Tag Archives: St Mark Lutheran

Not feeling holiday cheer? Maybe a Blue Christmas or Longest Night service is for you!

At this time of year, many are suffering from illness, death of a loved one, loneliness, or sadness.  Often, the cheery greetings of the Christmas season ring hollow compared to the pain many feel.  I can certainly relate to these feelings as I too have experienced loss during the past year, and have just passed the anniversaries of my mother’s and sister’s deaths.

Several local churches extend themselves to offer solace to anyone needing a time to escape from the cheery atmosphere surrounding this time of year, to reflect and more effectively confront these issues. Some offer “Blue Christmas” services while others may have “Longest Night” services. These coincide with the time of year where the darkness exceeds the light by many margins.

Finding these services can be a challenge however. A Google search (blue christmas anchorage) revealed one such service on the first search page; St. Mark Lutheran on December 20, 7 p.m. via a Facebook post. (see https://www.facebook.com/events/323053711510959/) On the second search page Trinity Presbyterian Church (trinityalaska.org) announces they are holding a Blue Christmas service at 6:30 p.m. on December 24. The third page contains an outdated Lutheran service reference which no longer applies.

What a shame that so few churches can be found posting such services. Most people don’t delve beyond the first two or three search pages.  Many churches believe that internal newsletters, tweets, or Facebook posts are all that is needed to get the word out.  The Christian term for this is taken from Matthew 5:15, “Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” It’s little wonder that Christmas has degenerated in this post-Christian era. Too many Christians have totally surrendered themselves to the consumer-driven hijacking of Christmas.

Looking for “Longest Night” services is equally challenging. A Google search (longest night service anchorage) reveals similar, with one ray of hope. The first search page revealed only one local church, St. John UMC as having a longest night service on December 21, 7:00 p.m.  (see http://www.stjohneagle.com/upcoming-events.html) St John has diligently gone from having a problematic church website to one of the best in the city. Their crowded calendar is easily picked up on Google.  Unfortunately Google search pages two and three revealed no other Longest Night services locally.

I’m also aware that St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is having their annual Blue Christmas service on Wednesday, December 20, at 5:30 p.m.  Rector Michael Burke told me, “It is a time of silence, prayerfulness, and healing for those overwhelmed by the holiday season, and its sense of merriment.” St. Mary’s newsletter further states, “In previous years, some of those who attended spoke of loved ones who have died, and of other losses in their life over the past year. We will once again light candles and pray for and with one another. The service will conclude with all of us singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Our very own Dave Rush will again provide his beautiful instrumental guitar music. Come join us for a beautiful, quiet, and reflective time.

My personal thanks to those few churches that have chosen to not “hide their light under a bushel” but are providing a meaningful forum for those aflicted by pain and suffering during this holiday season. Isn’t this what the Beatitudes of Jesus addressed?

Chris Thompson

St Mark Lutheran…A Cold Day’s Visit

[img_assist|nid=135592|title=St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church|desc=(used by permission)|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=232]Summary
After receiving queries about omitting Lutherans from my church visits, I chose St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church for a visit. As it turned out, I picked the last day of Pastor Rick Cavens nineteen year pastorate, November 19, for my visit. Just before departing for the service, I perused St Mark’s website to determine their membership and normal attendance. Catching my eye, their latest newsletter contained an article by Vicar Sandra Rudd where my church visits were mentioned, along with tactful suggestions about hospitality to visitors. Members must not have read this newsletter because I received no welcome at St. Marks. I also held the door in the bitter cold for a series of late arriving members, and none of them welcomed me either. My “good morning” from the bulletin passer was it. Pastor Cavens seems to have functioned as the official greeter of the church and spent some time welcoming visitors by name. It was a beautiful farewell service for the Pastor accompanied by a farewell meal at the end of the service. No, I was not invited to join them here either. I did however have a wonderful conversation with the organist about their beautiful pipe organs. It may have been that all of the members were too preoccupied with Cavens departure, but church hospitality should not be the responsibility of one person, and it should always be in full Christian force.

A Beautiful Church
Located one block south of the busy Lake Otis & Northern Lights intersection, St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church is a beautiful church with an active congregation. I was tempted to schedule my visit for another week when I found the reference to my visits in the newsletter, but I need not have worried as it changed nothing. I prefer to visit a church unannounced so I can receive the same treatment any visitor would get. Only after a service, I might mention I’m blogging my visit, usually in the interest of obtaining clarification of certain points connected with the visit.

Pastor a One-Person Hospitality Icon?
Pastor Cavens personal touch with visitors was fine. He informally strolled around the church to point out this or that visitor and the circumstances of their visit. It was a warm touch but in my opinion lulled the members into leaving hospitality duties to the pastor. This was my first visit to an Anchorage church where the pastor was so involved in pointing out visitors and making them feel at home. During the “Peace” Cavens made his way back to me and said, “There you are. I missed you. You disappeared on me.” I had been sitting in plain sight all along. He could have obtained my name and made mention of the miss, but those liturgical schedules need to be adhered to.

Some Good Memories
There were wonderful highlights to my visit. There was handbell music by a special group of church members. Long will I remember their performance. There was much participation by various church members. An elderly reader was helped to the podium to read the Old & New Testament scriptures. That was awesome. Caroline Valentine skillfully and sensitively presented the music from their beautiful pipe organs which wonderfully accented the service. I spent a few minutes with her after the service and she patiently explained the background of the organs and her joy in serving her church with music. Thank you Caroline! The church interior is quite modern with wood beams. It is tastefully appointed but not overdone.

I can see why Cavens was so long at this church as he has an informal style that has broad appeal. He did the children’s story using a hand puppet of a cat, describing his M&M ministry. M&M’s were handed out to the children and to other church members.

Cavens sermon was based on the parable of the talents in Mathew 25. He mentioned the interim pastor told him on his arrival that “All you [St. Marks members] needed was to be loved.” Cavens shared his vision of where he hoped the church would continue to grow, physically and spiritually, ending with the challenge, “What are you going to do with your talents?”

The Prayers of the People were especially touching this day with much participation. After the offering, communion was served in a most meaningful manner with Pastor Cavens being joined by his wife and two daughters who assisted him with serving the congregation. The service was closed with a special liturgy for the Departure of a Pastor from a Congregation. Sister Kathleen from Horizon House joined Cavens onstage for this ceremony.

In many respects I did enjoy my visit to St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church. In all honesty I cannot say it is a warm and welcoming church presently. I believe all Christians are sufficiently enjoined by Old and New Testament citations to extend hospitality to visitors. This needs to be a natural and normal part of our faith life and extended through our churches.
[img_assist|nid=135594|title=Kenneth Jones Tracker Organ-St Mark Lutheran Church|desc=(used by permission)|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]