Tag Archives: Trinity Presbyterian

Church Gardens List Now Live!

Several readers advised me of church gardens I’d missed in last week’s column. Thanks to my sharp-eyed readers!  Those gardens missed are:

Trinity Lutheran Church – Palmer
First Christian Church (DOC) – Anchorage
Immanuel Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
Trinity Presbyterian Church – Anchorage
River of Life Lutheran Church – Chugiak

I’ve added a menu item on my website showing all church gardens I’m aware of, along with the names of identified coordinators. Take a peek. http://www.churchvisits.com/church-gardens/

Please help me keep this list up-to-date with corrections or additions.
Chris
churchvisits@gmail.com

Alaska’s Presbyterians – 11/1/14

The Presbyterian denomination traces its roots to the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. Reformers like John Calvin of France and Switzerland, and John Knox helped frame the theological framework of a movement which reached America’s shores in the early 1700s. Key principles included strict interpretations of scripture, a doctrine of predestination and austerity in the lives of the godly. It’s often said that what Martin Luther started, Calvin refined. These beginnings birthed the religious underpinnings of the Presbyterian, Reformed, and Congregational denominational movements.

Three major Presbyterian organizations across the United States and Alaska, include the Presbyterian Church (USA), Presbyterian Church in America, and ECO, a Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Each are represented here in Anchorage and, to a greater degree, across Alaska. I will briefly describe these groups of Presbyterians. I’ve visited them and written about them in my ADN Church Visits blog for years.

A few of the major issues swirling around these organizations are the authority of God vs. man, abortion, same-sex marriage, and gay clergy. The impact of culture on Presbyterian denominations is also a significant factor in some of the dissonance. Reformed Theologian David F. Wells, in “No Place for Truth” writes, “The disappearance of theology from the life of the Church, and the orchestration of that disappearance by some of its leaders, is hard to miss today, but oddly enough, not easy to prove. It is hard to miss in the evangelical world — in the vacuous worship that is so prevalent, for example, in the shift from God to the self as the central focus of faith, in the psychologized preaching that follows this shift, in the erosion of its conviction, in its strident pragmatism, in its inability to think incisively about the culture, in its reveling in the irrational.”

PCUSA

Presbyterian Church (USA) is the largest Presbyterian body in the U.S. numbering 1,760,200 in 2013, but with 200,000 members lost recently, it appears to be rapidly fading. PCUSA is known as the liberal arm of Presbyterianism. In Alaska, PCUSA churches fall under the presbytery of Yukon which lists 20 church congregations between Anchorage and Barrow. There were nine churches of presbytery of Alaska, covering the Southeast, but last year six churches in this presbytery were dismissed and allowed to join ECO. That presbytery has been incorporated with one in Washington as it no longer meets the minimum number of congregations required to be a presbytery.

During the past six years I’ve mostly attended worship services at PCUSA-affiliated Trinity Presbyterian, and First Presbyterian Church. Trinity experienced significant membership decline during this time, and currently operates with an interim pastor. I believe some of the national issues affecting PCUSA have affected Trinity. I’ve been puzzled by First Presbyterian and its persistent unfriendliness during my visits, except for my recent visit where more members than ever greeted me. It was the first church I reviewed in my ADN Church Visits blog. Over this period, I’ve seen multiple interim and regular pastors at FPC. With significant member loss, they are down to one service. There is talk of incorporating contemporary Christian music in their services. It’s never a fix. At one point FPC was known for its fine choir, but it’s smaller these days.

PCA

The second-largest Presbyterian body in the country is Presbyterian Church in America (http://www.pcanet.org/). They numbered 367,033 members in 2013, but unlike PCUSA, it is growing. My search reveals only two PCA churches in Alaska, both in Anchorage. I’ve attended Faith Presbyterian and commented on the congregation in my blog. They were cool to me during a worship service visit several years ago. I found the service to be a bit uncomfortable — not in theology, but in format. No one but the pastor and pianist were involved during the entire service, an unusual experience among all of my Alaska church visits. Nonetheless, this church is allied with a rapidly growing branch of Presbyterianism that is both conservative and reformed. Biblical scholars such as Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, and Ligon Duncan are partly responsible for this surge.

ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

This new evangelical Presbyterian denomination was created in 2012 by former congregations and members of PCUSA churches. Currently more than 160 congregations with more than 60,000 members are affiliated with ECO (http://eco-pres.org/). Its theology is reformed and Presbyterian practices are followed. ECO’s creation was spearheaded by the Fellowship of Presbyterians, an umbrella organization of Presbyterians concerned about the increasingly liberal tendencies of PCUSA, including the adoption in 2011 of lifting the ban on non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy. Conceived as a PCUSA alternative denomination, it is rapidly growing. At present, a group of local, concerned Presbyterians is forming an ECO congregation. They meet once a month Sunday evening. Recently, I attended their meeting and was pleasantly surprised. A friendly lot of about 40, many from Trinity Presbyterian, started with a simple but adequate dinner, followed by a service of music, formation updates, missions talk, and a timely and interesting sermon from military chaplain Ted McGovern.

Anchorage Presbyterian Fellowship

This growing body incorporates Presbyterians from First Presbyterian and elsewhere who left for some of the reasons stated earlier. Meeting as a group for almost two years, they hold services at the University of Alaska Anchorage Fine Arts Recital Hall. Local community pastors served their needs until permanent pastor, Bernie Van Ee, arrived in early 2014. APF (http://anchoragepresbyterianfellowship.org/) is a conservative, back-to-basics group offering traditional services with hymnody, choir, communion, and sound messages. They consider themselves to be a non-denominational church and their services are well-attended.

Many Presbyterians are stepping up to the plate with alternatives. There are more than these four Presbyterian-related groups in Alaska, but space does not permit covering them. The final chapter on local Presbyterians has not yet been written.

Trinity Presbyterian Sunday Surprise: Woman Pastor(94) Baptizes Serviceman(24)

Sunday, July 4, I visited Trinity Presbyterian on a tip. A 24 year-old serviceman, on brief leave, soon to return to his overseas active duty post, wanted to be baptized with his family present. Pastor Tom Letts, his wife Tammy, and other ordained staff were out of town at the Presbyterian Church USA’s 219th Assembly in Minneapolis, so other arrangements needed to be made. Rev. Alice Green, Alaska’s first ordained Presbyterian woman pastor was pressed into service. A wonderful write-up of her life’s story can be found here. Rev. Green performed admirably. It was a joy to witness this shared expression of faith, a bonding of distinctly different generations, but one common belief. This was a first-time experience for me, and possibly for many present. An engaging, and exceptional sermon was delivered by guest pastor, Rick Benjamin, recently retired from Abbott Loop Community Church. Friendly Trinity Presbyterian never ceases to amaze me with its consistency, hospitality, and refreshing approach to worship.[img_assist|nid=152313|title=Rev. Alice Green Baptizes Derrick|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

Trinity’s Community Caring Extends to Children With Special Needs

Why Write About Special Needs in Churches?
Last week I started a series of articles about church inattention to children with special needs in Anchorage (click here to view first article). This week I focus on the only other Anchorage church I’ve been able to identify which offers a program for children with special needs, regardless of membership, Trinity Presbyterian Church. This post would not have been possible without significant contributions from Marla McCrorie and Tom Letts of Trinity Presbyterian Church.
Come On I.N. Through Miss Marla’s Eyes

Marla, thank you for sharing Trinity’s Come On I.N. program with Church Visits. What kind of things do you do for the kids?
We are professional shoe-tiers. We affix leg braces. We wash dirty feet. We retie the same little shoes. We dodge waving feet while changing a diaper. We care for wet socks and boots. We tie those shoes again. We massage palsied legs. We fasten buckles on wheelchairs. We apply duct tape to those untied shoe laces. And because we believe Matthew 25:40 “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” we know that in some wondrous way we have touched the feet of God.

How did Come On I.N. get its start?
As Christian professionals among children who experience disabilities, we hope that our young friends meet God through our gentle touches and loving spirits. But a few of us colleagues have wished aloud that our students could meet God Himself and experience a caring Christian community. Several years ago I had a brainstorm. I wondered if Trinity Presbyterian Church would give us the space for a program My confidence was well-placed, and the Come On I.N. church program began at Trinity, three years ago.

Tell us about the program, who serves it, and who it serves.
Come On I.N. (I.N. stands for Intensive Needs) is a worship and Bible-learning venue that welcomes children with physical and cognitive impairments. Come On I.N. is staffed by special education professionals who write their own visual-tactile curriculum appropriate for a variety of needs, including autism. Packaged for sharing with other churches, a starter curriculum is available for free to other educators and parents.[img_assist|nid=142960|title=Daughter Carrie Showing David & Goliath Story|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=230]

I further asked “Miss Marla” McCrorie, Come On I.N. founder, how the program works?
God is a communicator. We trust that He is able and wants to communicate with all children, even the non-verbal ones. I use interactive bulletin board displays, Bible-character dolls, custom-composed songs, picture-exchange communication, and other techniques similar to those used in the children’s school programs. “Teacher time” is brief, individualized, and highly routine, followed by group singing time, free play, and an occasional visit from the group’s “therapy chicken.”[img_assist|nid=142959|title=Miss Marla Showing It’s “Teacher Time”|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=402]

God is available, not only to people who can sit quiet and still, but also to those whose worship includes a flapping parachute, a bouncy trampoline, and twirly scarves. Heaven is full of motion and sound Fortunately, Trinity has given three conjoining classrooms away from the main auditorium, for Come On I.N.’s busy praise time.[img_assist|nid=142961|title=Miss Marla Musically Shows Jesus’ World|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=416]

The Come On I.N. door is open during Trinity’s regular church service, Sundays at 10:30. This allows families to attend church together, some for the first time. The new fall series “I Talk to God; God Talks to Me” begins August 30. The church refers to this date as the Fall Kick-Off. But, the kids will probably ‘kick off’ their shoes.

Contact Marla McCrorie at Trinity for further information about Come On I.N. at 907.345.4823.

[img_assist|nid=140858|title=Pastor Tom Letts|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=105|height=257]Tom Letts, Trinity Presbyterian’s Senior Pastor, shares his vision of Come On IN’s community role.
Trinity is seeking to become a community of faith whose first and primary question each day is: how might we serve our neighbors as freely as Christ has served us? We pray that our community of faith is profoundly committed to caring for the needs of our neighborhood in how we use our: time, money, energy, building…

The Come On I.N. ministry is a small group of people from Trinity, led by Marla, who have a heart for intensive needs children and their families. Marla and her team have one desire: to serve families with intensive needs children. The family is asked NOT to pay for or volunteer in the program. The special needs child is given a warm environment where they are introduced to the love of God for all people.

This kind of caring for our neighbors in practical, no strings attached, ways is really taking hold at Trinity. Maybe one day Trinity will simply be known as, that group of neighbors who really makes a caring difference. And maybe one day our neighbors will see that our caring does, in fact, come from a God who knows and loves them.

Additional Resources
1. Ernest Schlereth article, Special Needs Trusts and Religious Institutions, May 2009, EP Magazine.

Excellent article by an Anchorage attorney which incorporates a colorful description of Miss Marla’s program.

2. Anchorage Daily News Article, “God in few words: Sunday school strives to give autistic children knowledge of the divine” by Ann Aurand, September 17, 2006

This well-written in-depth article describes how Miss Marla’s Come On I.N. program functions.

My Favorite Quotes From the Anchorage Daily News Article
“Children with autism are the closest thing to Christ we have. Maybe they’re here to teach us something.” Deneen Bozeman, whose son, Jathan, is autistic.

“Lessons about God come via sensory experiences for children.”

“Jim Huykill, executive director of the Christian Council on Persons with Disabilities in Florida, said he estimates that about 15 percent of all churches around the country provide some sort of special services for people with a disability; most commonly, specialized Sunday school programs for the developmentally disabled.”

“It’s not nearly as large as it needs to be, he said.”

Sunday Evening Church: Trinity Presbyterian’s ‘7:07’

[img_assist|nid=142569|title=Trinity’s 7:07 Service|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=231]Summary
This is the second in a series of blog posts about Saturday or Sunday evening services I’ve located which offer identical sermon/message content to Sunday morning/afternoon services. Church Visits has received queries from individuals looking for more convenient alternative service times.
In my quest to visit churches with evening services, as described above, I visited Trinity Presbyterian Church on July 12. They offer a service called 7:07 which oddly enough starts at approximately that time. The group was primarily ‘twenty-somethings’, about thirty-five in number. Everyone was warmly greeted. The music was provided by drums, guitars, and bass expertly played by a mix of summer interns and Trinity young adults. Pastor Tom Letts’ message was well-delivered, covering the same material from the morning sermon. Based on John 3, and the story of Nicodemus (nike=victory + demos=of the people), Letts unveiled two streams and eight parables hidden in this scripture passage. Stylistically, Letts encouraged participation by inviting individuals to read passages in John 3 and in teasing out observations from those present. I enjoyed this service very much.[img_assist|nid=142570|title=Pastor Tom Letts Makes a Point|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

What I Liked
-Good, relevant music
-Scripture reading was participative
-Topic same as main preaching earlier
-Discussion format
-Very casual dress
-Used comfortable chairs around small tables in lobby area
-View of green hillside through picture windows
-Friendly, warm and welcoming group

What I Disliked
-More people were not taking advantage of this
-No offering taken (just kidding)[img_assist|nid=142571|title=Oh, that sweet music…….!|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=182]

What’s Under the Hood? Trinity’s Pastor Responds

Struck by the warmth and dynamic character of Trinity Presbyterian Church (click to see 4/2/09 blog review), I wanted to look under the hood of this unusual church to see what makes it so uniquely different from many other Anchorage area churches. To accomplish this, I posed some questions to Pastor Tom Letts. I was intrigued by his responses, and believe you will be too. Oh, by the way, at first I was in shock and disbelief thinking I may have visited Trinity on a good Sunday. However, subsequent visits reveal this overwhelming hospitality and warmth is genuine, a weekly hallmark, and normal behavior for this church.
[img_assist|nid=140858|title=Pastor Tom Letts|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=325]
ThompsonWhat were your background motives for the recent sermon series based on Reggie McNeal’s book “The Present Future”?

Letts – I don’t want to sound trite but I am simply attempting to remain faithful to what God places in front of us. The Christian church culture of America is on life support (self absorbed and sick). Time to tell the truth. Time to regain our identity. The leadership at Trinity (elders and staff) really are fearless so they stand as one as we speak to what faithfulness looks like today. The worship service is the time when the congregation gathers uniquely before God and receives unique grace. What better time or place to call us to a renewed sense of mission? We have read books, had town halls, done small group work and taught Sunday school classes on the missional church. Now it seems time to ‘go public’ on Sunday mornings. I can’t wait to see what happens.

ThompsonI observed Trinity uses the “meet n’ greet” form of welcome during services. Why?

Letts – Two reasons- it is my personality (and I believe in a community gathering having a personality). I tend to be a warm, friendly, outgoing guy. So…

Second, the congregation as a whole (and the leadership exemplifies this) really sees that hospitality, where it is genuine, is a gift from God to all people. We also understand worship as a participation sport. Put that together with Jesus’ “insomuch as you do to the least of these you do unto me.” [TL paraphrase] and I think we begin to see the ‘least’ in a worship service as the first time folk and the hurting. We teach our congregation to really care, and the greeting time, when entered into honestly, can be a gateway to grace and connection. Sure, there will be those who struggle with genuine care and warm greeting but it is worth the risk. We are either who we say we are, a community of joy and grace, or we are a sham. The greeting time is simply one opportunity of many on a Sunday to exhibit Christ’s nature (rather than sitting back for the show).

ThompsonWhat is the true role of music at Trinity?

Letts – Darrell Guder writes, ‘Worship is the public celebration of the presence and reality of God.’ The quote is from ‘Missional Church’ a formative book for our sense of call and identity here at Trinity.

Music at Trinity, especially in worship, is simply the community’s attempt to put into sound their often indescribable encounters with God through the week. We take this expression really seriously. Our musicians, technicians and up front leaders are close friends (of all ages) who have come to enjoy one another. We pray together, laugh together, and have devotionals with real meat in them at rehearsals. We are in one another’s homes. Many of the musicians are among the mature leaders and servants at Trinity.

Musicians touch truth in ways even poets cannot. There is a language without words that touches their souls. So, regularly, we find one of the band bringing a pre-Christian friend into a rehearsal. They practice with the band and hear the prayers and devotions too. Eventually they may join in participation in worship, and quite often their lives are changed forever. We have had four of our band’s friends come to faith through this ministry and now they sing and play of a Love they know. Look, everything we do at Trinity is about the Kingdom of God. We don’t put up stumbling blocks, we open our ‘home.’ There were about fifty people involved in leading worship on Easter. A few of them are still moving toward relationship with the One we are singing about. We don’t need them in the band because we want to sound better. They play and sing because musicians need followers of Jesus to speak with them in their ‘language.’ We are trying to do that.

I guess the final thought on music in worship is that it really can be the bridge that brings scripture to a human heart. Life is so fractured. A song or hymn offers synthesis, harmony, unity. Music and word focus our hearts on truth. The songs we sing on Sunday at Trinity are tied to our scripture and the talk and our prayers. I hope and pray that they tie to our conversations over coffee as well.
[img_assist|nid=140856|title=Pastor Tom Letts at Work in Community|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=325]

ThompsonWhat is your vision for Trinity?

Letts – Trinity is to become a community poured out for others as Christ was poured out for us.

* I believe in the incarnational (God in flesh) identity of the church. We exist as God’s mission in and to the whole of creation. We exist to serve this community of Anchorage sacrificially (and with joy!). We are to exist as a community of grace and reconciliation. We exist to exhibit the very character of Jesus by our activity in the world.

* We will not prioritize facilities. We will not prioritize programs. We will not be driven by ‘getting more people to come to church.’ We will decide to live our faith seven days a week, choosing sacrifice over comfort, the faithful thing over the easy thing, making disciples over creating ‘adherents’, and the Kingdom of God over Trinity.

* We have a bunch of stories about how this is beginning to happen. Our staff spends 20% of their paid time outside of church business (helping at schools, Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich table at UAA, volunteering at the nature center, helping with recycling efforts, cross country ski events and food drives in the community, visiting the elderly and shut-in…). Our goal is to spend more than half of all money we receive outside of Trinity (we are currently above 25%). We regularly hold 30 minute services and then go out into the community in groups to serve. All groups at Trinity (home groups, youth and children’s groups, elders, deacons…) have an active missional component and mandate.

Conclusion
My thanks to Pastor Tom Letts for his candid and revealing sharing. Trinity’s story is still unfolding. They have just started seventeen house groups to focus on Phillip Yancey’s awesome book, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”. Surely there will be further sermon emphasis to cement the knowledge gained from these studies, and a renewed sense of mission and mandate.

Trinity Presbyterian: Melted by Warmth

[img_assist|nid=140088|title=Trinity Presbyterian Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=182]
Summary
I was blown away by the warm greeting I received at Trinity Presbyterian Church on March 22. Eight people were there to warmly greet me from the outside entry to the sanctuary. This mid-Hillside church on Huffman offers a contemporary service engaging all of the senses. Worshipers are treated to a feast of music by a member-led band and praise team. Offering a musical blend of old and new, there is something here for everyone. A good mixture of all ages worship in a contemporary church setting of warmth and openness, further accentuated by light and color. The stained glass is a feast for the eyes. The preaching by Pastor Tom Letts was upbeat, and insightful. The “7 Minute Party” at the end of the service was a wonderful interactive hook. It hooked me and will hook you too if you try this church. You’ll have to read more, but I think you already get the point.

A Different Greeting
No Anchorage church I’ve visited greets like Trinity Presbyterian Church. The two outside doors were open and staffed by two friendly greeters. In the lobby I passed through two lines of three greeters each, of which one cheerfully handed me a bulletin. This is great. Having lots of greeters ensures everyone receives a greeting easily accommodating those floods of church goers that seem to happen. I was ready for more after entering, something I cannot honestly say in many Anchorage churches.

Lots of Smiles
I was struck by the smiles of the worshipers and the praise team/band in front. These people were extremely happy to be there, no doubt about it. In so many churches people are so sober and unsmiling, as if they are not really happy they came. Hey, there’s lots to be happy about. As far as I can see, Christianity offers the only true hope and assurance among all the religions the world has to offer. I’m not talking smug here but only that we have much to be happy about, especially as we enter Holy Week.

Awesome Music
The band and praise team set a positive tone for the worship experience by leading the worshipers in singing a wonderful blend of traditional and newer songs. A dynamite brass section, piano, keyboard, drums and singers explored the beauty of “The Church Has One Foundation”, “Your Grace is Enough”, and “Prophet Song”. No syrup here, just pure Christian love. Clearly not entertainment and intended to be as essential as the worship. Even Pastor Tom Letts participates by playing great trombone in the four person brass section.

Family Centered
Trinity is obviously very family oriented with lots of children and youth. All ages were represented with older worshipers rubbing shoulders with singles. It was pleasing to see the mix. Even the “Meet ‘n Greet” was actually warmer than I usually experience.

Pastoral Team
Pastor Tom and his Associate Pastor, wife Tamara, present a unified front in addressing the congregation. She led out in various parts of the service. I very much appreciated her prayer. It is indeed unusual these days to find ordained couples working together in the ministry. This was gratifying to experience.

Challenging Message
The church is currently reading, studying, and applying the six realities Reggie McNeal details in his recent book The Present Future.
1. Recapturing the spirit of Christianity
2. Replacing “church growth” with a wider vision of kingdom growth
3. Developing disciples instead of church members
4. Fostering the rise of a new apostolic leadership
5. Focusing on spiritual formation rather than church programs
6. Shift, from prediction and planning to preparation for the challenges in an uncertain world

Pastor Letts employed three young adults to read brief passages from The Present Future during the sermon, another example of a participative church. He observed a prevalent question asked by many churches, “How do we get them to come to us?”, is wrong. The real questions we should be asking, he noted, are “How do we grow Trinity to care for them?” and “How do we transform our community?”. Wow! That’s powerful!

Another young adult was brought on stage as Letts showed the following statement on screen.

“I am seeking to follow Jesus’ life of caring for others as he cared for me.” Megan H. UAA PB Sandwich Stand

The young adult was Megan H who described the Peanut Butter Sandwich Stand she helps staff at UAA. One day a week people like Megan give out peanut butter sandwiches for free at UAA because it is the right thing to do. No witnessing is expected, but the results are incredibly positive. This simple act epitomizes what Jesus was trying to demonstrate with his ministry.

The service ended with the beautiful hymn “How Wonderful, How Marvelous”. After a meaningful worship like I had just witnessed, this hymn underscored how thankful Christians can be for what they have. And did people sing in response.

And the “7 Minute Party”? You’ll have to attend Trinity Presbyterian to find out what it is.
[img_assist|nid=140091|title=Trinity Presbyterian Church|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=167]