Tag Archives: St Mary’s Episcopal

Evening of Silence – December 2017

This time there’s more notice.

Many in our faith community say they would have attended the last Evening of Silence at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church if they had known about it in advance. Here’s your notice.

This coming Thursday evening, 6:30-8:00 p.m., St. Mary’s Episcopal will once again open it’s doors for a period of silence to come, sit, kneel, reflect, and pray in a holy setting.

Many of us need to come apart from our dwellings to experience the joys of communing with the divine.  There are so many distractions which separate us from practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, and fellowship.  It’s a benefit to us all, that St. Mary’s is one of the few churches in the local area that open its doors for this purpose.  Due to vandalism, theft, desecration, and lack of respect, many churches do not open their doors other than for established meeting times and purposes.

You are free to come and go as you please during this time at St. Mary’s.  A litany book was prepared by Heidi Marlowe for the last evening of silence.  It was a thoughtful, quiet method to bring ones heart to a time of quiet internalization through Christian litany.  Come for a few minutes or the entire hour and a half. It’s up to you.

Thank you St. Mary’s community for leading out in this meaningful opportunity of faith.

Chris Thompson
churchvisits@gmail.com

Church Gardens: Why aren’t more doing them?

 

Lutheran Church of Hope – Hope Garden – 2016                                                  (Don Bladow pictured in garden)

In 2015, at the suggestion of a St. John United Methodist member, I wrote my first column on church gardens. I followed that column up with several others about the fantastic strides some local churches have been making in planting those gardens. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/?s=church+gardens to read those columns).

However, considering that Anchorage has around 400 churches, it’s disturbing to see so few churches devoting space and emphasis to this practical ministry with many spiritual implications. Fewer, if any, of those gardens involve individuals in the community who are given the produce grown in those gardens. Is it possible that a sense of entitlement has grown up among recipients of all of this fresh produce, overriding any real interest in learning how food is grown, where it comes from, and the significant amount of labor to make it happen? Or, are churches struggling with the concept of involving needy recipients in the process of food production?

It’s already planting season, and planning for those gardens should have occurred months ago. While never too late, concerted effort could still be made to make them happen yet this year. If one looks at the average physical church property, many have adequate space surrounding them to make it happen. Just look at the average church property you drive by regularly.

Several churches are making a difference in the community by dedicating the space, putting in the requisite planting beds, and fencing them for protection. One of my favorite church gardens, and largest to my knowledge, is Lutheran Church of Hope on W. Northern Lights. They started last year with around 4,000 sq ft, and have doubled their space to over 9,000 sq ft. Their bountiful harvest goes to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA) for distribution through their food pantry.

Master gardener Don Bladow shares that The garden is not free of snow yet so is looks like we won’t be planting ’til the more traditional time near Memorial Day. We did expand it last fall to about 9,000 sq. ft. It’s all fenced. We got that done in October. I have been planting starts and have plans for a couple of new experiments this year. Will try to grow a number of other species of peppers and cucumbers. The cukes will be outside under a lean to type greenhouse that will be open on the ends. Will also plant beans and turnips this year as well as most of the stuff we planted last year.”

Hope Garden (potatoes from one plant)

Don maintains a blog on the garden and expects to start posting to it several times monthly as early as June. His excellent blog is located at http://harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com/.

Hope Garden (one Friday’s harvest)

Anchorage Lutheran has also taken the plunge into church gardening with 17 – 4×8’ raised beds. They’ll be fencing the garden shortly, a necessity, as church gardens make excellent browsing and forage sources for rabbits and moose. I talked with Lisa Wilkinson, co-coordinator of their garden, who, with member Dick Mikkelsen has been a strong champion. They’re planting potatoes, cabbage, carrots, primarily, along with a mixture of other things. They’ll be donating their product to LSSA and Beans’ Café according to member/gardener wishes. They’ll be planting in compost, and are setting up a composter on site to further this practice. Lisa shares their goal is “to teach and donate”.  That’s the first step in involving a wider community.

St. John United Methodist Church has had a “Jesus Garden” for several years. Coordinator Allison McLain has personal and practical visions for the Jesus Garden. Allison says, “My Jesus Garden vision for this year is one I have followed for as many years there have been Jesus Garden’s in my life: grow fresh vegetables for people in need of food. Growing vegetables is something that I can do to support people in need and happily there are friends at church and a husband and daughter who believe in this idea too!!! I feel called by Jesus to do this…and I wonder sometimes if Jesus called me to do this because it is something reasonably easy for me to do for people in need with a full-time job, family, church, and the other adventures in my life.”

My practical vision for this year is to expand our vegetable growing abilities by asking people in our church to be Potato Nannies – to grow potatoes at home in buckets – all the potatoes would of course be part of our St. John Jesus Food donation to Downtown Soup Kitchen. With potatoes growing elsewhere we will have more space to grow more chard and kale in the garden at St. John. My goal for this year is to grow and donate 300 pounds of food to DSK.”

“Kale and chard are two standard soup ingredients for soups on the weekly menu at Downtown Soup Kitchen (DSK), where all the Jesus Garden produce is donated. Last year we donated 260 pounds of produce (peas, red runner beans, chard, kale, parsley, basil, lovage, and potatoes.). I plan what we grow with Vicki Martin at DSK; we only grow what will be used in soups made by DSK chefs. Often what we deliver early in the week is used later that week in soup.  If our donated vegetables don’t go into soups right away DSK volunteers process them for freezing and later use.”
Other churches with gardens this year include:
Central Lutheran Church
Christ Church Episcopal Church
Joy Lutheran Church
Lutheran Social Services of Alaska
St. Anthony’s Catholic Church
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Turnagain United Methodist Church
Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer

If I’ve omitted any church from this list, please let me know and I’ll add it to a new tab I’ll be placing on my website ChurchVisits.com.

Blessings to all churches for the coming harvest from these gardens. I’ll provide updates as I receive them. Write me at churchvisits@gmail.com to keep me updated. There is a very practical side of ministry but most local churches seem to be missing the boat in applying that lesson.

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.

 

Lenten Wednesday Night Soup Suppers – St Mary’s Episcopal

I’ve been enjoying St. Mary’s Episcopal’s Wednesday night soup suppers and talks. Starting at 6 p.m., they feature a simple soup supper prepared by a parishioner. At 7 p.m. Heidi Marlowe, St. Mary’s member, has been presenting an excellent series of talks on “Monastic Practices for Lay Life“.

Drawing on her personal experience as a modern day contemplative, Heidi’s presented a picture of monasticism going back to the dawn of Christianity.  She’s guided by St. Benedicts Rule, as are many monastics. Marlowe also created a short form of the Rule called “A Smaller Rule”, which she made available to all who wished a copy. An example from it reads:

“embrace life, whatever that may cost,
whatever that may mean,
and however that may appear.”

Another volume she created was a Psalter to be used for Lent, drawn from the Rule of Benedict, and the Office of Vespers for Wednesdays in Lent.  It is used for group recitation at the conclusion of her talks.

These Lenten suppers end on April 5.  I’ve enjoyed each presentation as they have evolved, starting with Heidi’s talk first Sunday of Lent.

Last Wednesday, The Rev. Kacei Conyers–Associate Rector, gave a fascinating talk about the origins and use of the Common Book of Prayer.  It certainly added to my store of knowledge of this central document used in the Episcopal Church.

Lent is a time of self-examination prior to Holy Week.  St. Mary’s is excelling in presenting Lenten fare that aids in that process. I highly commend this series to anyone seeking to know more about contemplation, and a more structured practice of practical monasticism for the daily life. Thank you St Mary’s for this gift to the community. You are feeding the body and the soul through this series.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is located on the SW corner of Tudor Rd, and Lake Otis Parkway.

Thomas Merton a focus of upcoming lecture series at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Thomas Merton’s life and writings have had a huge influence on millions of people for the past 70 years. Before his untimely passing in December 1968, Merton visited Alaska looking at potential new retreat sites during September of that year. “Merton in Alaska,” published posthumously, documented his wide-ranging travels in Alaska, many talks, and ruminations via his letters and journal. I consider this book to be a spiritual “must-read.” (I’ve written about Merton and his time in Alaska in several previous columns.)

On Nov. 4-6, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church will host a series of talks, titled “Contemplation and Action: Insights from Thomas Merton,” by Merton scholar Rev. Hugh Grant, who will be brought to Anchorage  through the generosity of The Caroline Penniman Wohlforth Lecture Series. The talks promise a welcome change from our contentious and damaging election cycle.

Caroline Wohlforth passed away five years ago but her contributions to Alaska are well known by many. She pioneered the “open classroom” model which resulted in Chugach Optional School. The Committee for Alternative Secondary Education was started through her efforts and those of others, out of which grew Steller Secondary School. She was also a member of the Anchorage School Board, serving as president for two years. A co-founder of KSKA, she also served Planned Parenthood, Thread, and F.I.S.H. A member of St. Mary’s, she led out in the Bible Workbench process, a concerted Bible-study program, editing and contributing to it for many years. The 27th Alaska State Legislature honored her posthumously with a resolution stating “Caroline has left an indelible mark on Alaska and will not be forgotten.” Caroline’s influence lives on through this pioneering lecture series.

After she passed, her husband, Eric Wohlforth, established a foundation to bring noted speakers to St. Mary’s, and other churches, on behalf of the community. The first speaker in the series was Rev. Robin Myers, an author and clergyman from Oklahoma, who spoke about the challenges and advantages of building inclusive Christian communities. The second speaker was Mark Osler, law professor at University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis, who spoke on social advocacy and his book “Jesus on Death Row,” which challenged the death penalty based on the experience of Jesus Christ as a criminal defendant.

In choosing this year’s speaker, Wohlforth  was deeply influenced by an Easter sermon he heard Rev. Grant give earlier this year at his church on Orcas Island where he was a guest speaker. Titled “Learning to Love our Whole Selves,” it presented clear thoughts such as “You probably don’t need me to tell you that Christianity over the centuries has been distorted, used as a means of social control and wielding power instead of a safe haven for weary souls longing for peace and a sense of belonging.” And, “Everyone gets a seat at the table, even if some need more help learning how to behave. The table becomes the place of wholeness and healing and incorporation. At the table, everyone belongs. Everyone gets a seat.”

Recalling it, Wohlforth said, “The sermon made me think of the fact that I want to live more intensely with much greater awareness of what is happening in my life. For me this refers to the quality of the thought conversations I have with myself as I react to the daily events of my life. Fred Buechner, a favorite writer of mine, talks about the need to ‘listen to your life.’ I interpret this to mean that for my thought conversations to work (and ‘to work’ means producing some ‘inner change’) requires that I listen more intensively and consciously to daily life events of family, friends and community.” Wohlforth especially recommends author/theologian Buechner’s book, “Listening to Your Life.”

Graduating from General Theological Seminary in New York City with a Master of Divinity, Grant was ordained a priest in 2008. He is also trained in psychotherapy and is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in Washington state, conducts wilderness retreats, and has a keen interest in mysticism. Prior to moving to Washington state, he served for five years in a New York City parish. He currently resides on Orcas Island, Washington.

Rarely do Anchorage churches go out of their way to bring thought-provoking speakers to town to challenge our ways of thinking, and to give us new perspectives with which to view our lives of faith.

On Nov. 4, at 7 p.m., Rev. Grant will speak about “The Spiritual Path of Contemplation and Action: Insights from the life of Thomas Merton.”

Grant’s talk on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 10 a.m.,”Practicing Contemplation and Action: A Quiet Day for Self-Inquiry and Devotion,” is more practically focused.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, at 10:30 a.m., Grant’s delivers a final session, “Further on the Spiritual Path.”

All sessions are at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Tudor Road and Lake Otis Parkway, and are free of charge. (For more information contact St. Mary’s Episcopal Church at (907-563-3341.)

“Our vision is that St. Mary’s might be a resource for spiritual growth for anyone in the wider community” says St. Mary’s rector, Rev. Michael Burke. “It doesn’t matter what faith community that you belong to, or none at all. Come on in. No matter what your perspective is, you’ll probably find someone here who agrees with you.”

In response to my question about what portion of his lectures will focus on Thomas Merton’s work, Grant indicated he plans on devoting one-half to two-thirds of them to Merton. In seminary, he studied Merton, recalling that “The Inner Experience” had just been published. Grant said he was “struck by the interplay between Thomas Merton’s being drawn into the monastery and his inner/outer life.” Merton’s humanity and devotion to the spiritual path proved to be an inspiration to Grant.

“The more we’re called to contemplation, the fruits are action,” he says. Merton wasn’t sure of mystical experiences, Grant noted, but his life seemed to be punctuated by them (he’ll talk about three of those.)

A number of Merton devotees will be attending these lectures. Last year an informal chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society was formed here and representatives will be on hand to offer membership and meeting information to those interested.

Visiting Anchorage? There’s a plethora of worship services to sample and savor in our diverse city

Alaska receives more than 1 million visitors each summer. If you are a person of faith, you can locate many worship options in our community. All major religions are represented. Our churches meet in places ranging from beautiful cathedrals to school facilities and shopping malls. There are many ways to locate interesting churches here. In this column I’m sharing a few of these ways and offering pointers for enriching your stay in our beautiful city.

Finding a Church:

The internet is usually the easiest way to find a church. Leaning toward a particular denomination? Search for the denomination and Anchorage. You will find many choices. Be cautious about selecting churches where the pastor and church’s pictures are the main pictures shown. Unfortunately, some of those church pastors and members seem to be prouder of themselves and the church building, than of their  members’ hard work exercising their faith in the community. Conversely, pictures of church members at worship, play and community service speak volumes compared to sermons or grand church buildings.

Beware of church websites showing only pictures of the splendors of Alaska’s mountains, lakes, rivers and other vistas. From my extensive church visiting experience, many of these churches have forgotten their mission. Some churches mistakenly believe Facebook is their new webpage. If you encounter one of those listings, move on, as they’re out of touch with the purpose of social media; it’s not intended to replace church websites; both are important.

The Matters of Faith page in Alaska Dispatch News, on which you find this article, contains notices of various church offerings, often not just those pertaining to the Christian faith. You may be able to find a special event or service of note by perusing the listings of this community service. I’ve often found a service there of which I’d not been aware.

On my blog, churchvisits.com I’ve posted a list of 10 local churches I consider to be safe choices for first-time visitors seeking warm, welcoming worship services. In that list, I evaluate various service aspects to help you choose a great church. During many years of visiting churches, I’ve looked for and evaluated churches by four distinct criteria. First, I look for a warm and friendly greeting. Next, I quickly determine if this church was hospitable or not. Was the sermon delivered in a “listenable” manner and did I learn some new truth from it? Finally, was the music a big show or entertainment, or did it appropriately support the sermon theme? Too often, many modern churches present 30-45 minutes of earsplitting, high-decibel music that jangle eardrums and senses. On the other end of the musical spectrum, Alaska’s Orthodox  churches pleasingly incorporate music and liturgy for the entirety of their service.

Churches worthy of visits for outstanding features

All of the churches listed below have an unusual feature or two worth going out of the way for. Check with the church office to inquire if they’re accessible for viewing outside of worship hours; many also have explanatory pamphlets.

Holy Family Cathedral

This downtown Roman Catholic cathedral was the site of a visit by Pope John Paul II in 1989 during his trip to Anchorage. They recently installed six beautiful stained glass windows made in Bavaria in 1889 and rescued from a shuttered church. An instant local treasure, they’re a tribute to congregation and clergy desiring to place beautiful reminders of the Gospel story into their worship space. Newly restored Stations of the Cross are also now in place.

First Presbyterian Church

The modern architecture of this downtown church houses a fantastic wall of stained glass. Composed of dalle, or slab glass panels, this wall of light and color is filled with spiritual themes; a wonder to behold.

All Saints Episcopal Church

Sited among the high-rises of downtown, this small church houses beautiful stained glass panels on three of the four sanctuary walls. Sen. Ted Stevens lay in repose here before his funeral.

Resurrection Chapel – Holy Spirit Center

This upper Hillside Catholic chapel offers 180-degree views of the mountains to the west and north of Anchorage. The view of Denali, North America’s tallest peak, is breathtaking here.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Sweeping vistas of the Chugach and Kenai mountains are offered from their east and south facing sanctuary windows. A wonderful Bach-type organ in the sanctuary is used on Sundays.

St. John United Methodist Church

The Rev. David Fison at United Methodist carved two totems, representing several Christian traditions, during his pastorate in Southeast Alaska. One, a replica erected outside, depicts the Christmas story. The other, also in replica outside, depicts the Easter story, while the original, more than 20 feet tall, is inside the sanctuary of this lower Hillside church.

United Methodist Church of Chugiak

If you’d like to see Denali through a church window, there’s no better place to see it than in this church. With floor to ceiling glass facing Denali, it’s a delightful way to worship God, bringing nature right into the church.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church – Eklutna

A short drive north of Anchorage is the small Alaska Native village of Eklutna where you’ll find an old log Russian Orthodox Church, a graveyard with traditional native spirit houses, and a new Orthodox church. Guided tours are available, and donations are requested for maintenance and upkeep.

St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral

This Russian style cathedral contains beautiful iconography and is a delight to visit.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church

Housing a diverse congregation, this new basilica style church contains icons that are a part of this ancient faith. If you are here during August, the congregation’s  Alaska Greek Festival, with music, food, and dancing, is not to be missed.

St. John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

Located in a quiet area north of Anchorage, this striking Antiochian Orthodox cathedral is a beautiful site for pictures externally, and internally a feast for the eyes of architecture and icons. While there, look for the small chapel, St. Sergius of Radonezh Chapel, a short hike away from the main cathedral.

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.

Church gardens update

Anchorage Lutheran Church is planning on joining the ranks of local churches with community gardens.  Blessings to you!

Additionally, today’s column should have included the name of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in the roster of churches with food gardens, even though they were mentioned earlier.

Congregation Beth Sholom is also in the process of planning a community garden.  Great news!

Church gardens grow community: It’s time to start planting more assertively.

Last year, I wrote about local initiatives some churches have taken by planting church gardens or allowing church property to be used for community gardens. When I started writing that column, I pre-supposed those gardens would be used primarily for producing fresh food for Bean’s Café, Downtown Soup Kitchen and other community organizations that feed the hungry. And many church organizations do use them for that purpose.  What I didn’t realize was that a growing number of churches allow anyone to use a garden plot on their grounds regardless of where the food goes.

As I wrote that column, I was unaware of the garden at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Northeast Anchorage. It was created through parishioners’ conversations with neighbors. The neighborhoods around the church are heavily populated with immigrants, and many have garden plots at the church. These gardeners are allowed to use their assigned plots for growing produce to feed their families. Many of them also sell produce at various times throughout the season. What a wonderful use of church property. I visited the garden last fall during the AFACT celebration of Medicaid expansion. It’s beautifully tended, containing many vegetables not native to this area; often the gardeners are immigrants from Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.

Many churches have beautiful grounds, often park-like, even without many trees having access to sunlight for growing. This land might be utilized to grow food for food banks, church pantries, feeding programs and church suppers. Entire outreach programs could be constructed around such programs, even to the point of their being utilized year-round. There is much wisdom in Jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides’ saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Many recipients of community feeding services might have a greater appreciation of the gift of food if they understood, through participation, the work that goes into producing food.

In other areas around the Lower 48, churches are seeing the value of community gardens and implementing them. For a church community the size of Anchorage with over 375 houses of worship, there are few churches using their land as God’s gift. Conversely, clergy here frequently dwell on stewardship as a church member responsibility. Why don’t they apply the same stewardship rules and principles to church property?  I realize some church properties are too small, bounded by parking lots, contain too many trees, and meet in schools or mini-malls. But what about the rest? I know of churches adjacent to vacant lots that could be used to promote community gardening.

Practical Christianity is harder to do than theoretical Christianity. We attend church, listen to sermons, study the Bible and intellectualize what Christianity is all about. Matthew 25 shares Jesus’ words about practicing practical Christianity. “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” The chapter continues to detail the unfortunate fate of those who did not practice these virtues.

It’s been my observation that many Christians find it easier to contribute money to churches or go on short-term mission trips than to roll up their sleeves and create meaningful change in the community. Some churches do it better than most, but there is much room for improvement. Millions have been spent in Anchorage to invest in foreign missions in countries where Christianity is predominant, when Alaska is one of least Christian states in the U.S. The mission field is here!

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is an example of what churches can do quickly. Starting last year, they planted seven gardens, with additional potato beds planted for F.I.S.H. They’re planning eight more big raised beds for their new Thomas Center for Senior Leadership later this year. Rector Michael Burke reports they have “lots of gardeners and visitors to the gardens and labyrinth.” Currently all produce grown is donated to organizations that feed the hungry.

Lutheran Church of Hope started small and late last year with five elevated boxes behind the church. Congregation member Don Bladow “has been the primary blood, sweat, tears, and prayer behind the garden,” says Pastor Julia Seymour. Don completed the University of Alaska Extension Program’s Master Gardener class in anticipation of a busy planting season. He plans to have 20,000 square feet under cultivation. Bladow says they’ll plant about one-third of that this year. He’s been raising money for the garden by turning wood bowls from trees that were on the property. All of the proceeds go into the project. Money is still being raised for specific gardening needs. This summer they’ll plant broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, parsnips, radishes and zucchini. All produce will be given to Lutheran Social Services of Alaska (LSSA). Any of our food pantries will say how welcome fresh grown food is to recipients. Don maintains a blog on this project at harvestofhopememorialgarden.blogspot.com. Our community needs many more like Don.

Local churches currently having or developing community food gardens include Lutheran Church of Hope, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Joy Lutheran Church – Eagle River, St. John United Methodist Church, Turnagain United Methodist Church, Chugiak United Methodist Church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer, River of Life – Chugiak, and Central Lutheran Church.

Something our local church community might consider is what Methodists in Kalamazoo, Michigan are doing. They’ve created a “Summer Christian Camp” for a distressed neighborhood there. They focus on young adults 16-28. This 10-day ministry focuses on food and hunger and includes community gardening, 4-H community projects, ‘Free Store’ ministry, and Loves and Fishes food pantry. They train youth leaders, educators, pastors, and other passionate Christian adults.

Jesus often referred to food, hunger, feeding, planting, sowing and harvest themes in His ministry. I challenge other local ministries to emulate those lessons.

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.