermon, “Preparing for Christmas,” was Bible-based, giving practical advice about preparing our hearts for Christmas. Though this church is a little over a 10th the size of ABT, it’s opened its heart for years to giving during December without urging.

Using the theme, “It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’,” the congregation dedicates 100 percent of December church income to community nonprofits and other religious organizations members suggest. These organizations are actively doing the work Jesus referred to in his teaching.

Last year, Baxter’s December’s giving reaped over $90,000, more than twice what ABT has set as its 2016 goal. No sales pitch was necessary Sunday morning for this cause at Baxter. The congregation doesn’t need it; it’s one of those things they do without urging. Mather, pastor at the church, has often told me: “The more we give, the more blessed we are.”


Alaska’s largest church at around 3,500 members, ChangePoint leads by example in the local community. I tend to find the music overly loud at ChangePoint and don’t visit as often as I could. However, the Sunday 6 p.m. service found a smaller crowd, and music easier on the ears than normal. My decibel-meter measured most of the music at 90-98 decibels, a sharp reduction from previous services.

As I entered, I was greeted at the door and welcomed by a member. I noticed the church’s OnRamp life group was collecting practical gifts for children at McKinnell House, Salvation Army’s temporary family shelter, during November and December. What a sensible ministry!

Before the sermon,the Rev. Scott Merriner, executive pastor, introduced Adam Legg, newly appointed executive director of Love Alaska, and Rick Steele, executive pastor of operations. Legg is in charge of an exciting new venture that joins two previous ChangePoint initiatives, Grace Alaska and Priceless.

Grace Alaska took on some major projects in town such as getting the Downtown Soup Kitchen started, and providing automotive services for single mothers and widows through Rightway Automotive. Priceless is a service to women involved in human or sex trafficking. Approximately 70 women have been referred to the program, which provides them access to over 120 trained mentors in 18 local churches.

Love Alaska will now be a separate organization not subject to ChangePoint’s structure. Members of ChangePoint will be encouraged to support these efforts to address areas of brokenness in our community along with members of other churches. A third initiative of Love Alaska will be Chosen, a program which focuses on mentoring youth as they leave the foster care system. ChangePoint’s annual Uncommon Gift Offering will be taken Sunday to support Chosen. These changes are exciting for Anchorage and ChangePoint is to be commended for making them happen.

Student ministry pastor Adam Brown’s message was the second in a series titled, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” His particular message was subtitled, “The Wonder of Real Treasure.” Using Matthew 6:19-24, he said “real treasure is what we think it is,” noting we must each choose our treasure — temporal or eternal — and to chase our master whether it be God or money.

I thought this was a powerful message from a church that is making a difference in our community. As we look at the consumer-driven brokenness of Christmas, it was refreshing to hear this message on Sunday, a real antidote to consumerism.

Advent Conspiracy is an antidote to the over-commercialization of Christmas

Why am I writing about Christmas now since it’s not even Thanksgiving? So many retailers have had Christmas items for sale as early as August or September this year. Plainly stated, it’s marketing greed in a rush to capitalize on every Christmas dollar to be spent. The time to plan for a proper Christmas is now, not later.

A small group of pastors made a positive step in addressing this issue a few years back, creating an organization called Advent Conspiracy. Their website clearly states their premise in just a few words. “Can Christmas still change the world? The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, redemption and relationship. So, what happened? How did it turn into stuff, stress and debt? Somehow, we’ve traded the best story in the world for the story of what’s on sale.”

That’s the problem, and the Advent Conspiracy’s solution is elegant. Its website offers a suite of resources for churches, parents and other individuals to address the problem of the abuse of Christmas as an orgy of spending for ourselves and each other.

Advent Conspiracy is focusing this year on water, noting: “Today, 663 million of our brothers and sisters around the world lack access to safe drinking water. What if the way we celebrate Christmas this year changes this? We continue to hear story after story of churches and families participating in Advent Conspiracy each year to conspire to spend less each Christmas and give in ways that collectively fund hundreds of life-changing water projects worldwide. This year, prayerfully consider including giving to end the clean water crisis as part of your Advent giving.”

Advent Conspiracy’s website offers several short videos which help to bring its focus alive. I urge you watch them.

Christmas, the highest holiday spending time of year, promises to be so again, almost eclipsing last year’s record spending. However, there are clouds on the horizon. According to Fortune magazine, “shoppers will rally after Nov. 8. Election stress is a real thing. And it could hurt retailers as the holiday shopping season gets under way next week.

A National Retail Federation survey found that a majority of Americans will be cautious about Christmas shopping this year, with many possibly pulling back on spending, because of anxiety over the Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump presidential contest. What’s more, it’s hard for retailers to get a word in edgewise these days, potentially making their marketing less effective.” Christmas shopping is a nightmare for parents, driving many into debt and despair.

One local church has successfully addressed this problem for many years with its “It’s not your birthday” program. Baxter Road Bible Church began the program some years ago. It dedicates 100 percent of the income received during each December saying, “It’s our gift to Jesus because, after all, it’s his birthday we’re celebrating.” Last year they raised around $100,000 in December. The Rev. Bob Mather, senior pastor of the church, says the money “goes to the poor, the needy, and those going through hard times.” Much of it is spent locally.

The amount of $10,000 is dedicated to a Haitian mission the church has supported for years, vetted by one of the congregation. The focus of that mission is feeding and helping the poor, clothing them, and providing health care. The mission is led by a Haitian minister. I’ve been unable to locate any other Anchorage church that is so generous at Christmas. A few might dedicate one offering in December, or take a second offering for this purpose. Mather observes, “The more generous we are, the better off we are.” The faith and generosity of this warm group of Christians always amazes me. They walk the talk, and have grown rapidly as a result.

Christmas can be a teachable moment for parents with their children. I believe it offers families an opportunity to develop an awareness of the true meaning of Christmas, rather than a narcissistic display of spending that satisfies only ourselves, and does little for mankind.Other useful resources and film links about Christmas are available on my website Church Visits.

Anchorage’s next archbishop to be installed Wednesday

In August 2015, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz submitted his resignation to Pope Francis I in accordance with papal law. After 14 months, an archbishop-designate for the Anchorage archdiocese has been selected. Bishop Paul Dennis Etienne was recently introduced to the community in a news conference. He is currently the bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

His installation will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The installation will be preceded by evening prayer at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Holy Family Cathedral. Both ceremonies are followed by receptions. (A copy of the official invitation is available here.)

The Mass will begin with Archbishop Schwietz presiding. The Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Christophe Pierre, will read a proclamation from Pope Francis designating Etienne as the new archbishop. He’ll then show it to the archdiocesan consultors for agreement. At this point Bishop Etienne is now archbishop and will be led to the cathedra (bishop’s chair) and be presented with the crozier. Bishop Etienne will then preside over the remainder of the Mass. Eight to 10 other bishops will be present, including all three Alaska bishops. It promises to be an impressive installation.

After the installation, Schwietz will have the title archbishop emeritus. He’ll continue to pastor St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River where he’s been pastor since his resignation.

“I leave with a tremendous sense of gratitude,” he told me. “The people have been so gracious, welcoming, and cooperative. They’ve been so caring for me. It’s been a wonderful experience. I lay down those responsibilities with regret but look forward to the leadership of the new archbishop.”

In anticipation of a full audience at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral, the archdiocese has announced the installation Mass of Archbishop-Designate Etienne will be streamed live online at CatholicAnchor.org.

A variety of Eastertide expressions of faith

As I visit churches, readers frequently ask me, “What church do you belong to?” This seemingly innocent question is a tell for other questions possibly lurking beneath the surface. One might be probing my religious roots, or looking for leanings toward a particular strain of theology. Quite often I respond that when I leave home on Sunday mornings, I feel God is steering me toward a particular place of worship. Unless I’m attending an event of particular significance, I want to experience the fullness of faith: the warmth of hospitality, being with others in corporate worship, lifting my voice in praise and listening to the Bible being opened in new ways that inspire and urge me to share the good news of salvation.

On major holidays, like Easter and Christmas, I enjoy the act of worship for itself, not merely as a writing assignment for this column. At times I feel a bit selfish when I do this, but I too need to hear truly fulfilling messages from time to time, in environments where I’ve been spiritually nourished in the past. As such, today’s column briefly describes several experiences I had starting with last Thursday, and ending Easter Sunday.

Seder: Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church

Last Thursday, I experienced Seder at Christ Our Savior Lutheran. In recent years, I’ve joined this fun congregation in their celebration of the Passover celebration observed by Jews worldwide. Seder commemorates the Exodus, when Jews were liberated from bondage in Egypt. Typically the service follows a prescribed format with readings, specific activities and a ritualized meal with special wine to be drunk at intervals.

Some question why Christians celebrate a Jewish tradition. Many Christian scholars believe Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples actually was the Passover meal. Last week, Christianity Today featured an interview (http://tinyurl.com/gs2k3mz) with Rabbi Evan Moffic, one of the youngest rabbis in Reform Judaism. Asked about Christians celebrating Seder, Moffic said, “The Exodus story is part of the Hebrew Bible, which is part of the Christian Bible. The Exodus story is part of the Christian story. Sometimes we learn about another religion through practicing. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a Passover Seder. You get a much deeper sense of what Passover means if you participate in a Seder rather than just lecturing about it.” This Seder, a tradition at Christ Our Savior since 1998, was pastor Dan Bollerud’s last there; he retires this fall.

Good Friday: Amazing Grace Lutheran Church

I enjoy worshipping here as this congregation seems to continually reinvent itself in worship. A rough-hewn altar had been disassembled. It was arranged in groupings of two timbers each, in a circle of seven stations in the middle of the sanctuary. The congregation split into seven groups, followed leaders with crosses to position themselves behind each timber grouping, which also contained a row of seven lit candles. A leader then recited a reading, after which a hymn was sung by all while a group member, usually a child, blew out a candle at each station. Each group then moved one station to the left for the next reading and song. By the conclusion, all candles had been extinguished and each participant left in silence to return home. I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced a more heartfelt service on Good Friday. Thanks to pastor Adam Barnhart for his leadership in new experiences.

Easter morning, 10 a.m.: Baxter Road Bible Church

I enjoy the vigor of this relatively young and rapidly expanding east side church. Led by senior pastor Bob Mather and his associate John Carpenter, they are a model of successful church growth. After a vigorous musical service, pastor Bob greeted all with, “He is risen indeed!” They served Communion early in the service in an inviting manner, following biblical wording, with the elements explained and taken together. This is how Communion is most meaningful but often ignored in many churches. Carpenter’s sermon was based on Luke 24, but focused on the events after the resurrection. You can hear it at baxterroad.org/sermon.html.

Easter morning, 11:30 a.m.: St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

St. Mary’s 11:30 a.m. service features a folk/bluegrass music format. It’s upbeat and seems to please to a wide cross-section of St. Mary’s attendees. On Easter morning I more than ready for a musical uplift. From “Good Morning, This is the Day” to the recessional, this service was one of total joy. It began with the children entering the sanctuary, each with flowers in hand, to insert them in a cross in front of the altar. The altar was accentuated by a bank of Easter lilies, each donated by members in special recognition of family members and friends, a beautiful tradition.

Rector Michael Burke set the tone for the service by proclaiming, “He is risen!” The gradual hymn was “Morning Has Broken” and seemed so appropriate for Easter Sunday. The gospel reading was from John 20, the Johanine account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb, telling the disciples it was empty, the disciples returning home, and Jesus’ revealing himself to Mary — a stirring account indeed.

At St. Mary’s, the Eucharist is called The Great Thanksgiving. Burke always patiently explained the meaning and importance of the Eucharistic service, that it is God’s gift to us, open to all. Somehow this morning it seemed truer than ever. Although I’m not an Episcopalian, I’m in solidarity with the love they show for each other and their strong expressions of faith in God. It’s always a treat to visit this warm, welcoming church but Easter Sunday seemed more so.

Each church mentioned has something special to offer to those seeking an unusual experience. Eastertide this year was very special to me. And yes, that nicely iced Champagne mentioned last week was a special toast to the meaning of this extraordinary day.

Don’t miss this!

April 1 starts Defy Fear Week, a week of events structured around the documentary “Defiant Requiem,” a film about Jewish prisoners in World War II who use music as a weapon of resistance, and which culminates in two performances by the Anchorage Concert Chorus of “Defiant Requiem: Verdi at Terezin” on April 8 and 10 in the Atwood Concert Hall.

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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Re-examining the meaning of Advent

This Sunday, Advent Sunday, signals two significant events in many denominations. First, the church year for many mainline denominations begins. Second, Advent begins: an annual period of about four weeks before Christmas, which for 1,500 years has been marked by fasting, repentance, hoping and prayerfully pondering the first and second Advents. Advent offers real meaning to the season, especially providing teachable moments for children and those new to the Christian faith. While Advent is primarily observed by Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as mainline Protestant denominations such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran and Congregational, other denominations are also slowly adopting its observance.

Sadly, for many Christians, Advent only marks the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when expensive holiday decorations go up in, on and around their houses. Then too, parents ponder, and often agonize over, what they are going to give family members and themselves for Christmas. The National Retail Federation survey for Christmas 2015 finds that holiday shoppers plan to spend an average $463 on family members, up from $458 last year and the highest in survey history. Average spending per person is expected to reach $805, with more than half of shoppers planning to splurge on non-gift items for themselves.

Contrast this with the loving charity embedded in Baxter Road Bible Church’s December giving program, where all church income is donated to those in need in this community. Pastor Bob Mather told me this week that, to date, $300,000 has been donated to “to help the poor, the needy and those going through a hard time.” Members suggest which local organizations receive this aid.

“We have found that the more generous we are, the better off we are financially,” Mather says. “You truly cannot out-give God.” BRBC’s program goes under the title “It’s Not Your Birthday.” That’s such an excellent idea. A few other local churches might designate one Christmas offering for this purpose, but December’s offerings? Incredible!

“The joy of God goes through the poverty of the manger and the agony of the cross; that is why it is invincible, irrefutable,” wrote Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. While imprisoned in Germany during World War II, he penned some thoughts to friends reflecting on the Advent season. “It does not deny the anguish, when it is there, but finds God in the midst of it, in fact precisely there; it does not deny grave sin but finds forgiveness precisely in this way; it looks death straight in the eye, but it finds life precisely within it.” Advent goes much deeper than much of what we see and experience in most churches.

Changing attitudes are slowly being seen in other denominations, such as Southern Baptists, where Advent is not a core tradition. Joe Carter, communications specialist for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, in an article titled “Southern Baptists and Advent: Four Things to Know” that acknowledges changing attitudes in that denomination, writes: “With the exception of Christmas and Easter, Southern Baptist congregations in America generally do not observe the days of the Western church calendar. Instead, they tend to follow the pattern of the Puritans, who believed following the liturgical calendar violated their liberty of conscience (many Puritans refused to celebrate any holidays besides the Lord’s Day). Some Baptist churches, however, have begun to incorporate Advent observance in their preparations for Christmas.”

Traditional Advent music looks forward to the coming of the Messiah, and a traditional observance of Advent avoids Christmas carols, which are are reserved for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. The watchful anticipation expressed in these hymns — such as “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel” or “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” — is part of the attraction of Advent. From the perspective of one observing a traditional liturgical calendar, singing Christmas songs during Advent would be like a spoiler for a movie you were looking forward to seeing. Nevertheless, many congregations do so. Last year, when I asked a pastor why his congregation was singing carols during Advent, I was told they skipped traditional Advent hymns in favor of more cheerful music.

Advent sermons often address the key themes of each Advent Sunday: hope, love, joy and peace. They’re linked to the four purple Advent candles in a wreath of evergreen, lit in order each Sunday as a new theme is taken up.. On Christmas Eve, a white candle in the center of the wreath is lit to signify Jesus, the light of the world.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in a sermon titled “The What and the When of the Christ Child,” said: “People like us have careful work to do in Advent, to weave our way between two big dangers. On the one hand, there are dangerous people floating around the church who specialize in times and dates and schedules, who know with precision the time of Christ’s coming and who speak confidently of millennia and pre-millennia and post-millennia. … They know too much and reduce God’s freedom to the timetable of their ideology. On the other hand, there are dangerous people floating around the church who are offended by those people, and who in reaction are in love with their comfortable affluence and who imagine that it will not get any better than this, and who expect no gospel arrival at any time ever. People like us live in that awkward place amid those who know too much and those who expect nothing.”

Advent is a wonderful time to challenge and strengthen your faith and can be a useful force for sharing and Christian growth.

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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

John Carpenter, Former KTUU Sports Anchor, Ordained at BRBC

Popular local TV figure, John Carpenter, former longtime sports anchor at KTUU-TV, Channel 2, was ordained tonight at Baxter Road Bible Church .

Carpenter will serve as Associate Pastor assisting long-time Pastor Bob Mather. Mather proudly noted that well-known Pastor Rick Benjamin had introduced the idea to him recently. This fast-growing church in the Muldoon area will certainly benefit from this leadership addition. [img_assist|nid=155182|title=Pastor Bob Mather and John Carpenter Prior to Ordination|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=293]

BRBC’s praise group gave a peppy start to the ordination service with four up-tempo renditions of praise songs, capped by the Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, and Ed Cash favorite “How Great Is Our God”. The 45-minute ordination service was brief but meaningful. Pastor Mather’s remarks focused on 2 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul’s delineation of the duties of a pastor. Carpenter was accompanied on the platform by his wife, Kelley, who is already a strong partner to him. I was quite impressed that both John and Kelley were walking up the aisles of the church, before the service, shaking hands, talking with members.

Unusual in my church visiting experiences, a footwashing was performed by Carpenter with a young man member to emphasize the servanthood nature of ministry. Pastor Mather noted the connection with Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples prior to the last supper.

The elders anointed Carpenter, laid their hands on both he and Kelley, praying an ordination prayer over them. In his brief post-ordination remarks Carpenter, quite overcome with the emotion of the moment, thanked all for the opportunity to be their pastor. Noted for his wit, he lightened up the moment by apologizing to his son. “Sam, I’m sorry but I’ve just made you a preacher’s kid”.

After a final song by the praise group, Pastor Rick Benjamin, a longtime friend of “Carp”, concluded the service with a powerful prayer. I look forward to hearing more from this dynamic little church on Baxter Road. It all begins with Pastor Carpenter preaching for the next three Sundays about why he quit a highly visible, well paid job, trading it for higher demands and a lower salary at Baxter Road Bible Church.