Tag Archives: Rick Benjamin

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.

Observing Advent can help set the tone for a wholesome Christmas – 11/29/14

I’ve blogged about Advent in Anchorage for many years. Many pastors have shared their reflections about Advent on my blog, for which I am truly grateful. Last year’s theme was “Does celebrating Advent really make a difference?”

For example, recently retired Pastor Martin Dasler of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church offered, “If you long for a better world, a better government, a better self, Advent speaks to you. Advent is filled with redemptive desires and hopes. In a world filled with too much disillusionment and disappointment, Advent speaks to the profound desires of young idealists as well as to the lost hopes of crusty cynics.”

Rick Benjamin, former pastor of Abbott Loop Community Church and self-confessed “non-Adventer,” shared that “I really appreciate the logic and sequence of Advent: hope, love, joy and peace. Hope came from the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Love was the motivation for God sending his son. Joy happened at the birth event of Jesus. Peace is the result of his coming. I suppose this logic and sequence fits my linear way of thinking.”

Advent can be a time of great joy, infusing the church year with much goodness. With many religions it also signals the start of the church year. Advent, for centuries, has been observed as a time of watchful waiting, as Christians re-imagine the period of time prefiguring the birth of Jesus. In some traditions it was, and still is, accompanied by a period of fasting. Many traditions surround the observance of Advent with wreaths and candles of significance. Church historians generally date Advent’s observance to around the fourth century. More than half of Christian religions in America today celebrate Advent, with more joining every year. Advent seems to provide a helpful balance against the American penchant for observing Christmas as a commercial giving holiday that is generally directed more toward each other than toward humanity in general.

In Advent-observing churches, it is progressively celebrated for the four Sundays preceding Christmas with a theme, an Advent wreath and a candle of significance for that theme. On Christmas Eve, an additional candle, the Christ Candle, is lit celebrating Christ’s centrality to Advent. Advent tradition precludes carol singing until the Christmas Eve service. Instead, Christian hymns of watchful waiting are used. A good example of this is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Advent can be a wonderful time for contemplation, hope and blessing, as worshipers consider the true meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ for the world. Church attendance is not enough to reap the benefits of Advent. Many find that personal preparation, prayer and fasting help keep the mind clear and focused on the true meaning of Advent. Some Christians object to the observance of Advent because it is not mentioned in Scripture. Neither is the observance of Christmas, Lent or Easter, but that does not keep people from observing some or all of these Christian occasions. The venerable “altar call” so prevalent in some religions is not mentioned in Scripture either, but it is practiced every Sunday in many churches.

I’m captivated by a fascinating antidote to the crass consumerism of Christmas. Emerging in the past eight years, it is called the Advent Conspiracy. Created by five pastors, it imagines a better way of celebrating Christmas in communities. Embracing four tenets — worship fully, spend less, give more and love all — this marvelous idea helps reposition Christmas in extremely positive ways. The Advent Conspiracy is not a funnel for money. Rather, organizers direct individuals to work through their churches, using various suggested resources to support efforts to combat significant water and justice issues during the Christmas season.

Advent Conspiracy’s  well-designed website offers a few startling statistics.

29.8 million = Estimated people held in slavery today

$601 billion = Total U.S. holiday retail sales

$25 = the amount to needed provide a family of five access to safe water for a year

Many other ways exist to break the Christmas cycle of anxiety, spending, debt and hurt feelings, especially among the children. Personally, I admire Baxter Road Bible Church’s program of “It’s not your birthday, it’s Jesus’” for overall simplicity and focus.

Some families have adopted the practice of giving only gifts to family members and friends they have made themselves. The process is extremely enriching for the giver, especially as it simulates, to a degree, the gift that God gave us through his son Jesus. This is a practical way to model character-building behavior for your children.

As mentioned last week, most of our community nonprofit social service agencies desperately need funds at this time of year to continue their work. Don’t forget their needs as you plan your spending for this Christmas season. After reading that column, a friend shared that he and his wife were considering doing so this year, instead of pouring it into children and grandchildren.

Many churches will observe Advent starting this coming Sunday. A Google search turned up many congregations, and others will announce their services in Alaska Dispatch News’ “Matters of Faith” section in Saturday’s paper, usually just below this column. Most Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Moravian, Congregational and Orthodox churches offer Advent services. I recommend attending an Advent service if you’ve never done so before.  Please share your personal and observational thoughts about Advent services and their impact on you.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith.  You can find his blog at churchvisits.com.

Advent Reflection – Pastor Rick Benjamin

This Advent I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors, representing a variety of faith traditions, to submit a brief Advent Reflection under this year’s theme: “Does Celebrating Advent Really Make a Difference?”

The next pastor to be featured is Rick Benjamin, former Sr. Pastor of Abbott Loop Community Church. He is now is the Director of Organizational and Spiritual Wellness at Hope Community Resources.

An Advent Reflection from a “Non-Adventer”

Our church and my heritage are in the Protestant/evangelical/Pentecostal tradition of the Christian faith. We did not follow the liturgical calendar; we didn’t even have services on Good Friday. (We were somewhat religious about how non-religious we were!) So we did not follow the tradition of Advent. I knew the word “advent” meant “coming,” but that was usually applied to the Second Coming of Jesus. Of course we had our own church and family traditions for celebrating Christmas.

Along the way God has blessed me with many new friends and colleagues in the broader body of Christ. Through these relationships I became aware and intrigued by the liturgical calendar and I learned about Advent. A year ago I was guest speaking for a new church that followed Advent. To do those messages I learned about the four Sundays of Advent, the candles and the colors.

I really appreciate the logic and sequence of Advent: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Hope came from the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament. Love was the motivation for God sending his Son. Joy happened at the birth event of Jesus. Peace is the result of his coming. I suppose this logic and sequence fits my linear way of thinking.

I also appreciate the anticipation through the month, leading up to Christmas. I learned that Advent can even be a “mini-Lent,” a time of fasting and self-denial. One Advent expression I still don’t understand is “preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ child.” He already came; I don’t need to prepare for his coming, but I do celebrate that he came. Maybe what is really meant is “preparing ourselves for that celebration?”

I have benefited from Advent, even though my understanding and observance are admittedly incomplete. And to all the other “non-Adventers” like me out there, I suggest you give Advent a try. But since it includes all four Sundays in December, you may have to wait till next year.

Advent Reflection: Pastor Rick Benjamin

I’ve asked a cross-section of Anchorage pastors to comment upon Advent as an Antidote for Acquisitiveness or Consumerism. The first pastor to be featured is Rick Benjamin, former Sr. Pastor of Abbott Loop Community Church. Pastor Rick is the Director of Organizational and Spiritual Wellness at Hope Community Resources.

Enjoy Christmas! Celebrate being with friends and family, eat all the great food, and have fun opening all your presents. But don’t forget the reason for Christmas – God’s gift of Jesus. And don’t forget to give – to friends and family – but also to people around us in need. Remember that sometimes the most meaningful gifts don’t cost a lot of money, like a photograph, and hand-made item or a hand-written note. Find a way to show love, to help overcome the deplorable commercialization of Christmas, and have a more meaningful personal Christmas experience as well.

God bless and Merry Christmas.
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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.