Monthly Archives: May 2010

Homeless Camps Ordinance Reconsidered by Assembly: Faith Community Largely Absent

Last night the Anchorage Assembly received testimony on it’s recently passed ordinance concerning clearing out homeless camps, and possible amendments to address a contentious 5-day notice provision to a fairer 10-day timeframe. (Click here for relevant Assembly Documents)

It was sad to observe so few from the faith community were in attendance. Only three individuals provided testimony regarding this ordinance last night: the ACLU, Rev. Michael Burke, Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and a community member. Less than ten faith community representatives were present in the audience.

Rev. Burke provided an effective statement as to why the timeframe needs to be extended. He suggested that the additional time would provide intervention time for social services and faith community HEART teams to make meaningful contact with camp people to assist them with transition. Based on this testimony, the Assembly agreed to postpone action on these amendments until June 8.

According to scripture, helping the homeless is not an option. As faith community members the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, provides many admonitions and warnings as to our responsibilities with regard to our duty to the homeless. This issue can be addressed if the faith community links arms and pursues meaningful solutions.

“If any of your Israelite relatives fall into poverty and cannot support themselves, support them as you would a resident foreigner and allow them to live with you. Do not demand an advance or charge interest on the money you lend them. Instead, show your fear of God by letting them live with you as your relatives” (Leviticus 25:35-36 ).

“No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. If you do these things, your salvation will come like the dawn. Yes, your healing will come quickly. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind” (Isaiah 58:6-8).

“Then the King will say to those on the right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, `Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, `I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Great Land Christian Church – A Great Second Look

Last month, I revisited Great Land Christian Church on April 11 to see if they still offered the same type of service I so enjoyed as described in my previous visit 1 1/2 years ago blogged on ADN here. This church currently meets in the Korean SDA Church on 34th in Midtown. I look forward to revisits in churches where my initial visit was positive. Great Land Christian is no exception.

Website First
Taking a peek at their website, I noted it was pretty but not particularly user friendly. I do like their mainpage being only one screen not requiring scrolling to see further information. I didn’t like having to go further into their website to find worship times: Click CALENDAR, Click LAUNCH CALENDAR, oops, using Safari browser it wouldn’t open because I use a popup blocker which I was asked to disable. I clicked on SERMONS and same thing. Wouldn’t open. Same disable message. They did open in Google Chrome browser. It’s a technical thing their webmaster should handle. However, if one is looking for a worship time, I don’t think one should have to decide if CALENDAR is where it’s hidden (a WORSHIP TIMES button is more appropriate). The times should be shown on the initial screen. The room is there. That is what the majority of church website visitors are looking for.

Same Welcome
A couple of members greeted me with hellos walking in from my street parking spot. However, at the door I received what I felt was a tentative welcome. This church, as with others I visit, might receive benefit from training for greeters. Many greeters are unsure of what to do when new faces appear. Do you ask for a name, or not? Do you ask if they are a first-time visitor, or not? What if they’re a member and you treat them like a visitor? There are basic guidelines a greeter can follow that make these encounters joyful, instead of unsure events.

Pastor Ray Nadon spotted me before the service, coming over to where I was seated. I asked him to not point me out or tell folks I was there so I could continue to observe his congregation at worship objectively.

Again With the Wonderful Singing
The service commenced with lively singing, still acapella, lots of energy, and great Christian music. It was delivered in an upbeat fashion, with singers exchanging places with each other from the audience after almost every song. Different music leaders exchanged positions at the pulpit regularly. I’ve heard they are considering going to a praise band approach so I urge you go visit this church quickly if you want to hear real communal singing with appropriate congregational response. I hope they don’t go this way, as this is a real Anchorage original. Some songs were accentuated with clapping which really worked for me. Unlike in other churches where instruments drown out the singers, the words, and the parts they sing, you could actually hear the tenor, bass, soprano and alto parts being sung. They blended harmoniously and gloriously! I especially enjoyed “We Praise Thee O God”, “Thine Be the Glory” and the spiritual “Shut de Door”. What a contrast to the contemporary Christian pap served up in many local churches.

Young and Energetic
This is still a younger church. Although there are older members, it appears to be college age to thirty-somethings predominately. They are quite vocal. Amens and urgings to the pastor, “Come On”, and “Come On Ray” livened the service showing people were not sleeping.

The morning offering was preceded by a stewardship appeal with a discussion centered around the Biblical teachings of Malachi. It seemed as though there was support for this from the congregation. During the receiving of the offering there was singing with the song “Don’t You Wanna Go?”. This was also very unusual for churches.

Meet n’ Greet (Ugh!)
I dislike these fellowship times because visitors get marooned for what seems interminable times being ignored or tokenly welcomed. It’s a time that most members greet each other warmly and catch up on news events of the week passed. For me, as with many others, it’s not visitor friendly. This day, after a few minutes, a man took pity on me and engaged me in conversation. He asked some probing questions such as “Is this your first time at GLCC? Have you been here before?” Another man also came over and joined in our discussion. At best these are “feel good” times and serve little useful purpose. Passing of the Peace as many churches observe, seems to serve a more useful function.

The Message
Pastor Nadon’s style of preaching is direct, Bible-based, and easy to follow. He used Hebrews 13:1-6 as the basis for his remarks. He started with a challenge. “Have you had a better time this week recognizing Jesus?” I like this approach because it is a tie to previous discourses and helps to normalize the reason you are at worship. If you use a browser other than Safari, you can find his sermon here and select April 11’s sermon.

Communion: More Information This Time
The previous visit saw Communion served without any preliminary comment. This time, Pastor Nadon made remarks about it. He then prayed. There was a long pause after his prayer. Then it was served to the congregation at the pew. While it was being served, the singing group sang the beautiful Christian hymn “What Can Wash Away My Sin?”. It was a beautiful communion.

Baptismal Closing
The church service closed with a baptism. GLCC adheres to full immersion water baptism. A young man was baptized by one of GLCC’s elders to howls of approval with some folks standing to indicate their joy at his confession of faith. This was a touching and fitting end to the service. I like this church for it’s comittment to the Word, it’s warmth to each other, their preaching, and unusually lovely style of music. They are consistent and a joy to visit. It’s worth a visit anytime.

Amazing Grace – Still Amazing Me

Revisits Are Important and Fun
Consistent churches are fun to revisit. They are warm, provide a spiritual boost, and give you that “coming home” feeling. I had such a moment yesterday, May 9, 2010, at Amazing Grace Lutheran when I dropped in for a quick visit.

Driving in, I thought the lot might be full because of the congestion, but discovered the youth were washing cars raising money for a mission project. Entering the church I was warmly greeted by a number of individuals radiating warmth. I was even wished “Happy Mother’s Day” with warm humor several times.[img_assist|nid=139109|title=Sanctuary Stained Glass|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=250|height=250]

Honoring Mothers
The liturgy was Lutheran, but filled with graceful moments of humor and seriousness. In honor of Mother’s Day, Pastor Martin Dasler referred to celebrants and participants by their relationship to their mothers. This was an amazing mental twist, resulting in names being called, for example, Jane Doe’s son, Arthur. Even Dasler humorously found out, it’s harder to pull off consistently than it sounds, but he followed this pattern throughout the service, a living example of the unexpected I enjoy at this church.

Music Glorifying God
I was treated to a range of great church music, with wonderfully participative congregational singing, ranging from that great hymn of the church, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, to that old summer camp song “Have You Seen Jesus My Lord?”. A powerful Craig Courtney anthem, “Peace I Give to You”, was beautifully sung by their professional-sounding choir.

Meaningful Recognition
Recognition was given to the confirmation class, 8th grade graduates, and high school graduates. I really liked hearing, via personal presentations, where each high school graduate planned on studying, along with the focus of their studies. These presentations were accentuated by a few slides for each showing meaningful photos, baby pictures, fishing trips, family shots, etc.

The Lord’s Table
Finally, communion was a warm celebration circled around the table with approximately one-half of the church each time. Dasler closed each communion celebration with prayer, as we held hands around the circle. I was taken with how symbolic this act had become. Before communion, Dasler clearly pointed out this was open communion, something I rarely hear noted in churches.

This is a real church, in love with their God, and closely linked with each other. Strongly connected with their community, they are also actively engaged in helping those in need according to the gospel commission. They have a dynamic website, constantly changing, and appropriately loaded with the right information.

If you are looking for a church that clicks, Amazing Grace Lutheran is for you.

Good Friday and Easter – A Reflection

This year I attended Good Friday services and Easter services at two different churches. The churches are not identified this year due to the nature of my remarks. Lent, Holy Week, and Easter are important, introspective times of the liturgical year. They can be times of intense reflection and deep emotion as one considers the impact of the commemorated events.

The lack of attendees at both Good Friday services surprised me as I was attending several of the larger local churches. Only a small fraction of both church’s memberships were in attendance. I understand some families have small children and are reluctant to attend for their sake. But, there were children evident in both of the services I attended. A blogger I follow, Rev. Ken Collins, wrote the following in his blog.

“I observe that in just about any church you choose, the Easter Sunday service is full to the brim with people who at least in some symbolic way are willing to shout hosanna to the King and lay palm branches down in His path. The Good Friday service, like the crucifixion it commemorates, is poorly attended if it is held at all.

Personally, I feel the Good Friday service is an excellent way to connect with the price paid for our redemption. This year, in both services, I felt the impact of the crucifixion in a way I never have before. It was a time that touched my heart and mind. One of the services was extremely dark with a minimum of music, three songs I believe, and scripture reading by the pastors. The lights were gradually extinguished at the end along with the candles we lit upon entering. Both services were excellent and provided a suitable backdrop for Christian reflection.

Easter Services at both churches were joyful, full of music, good cheer, and Christian love. Both were colorful, but possibly lacking the unrestrained joy to which Bishop N.T. Wright refers in the passage I quoted in my April 5 post on this blog. I believe Good Friday observance, like other religious observances, is possibly a reflection of a gradual drift from religiosity to “spirituality”.

A recent USA TODAY article commented on this phenomenom, based on a survey of “Millennials” (18-29 yr olds).

The article noted “Most young adults today don’t pray, don’t worship and don’t read the Bible, a major survey by a Christian research firm shows.

If the trends continue, “the Millennial generation will see churches closing as quickly as GM dealerships,” says Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. In the group’s survey of 1,200 18- to 29-year-olds, 72% say they’re “really more spiritual than religious.”

Among the 65% who call themselves Christian, “many are either mushy Christians or Christians in name only,” Rainer says. “Most are just indifferent. The more precisely you try to measure their Christianity, the fewer you find committed to the faith.”

Recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey research also bears this out, not only for the Millennial’s but for other age groups. Both surveys reflect a stark contrast to the explosion of Christianity in the global south.

Although I found extreme meaning in Holy Week and Easter services, others are not finding this meaning because they are drifting away. Some of the reasons this is happening are continually documented in this blog and some are due to deeper issues space does not permit us to explore at the moment. Nonetheless, this should be cause for concern by Christians in Alaska, and a challenge meriting attention.”