Tag Archives: Rector Michael Burke

Lent Drawing to a Close

As Lent draws to a close, I’ve had a chance to reflect on its value to the Christian life. For me it has offered a time of personal introspection, something I don’t do enough of.  Ash Wednesday’s reminder of “Remember that dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” based on Genesis 3:19, are sobering words, not easily ignored. Ongoing events in my life are constantly reminding me of my mortality. Lent provided the proper framework to let it all sink in.  Maybe the same is true for you.

I’ve been blessed, as I wrote last week, by participating in a single church’s Lenten soup suppers and talks on Wednesday evening. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church offered great soup, incredible Christian fellowship, and meaningful talks. Last night, Rector Michael Burke concluded these Lenten evenings with a history-based talk about the meaning of Holy Week and the various days observed during it.  He began with a discussion centering around a handout relating to the liturgical calendar of the church year.  The various cleansing ceremonies in the early church were then explained including full immersion baptism after one learned more about the faith for three years.  Candidates renounced their sin, fears, and the evil powers of this world, and were immersed three times. This was done once a year at the time our current Easter falls. Rector Michael mentioned he tries to do the same at St. Mary’s each year, and if possible to lead the congregation in a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Burke concluded this informative time with the Eucharist. Using the rudimentary service contained in the didache, a brief anonymous early Christian treatise dated to the first century, we shared the bread and wine around the circle, a most meaningful experience.

A pastor friend introduced me to Rev Dr Jill F Bradway, First American Baptist Church’s new pastor, explaining she introduced her congregation to Lent starting with Ash Wednesday. She describes her experience with it at her church.

“I’ve been in Anchorage for 5 weeks. I came right at the beginning of the Lenten season. It has been a new experience for the congregation. I hope more will choose to make the journey next year.

“Lent isn’t something that most Baptists observe. We wake up to the season around Holy Week, celebrating Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter! And as wonderful as that is, it misses the opportunity to enter more intentionally into the disciplines of prayer, self-reflection, and repentance.

“While a Master of Divinity student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, I saw my Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal counterparts participating in Lenten exercises. It made ask myself the question, “What do they know that I don’t?” And so, I began to ask questions of them, to observe their special services, and finally to look at Baptist polity to see if there was anything to keep me from adopting these practices into my own life and ministry. Expanding my understanding to include the significance of Lent has added an unexpected richness to my spiritual journey.

Many more Baptists and other evangelicals are exploring Lent and its meaning in the Christian walk. I wish Rev. Bradway and her congregation well as they do their own personal exploration. This year, Ash Wednesday at St. John United Methodist Church was my Lenten beginning. Many Anchorage churches have ushered this poor soul into the meaning of Lent for which I am truly grateful.

 

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.

How local churches use — or don’t use — traditional Christian creeds

Christian creeds, developed during the early days of the church, are summary statements of Christian belief.

One of the earliest, the Apostles’ Creed, had developed by the fourth century from predecessors that may date as far back as the first or second century. In its current form it reads: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

A number of creeds have developed over the course of church history. The Nicene Creed resulted from the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.). Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, has a creed named after him, the Athanasian Creed (500 A.D.), which clearly distinguishes the doctrine of the Trinity.

Visiting local churches, I find creeds commonly used in liturgically oriented churches such as Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran and Orthodox. Most evangelical churches that don’t use creeds tend to have statements of belief, sometimes quite lengthy ones. The Seventh-day Adventist church, one of the fastest growing evangelical denominations in the U.S., uses “28 Fundamental Beliefs” as its core statement and test of fellowship.

A local evangelical exception is ChangePoint.

“We do believe in and express the Apostles’ Creed in its original form without the statement ‘He descended into hell,’”  says teaching pastor Dan Jarrell. “We do it because we agree with its theology and believe it has been a unifying creed in the church for almost 2,000 years. It is a ‘focal statement’ of orthodox theology, and singing it and reciting it are ‘focal practices.’”

Southern Baptists comprise the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the U.S.

“Southern Baptists do not subscribe to a creed and firmly believe in the Priesthood of the Believer,” says Dr. David George, director of missions for the Chugach Baptist Association. “This means that we do not rely on any hierarchy to decree how we are to interpret scripture, but it is left up to the individual, his church, and the Holy Spirit.”

Evangelical pastor Mike Merriner of Clear Water Church says his congregation occasionally recites the Apostles’ Creed as they sometimes borrow material from the Book of Common Prayer.

“I like the idea of creeds, because a community of faith should share core beliefs,” he said. “In fact, it would concern me if a member of our church was not in agreement with the Apostles’ Creed.”

Episcopal churches generally use the Nicene Creed before the Eucharist and the Apostles’ Creed before baptisms.

“The Apostles’ Creed is probably the least controversial creed of the Christian faith since it does not contain the Filioque clause that the Nicene Creed in the West has — a point of continued difference between the Church of the East (Orthodox) and the Latin Church(es),” says All Saints Episcopal Church’s pastor David Terwilliger. “Filioque” is a Latin phrase added to the Nicene Creed essentially indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father “and Son.”

“At various seasons of the church year, we also use the ‘Jesus Creed’ in worship, a devotional prayer first shared by Brian McLaren at a conference in Nashville in 2004,” says Rector Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “It has evoked strong feelings and some deep thought among participants in worship, as evidenced by many follow-up conversations with people and in small groups. Because of this experience, I believe that people are also interacting with the traditional Nicene Creed in a new way, and not just reciting it in an unreflective or rote way.”

“The ancient creeds are still relevant today in a world where new and old Christian denominations invent and rearrange their understanding of the faith,” says pastor Rick Cavens of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla.”They fought for a common understanding of the faith around 300 A.D.; we still do, and need to.” He notes they use the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday, and, “once a year we may use the Athanasian Creed; which means you get a long service. It’s all about the Trinity and the historical tie to the early church.”

Rev. Anthony Patalano, pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, says the Nicene Creed is basically the only one used at that congregation, where it is said by the priest and congregation after the homily.

“When I got to Anchorage in 2011, the translation of the Nicene Creed was changed to be more faithful to the Latin text,” he added.

For an Eastern Orthodox view of creedal use I turned to Rev Marc Dunaway, pastor of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.

“We say the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed every Sunday as part of our Liturgy,” Dunaway said. “It is sometimes called just the Nicene Creed or commonly in Orthodox Churches simply the Symbol of Faith. We recite the Creed in the original form it was written by the first and second Ecumenical Councils, that is, without the phrase which was later added in the western Church, known in Latin as the ‘filioque.’ Orthodox hold it was wrong to unilaterally change a Creed written by Ecumenical Councils, and also this change diminishes the understanding of the role of Holy Spirit in the Church.”

“More importantly, we use this Creed first of all as a profession of faith when one prepares for Baptism. Within the Divine Liturgy, it is also an ongoing affirmation of what we believe about certain essential doctrines.”

I like creeds and choke up sometimes when I repeat them. They are meaningful expressions of what one believes. Too many churches and denominations use hundreds or even thousands of words to be explicit about their beliefs. I enjoy hearing and saying core Christian beliefs expressed in minimal words.

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 to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any Web browser.

Longtime Alaska priest Norman Elliott turns 97

Well, it’s happening again. The Rev. Norman Elliott of All Saints Episcopal Church will celebrate another birthday Feb. 2, his 97th. It’s extremely rare to find clergy still active at his age. Elliott’s ministry and friendships have touched thousands of Alaskans and beg recognition while he’s still with us. Elliott retired in 1990 at age 70, a church requirement then, but came out of retirement two years ago to act as “priest-in-charge” at All Saints when their previous rector departed with little notice. The Rev. David Terwilliger has been selected as All Saints’ new rector and will be installed by the Right Rev. Mark Lattime, bishop of Alaska, at Easter.

Recently Elliott was hospitalized with pneumonia. Still recovering, he maintains an active schedule of worship and hospital visits. While he was in the hospital, Sen. Lisa Murkowski visited him. She told me: “He is a guy that’s not going to let things pass him by. A couple of weeks ago when I visited him in the hospital at Providence, he was sitting there in the hospital bed grumping about the fact that he had places to go. I think with Father Elliott, he lives every day to the fullest, from the time that he wakes up in the morning to the time that he goes to bed at night. He is living every day, and that’s living a life well.”

Elliott regularly visits patients at Anchorage hospitals.

“Father Elliott is famous for visiting sick people in our local hospitals, somehow knowing exactly when someone is admitted,” says the Rev. Michael Burke, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “In all my years of ministry, it was rare I got to the hospital before him. Once, when visiting a parishioner who both he and I had connections with, I was astounded I’d arrived at the patient’s bedside before Father Elliott. I remarked about this to the parishioner. The patient broke into a huge grin. ‘Look behind you,’ he said, just as Father Elliott arrived in the doorway. I had beaten him there by a full two minutes!”

At last Friday’s funeral for former Anchorage Archbishop Francis T. Hurley, Elliott reflected on his longtime personal friendship with the archbishop in a story about two bottles of water. The story began with Pope John Paul II inviting the choir that sang when he celebrated Mass on the Delaney Park Strip in 1981 to Rome to sing at the Vatican. Two months later, a group of 250 departed Anchorage for Europe.

At the direction of Hurley, who envisioned the church as ecumenical, the group was not limited to Roman Catholics. Elliott and his wife were part of the group, which stopped in London for the weekend. While there, Hurley celebrated Mass at a large Catholic cathedral and invited Elliott to vest. In his homily, Hurley noted that at one point, Roman Catholics and Anglicans had been one church but centuries earlier the Church of England (which in U.S. is the Episcopal Church) split off, and said that at some point down the road maybe the two churches would be unified again. Several days later, the same thing happened: At a Mass at the Vatican, the Catholic archbishop — with the vested Episcopal priest by his side — gave the same homily.

How did the bottles of water fit in? After Mass in London, Elliott went to the River Thames and filled a bottle of water there. After Mass in Rome, he filled a second bottle from the Tiber River. At one of Hurley’s birthday parties, Elliott presented him with the two bottles, saying it was his wish that one day both would stand unified at Ship Creek pouring both bottles of water into the river to celebrate a united church.

The archbishop held on to the bottles and had a case built for them. When Elliott retired, Hurley presented him with both bottles. Elliott concluded that he would most likely not be around to see that unification happen but hoped it would happen and that the waters from the Tiber and Thames would be poured into Ship Creek.

“I had the privilege of meeting Father Norman Elliott when I first arrived at the Archdiocese of Anchorage as the newly appointed archbishop,” recalls Roger L. Schwietz recalls. “It was shortly after Father Norm’s 81st birthday.  He had supposedly retired 12 years earlier. I would have never known. I have great admiration for Father Elliott for his continued dedication to ministry, his deep love of Christ and his longing for the unity of the Christian family.  May God continue to bless him in his life of service to the greater Anchorage community.”

Sen. Ted Stevens was a close friend of Elliott’s. Whenever Stevens was in Anchorage, he worshipped at All Saints. When, in 1978, a Learjet with Stevens and his wife, Ann, aboard crashed at Anchorage International Airport, Elliott was alerted that Stevens was in serious condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center and was provided a police escort to quickly reach him. It fell to Elliott to break the sad news to Ted that Ann had died in the crash. Later, when Stevens married his second wife, Catherine, he chose Elliott to perform the marriage.

Former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan first met Elliott in the early 1950s in Nenana, where his dad was a U.S. marshal and his mom commissioner, a judicial position. He has fond memories of Elliott’s care for his family, even though they weren’t Episcopalian. When Sullivan’s dad and mom were in hospital prior to their deaths, Elliott provided warm spiritual care for them.

I deeply enjoy my conversations and relationship with Elliott. He’s a real Christian in every sense of the word, and I wish him many more happy and healthy years.

All Saints Episcopal Church invites friends of the Rev. Norman Elliott to an early birthday party at McGinley’s Pub in downtown Anchorage from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31.

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 to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any Web browser.

A spiritual oasis at St. Mary’s Episcopal in Anchorage

A gentle knoll at Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road, one of Anchorage’s busiest intersections, houses a beautiful sanctuary overlooking the Chugach Mountains. It’s also home for a remarkable congregation dedicated to common worship, earnest study and being a caring presence for God in our community.

This uncommon Episcopal congregation, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, has attracted my attention for many years. Although I’m not a member, I’m always treated as one, something I rarely experience among other Anchorage churches.

Before I started visiting churches and writing about those visits, I had an opportunity to attend this church almost 15 years ago. The occasion was the wedding of a couple I knew. That first visit awakened in me a curiosity about the church and its people.

The view of the Chugach Mountains from the church’s long section of windows was breathtaking then and remains so to this day.  Last Sunday, St. Mary’s rector, Michael Burke, looking out over the view, commented on the perspective folks on the Hillside and East Anchorage were seeing; they were in the clouds but worshipers saw a clear view of the mountains and the beautiful sky beyond.

It may be coincidental, but I like the church’s choice of its web address, godsview.org. The website really explains what the church embodies. “We are a vibrant, multigenerational and inclusive faith community, centered in Jesus and committed to spiritual growth, service and social justice.”

St. Mary’s offers four Sunday services, each unique and attended by worshipers drawn for specific reasons. All services offer a sermon and the Eucharist. The 8 a.m. service is quiet, without music, and follows Rite I, using the old Elizabethan language in the Book of Common Prayer. The 9 a.m. service features choral music and pipe organ accompaniment for hymns; Karen Bretz plays and directs the choir. The 11:30 a.m. service music is led by Wade Hampton Miller and the St. Mary’s Praise Singers, adding lively folk, gospel and gospel bluegrass renditions. Finally, the 4 p.m. service is quiet and refreshing, providing a much-needed respite.

But wait, there’s more. There is also a 7 a.m. Eucharistic service Wednesday mornings. Lasting about 20 minutes, it brings together those desiring a midweek taste of Eucharistic fellowship. Rector Burke tells me attendees are not all of his faith but children of God desiring this special experience.

Burke said that 90 percent of people coming to St. Mary’s have no previous relationship with the Episcopal Church. He’s quick to tell newcomers that if they’re looking for a perfect church, they won’t find it at St. Mary’s; it’s a work in progress.

Burke has been at St. Mary’s for 15 years as rector, and it was his sponsoring congregation for ordination many years ago. It recently lost several clergy to another congregation and will lose aoter clergy after the first of the year. Knowing St. Mary’s, it’s seeking new clergy with demonstrated passion for its unique mission.

Opportunities abound for study at St. Mary’s. One study group meets in Cay’s Room (the library) between the 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. services to read and discuss significant contemporary spiritual books. Most recently, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s groundbreaking work, “Accidental Saints” was used as its focus.

Burke recommended this wonderful book to me, which I purchased, devoured quickly and now highly recommend. Written by a unique ELCA woman pastor, it is reminiscent of the character of St. Mary’s mission: full of grace and caring. Another group meets at the same time in Waldron Hall to hear provocative and informative speakers. Known as CAFÉ (Christian Adult Formation and Education), these meetings are delightful.  Recent presentations included authors William Kamkwamba (“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope”), Mark Osler (“Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment”) and Robin Meyer (“The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus”).

These are not light topics for most audiences, but they tend to be standard fare at St. Mary’s. Thursday morning men’s Bible study and Thursday evening Bible workbench study are additional examples of the study character of St. Mary’s.

I talked with Burke about St. Mary’s social justice focus. “In these things we call social justice, I believe all we are trying to do is to follow in the way of Jesus,” he said. “All the ‘isms’: racism, sexism, heterosexism, they are just different ways of talking about how we are all broken; broken by our past, broken by the abuse and misuse of power, broken by the choices others have made and, often, broken by our own choices. Sometimes I think all we have in common is our brokenness and our shared experience of being instruments of God’s grace and healing to one another.”

Finally, St. Mary’s is preparing to open the Thomas Center for Senior Leadership, a new 15-unit senior housing complex nearing completion and located close to the campus of St. Mary’s at Tudor and Lake Otis. Originally the vision of church members Tay and Lowell Thomas, the dream project has been accomplished with support from the Thomas family along with assistance from the St. Mary’s community.

According to board chair Mike McCormick, the center was “conceived as a way to help meet a growing need for senior housing in Anchorage. It’s designated for independent residents aged 62 and above. (However, the facilities are ADA compliant to enable aging in place by long-term residents). The Thomas Center was formed with the belief that healthy senior leadership is a gift to all with resident elders serving as role models for the greater community rather than becoming patients or ‘objects of care.’ It’s built around the idea that we are ‘members of one another,’ we each have both gifts and needs and we are all called to support one another in an interdependent community.”

He said the faith-based center has a primary relationship with St. Mary’s Episcopal Church but will welcome residents of many faith traditions as well as those with none at all.

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.