Tag Archives: Amazing Grace Lutheran

Many church websites missing chances to attract visitors

When I’m looking for churches to visit, I almost always look at accompanying websites with my “church visitor eye.” These sites should be well-designed. They should show the ministry, rather than pictures of the church or beautiful surroundings. They should contain the basics: location, service times, phone number.  And they should be up to date. Unfortunately, with the explosion of social media, many churches mistakenly believe websites are no longer important. Consequently some churches desperately try to push much about their church to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and in doing so risk becoming invisible to prospective guests.

Recently, while planning to visit a local Orthodox church for Great Lent, I found its website not up to date. The most current calendar was August 2015, with nothing on the main webpage about Great Lent. I discovered they pushed most church activities to Facebook. How would a prospective guest find them?

This week I looked at several local church websites, finding good and not so good. I’m sharing my impressions in this column not to belittle or embarrass any church, but to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches these churches take. ( Churches are presented in alphabetical order.)

Abbott Loop Community Church www.abbottloop.org

I found this homepage — dominated by a scrolling slideshow of five coming events — overly long. Although service times are shown on one of those slides, prospective visitors might not wait to see it. The church location and phone number are at the bottom of the page, way down. Easter and Good Friday were still showing as events at the bottom of the page. Abbott Loop makes its Sunday sermons available via audio. Thinking they might be viewable as well, I clicked the “multimedia” tab only to discover they were just audio. Abbott’s website was too busy for me.

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church www.amazinggracealaska.org

One of the simplest websites I viewed, this one turned out to be one of the best. It shows times of service, location, and phone number in full view at the top of the screen. Simple, moveable graphics show parishioners and themes without resorting to a church picture. A pulldown menu allows easy access to most information one would need about this South Anchorage church. I particularly liked the up-to-date and complete church calendar located under the heading “news.” I wish more church websites used this simple but extremely effective approach.

Anchorage Baptist Temple www.ancbt.org

Pictures of the church and its pastor adorn the top of Anchorage Baptist Temple’s first page, a website no-no according to church web designers. ABT’s website is incredibly busy to the eye, requiring a significant amount of scrolling to reach the bottom of the page to see all they offer. Some of the best websites in the world have only one main page, the amount shown on one’s computer screen. ABT’s schedule of services at the top is a positive touch, but unfortunately one must scroll to the very bottom to find the church’s location. I got dizzy scrolling down through the vast array of pictures and links.

Anchorage Bible Fellowship www.anchoragebiblefellowship.org

I like ABF’s straightforward one-page construction with service times and location prominently displayed. Unfortunately, however, it’s dominated by changing pictures of Alaska wildlife, mountains, and scenery. The purpose of churches is to spread the gospel, not serve as tourist bureaus. How much more effective these pictures would be if they showed this church and members at worship and work in the community.

ChangePoint www.changepointalaska.com

Artfully designed webpages offer easy navigation to show visitors ChangePoint’s service times. Their location is not shown, however, and I could not find it. ChangePoint offers particularly useful media replay options of past sermons for viewing or listening which are usually posted the same day as they’re delivered. I particularly like ChangePoint’s blog where pastors post follow-up questions to Sunday sermons as a means of driving home the applicability of the message.

Cornerstone Church www.akcornerstone.org

Cornerstone’s attractive website is well-laid-out with one main page and nicely categorized pulldown menus for necessary information. Service times are shown on the main page, but one has to hunt for the church’s location. On closer inspection, I found it at the very bottom of the page, along with the phone number, but it is faint and easy to miss. Cornerstone has been effective at providing viewing access to their Sunday sermons. Their website is always clean, adorned with graphics central to their mission, and easy to use.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox www.transfiguration.ak.goarch.org

This beautiful church has a simple but effective website. It gives access to most activities in the church. Part of the beauty of Holy Transfiguration lies in its considerable iconography tied to many religious figures in its ancient faith. A rolling slideshow display of the interiors of the church depicts these icons. Clicking on any picture brings up a detailed description. The slideshow could be more effective if pictures of parishioners, working to support the mission of this church, were interspersed. It’s unfortunate Rev. Vasili Hillhouse’s pragmatic but engaging homilies are not captured and shared with the public here also.

We live in a culture dominated by clicking on web pages. If a website doesn’t deliver, visitors click to the next one and it becomes a lost opportunity.

“I don’t think that the importance of a church website can be overstated” said Adam Legg, ChangePoint’s creative arts and communication pastor. “Now, does that mean it has to be your church’s primary digital communication tool? No. But is it important for your church to have one? Yes. Why? Because a website is the primary way that people find you online, and in a digital world that is incredibly important! We know from research that as many as 8 or 9 out of 10 church visitors will visit your church’s website before visiting your church. If they can’t find you online, that makes it difficult for them to connect with you.”

Social media is another important component of a church’s online presence, and I’ll write about that in an upcoming column.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words toletters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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.

Three church visits on the first Sunday in Advent

Last Sunday was the first in the season of Advent. That morning I visited three churches along the O’Malley Road corridor. In last Saturday’s column, I mentioned that not all churches observe Advent, and on Sunday, I set out to visit several services to see what different congregations do during this liturgical season.

Amazing Grace Lutheran Church

My visits to Amazing Grace over the years have been satisfying, providing deep spiritual experiences. This time of year they offer three services: 8:15, 9:30 and 11 a.m. The sanctuary was decorated with white poinsettias, especially massed around a rough-hewn altar. An Advent wreath with four blue candles and one white one was positioned on the left. A trimmed Christmas tree was on the right side. Five banners hung from the large sanctuary cross, each spelling out one letter of the word “peace.”

The gathering song was “Prepare the Royal Highway,” a message of waiting for the Messiah. Not all music was traditional Advent music, but it offered distinctly strong theology.

The Advent candle for the day was lit early in the service, which was strongly liturgical; the first and second Gospel readings were from Luke 1, while the third reading was from Luke 2. Pastor Adam Barnhart’s message explored the readings from Luke within a personal story about how he asked his wife to marry him.

Communion was celebrated with the entire congregation present in a circle around the altar. At the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist, he prayed for all while hands were joined. Amazing Grace has always underscored the amazing grace we have. I enjoyed my visit immensely.

Cornerstone Church

My visits to Cornerstone have been pleasant and memorable. I especially enjoy the Rev. Brad Sutter’s preaching and I was welcomed warmly by greeter Mary Bolin. The 9:30 a.m. service started with the church’s talented praise band. They sang five contemporary Christian songs for about 40 minutes before the sermon. I felt the group’s volume — about 100-105 decibels, like many contemporary praise band churches — was unnecessary. Churches are responsible for the well-being of their congregants, and loud music threatens to damage listeners’ hearing. Congregational singing was drowned out, a common occurrence with loud church music. I estimated about half the congregants were not singing or were merely mouthing the words, in contrast with Amazing Grace, where everyone sang. The music was no different from any other time of year, with no Advent or pre-Christmas messages.

Sutter’s sermon was based on Romans 12:6-8, dealing with the gifts of grace. He noted he was following an outline he’d used before. Although well-delivered, it seemed repetitive and ran much longer than I expected. I had to leave before his remarks were completed to attend an 11 a.m. service in a nearby church. To watch his sermon, go to akcornerstone.org and click on “sermons.” Cornerstone does not observe the Advent tradition. When I asked Sutter, the church pastor, about this, he said, “We are flexible regarding the Sundays leading up to Christmas each year. Last year, during each of the Sundays of Advent, we did focus on a theme related to Christ’s coming.” This year, Sutter said, the church plans to explore the theme “Why Did Jesus Come?” over a series of services in December.

Christian Church of Anchorage

I attended Christian Church of Anchorage after hearing they planned to sing hymns. Indeed, when I arrived just after 11 a.m., they were singing hymns. Six hymns and a sending song were sung during the service. A group of four women, two men (one with a guitar) and pianist helped bring them alive. Unlike Cornerstone, you could clearly hear people joining in and singing these hymns. It was a pleasant experience and included some of the most recognizable music I’d heard that day.

The Rev. Deryl Titus’ sermon was based on the “60 Days of Celebration,” and drew from Matthew 1:18-25.

“Since Thanksgiving and Christmas are only a day each and they come and fade so rapidly, I chose to use the whole months of November and December” for the 60 days of celebration theme, Titus wrote in a subsequent note. “Every week we are realizing how to celebrate not two days but two months.”

At the conclusion of his sermon, Communion was served. I was greeted before and after service by a number of people. While not an Advent service, it offered symbolism prefiguring Advent. The service and sermon can be watched on the church’s website.

This trio of services on the first Sunday of Advent made for an interesting mix. I’d be interested in hearing about your Advent experiences.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Advent Reflection – Pastor Martin Dasler

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

Our next Advent Reflection was submitted by Pastor Martin Dasler, Assistant Pastor of Amazing Grace Lutheran on the hillside.

Does Celebrating Advent really make a difference?

In nearly 40 years of ministry I have watched people’s love of Advent continue to grow. When I began as a pastor in the early ‘70’s, Advent was a more austere time. Like Lent, the color purple emphasized a time of repentance.

Today many churches have changed to blue, the color of Mary and hope. This season, synchronized with a growing darkness in the North, stirs up our longing for a better world. One can hear that longing in the scriptural libretto of Handel’s Messiah, the music of Mozart or the songs of John Denver. All long for a better world or a love that seems unattainable.

“In the days to come…they will beat their swords into plowshares” speaks the 8th century BCE prophet Isaiah. If you long for a better world, a better government, a better self, Advent speaks to you. Advent is filled with redemptive desires and hopes. In a world filled with too much disillusionment and disappointment, Advent speaks to the profound desires of young idealists as well as to the lost hopes of crusty cynics.

There is a delicious richness in the Symbols of Advent. Four candled wreaths or logs, and countdown calendars encourage participatory preparation. The Advent stage fills with the magnificent poetry of Isaiah, Amos, Micah, John the Baptizer; then resounds with the hopeful or joyful songs of Zachariah, Mary and Elizabeth. It’s a time for Protestants to join Catholics to remember and admire Mary, and to sing with her songs of hope and promise.

Amazing Grace – Always Amazin’ Me

Strongly Recommended
One of Anchorage’s consistent churches is Amazing Grace Lutheran at Elmore & O’Malley. They’re consistently friendly, always have a great sermon, and provide a close personal experience with communion. I recommend them often and there is a reason. This is a tight-knit congregation that is willing to open up and let a guest in to be a recipient of their fellowship.

During my revisit of them on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, September 1, I had another opportunity to experience their fellowship in a warm and welcome way. Pastor Martin Dasler has switched to half-time and they now have a new full-time pastor, Adam Barnhart. Obviously the congregation knew what they were looking for, choosing a pastor who replicates the same easy thoughtful and impactual manner of leadership they are accustomed to.

Late But Always Welcome
I came in a few minutes late but slipped right into the rhythm of the service. This was one of the last of the 2 per Sunday summer services. They have returned to 3 per Sunday now.

From the Gathering Song to the Confession & Forgiveness, to the Sharing of the Peace, I felt once again I was one of them. Keying in on the Gospel reading in Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet, Pastor Adam had an unusual treat. His wife had cooked vegetarian pozole and it was available to the congregation during the remainder of the service. There was a deeper lesson in this sharing but I found it emblematic of the wonderful events that bind this church together.

Easy to Follow – No Mumbo Jumbo
Lutheran services usually follow a set liturgy, but it has a purpose and is extremely meaningful. The church is simple inside, not fancy, but everything has real significance.

I love the rough hewn altar of 6 x 6 lumber simply laid in a square. Communion is served in a circle around this altar, and concludes with prayer while congregants hold hands in the circle. It may take two or three servings of the Eucharist to serve the entire congregation, depending on attendance, but it is one of the most meaningful communions in the Anchorage Bowl. I also like the way they invite members up who have a birthday or anniversary and the pastor has a special prayer for their special day. I always feel blessed to worship here and know their congregation does too.

Baptism Close & Personal
There was a baptism of three individuals this day; an infant, a young boy, and a woman. This was a special moment in these people’s lives and signifies a changed relationship within the church. I enjoyed witnessing this ceremony.

Amazing Grace’s website is up-to-date and colorful. My only suggestion would be they put worship times on the very first page instead of forcing potential guests to hunt for it, as that is the #1 reason people access a church website. Regardless, I recommend this church highly among the many churches I visit and urge if you’re looking for a special church, give them a try.

What’s Under the Hood? Amazing Grace’s Pastor Interviewed

Considerably impressed by my initial visit to Amazing Grace Lutheran Church (click here to read 3/13/09 blog post and comments), I asked Pastor Martin Dasler to share some thoughts about what makes this church unique. Hearing they had a great choral group, I attended again to listen to them sing and to see how it augmented their service. Reliable churches are consistent from week to week, and Amazing Grace is just such a church. I saw it again in my additional visits. Warmly greeted, by different people, I enjoyed another service. Although the presenter was not Pastor Dasler, but a young woman recounting her pilgrimage to Taize, France earlier this year, it all worked. The service, congregarion, and choir truly blessed my day. I’m pleased to share Pastor Dasler’s insights.
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Thompson – Although I consider Amazing Grace to be a friendly church, I note it still uses the “meet n’ greet” form of welcome, The Passing of the Peace, during services. Why?

Dasler – We are an example of how some Lutherans play a bit loose with the standard liturgy. The passing of the peace traditionally comes before the offering because of Jesus words in Matthew 5:23-24 “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

In the early church it was also the traditional post Easter greeting. People at Amazing Grace thought it would be better to use this as a welcome nearer the early part of the service. Some people use it as an opportunity to welcome new folks, others use a traditional formula “the peace of Christ be with you” and others take the opportunity to reach out to a child because we have encouraged the concept that “all kids are our kids”.

Thompson – Amazing Grace uses what I typify as a relaxed or more informal style of service, while retaining the Lutheran liturgical style. Could you comment on this?

Dasler – Luther believed that the liturgy form was optional structure for the church, so you can find Lutherans all over the map on this question. Like most Lutheran Churches, Amazing Grace straddles a respect for Liturgy and Biblical Authority. As children of the enlightenment we like to know the reason we worship the way we do and so our worship and music committee tries to ensure that our services maintain both a purpose and direction. I have been aware more recently that our faith is expressed in four types of spiritualities:

(from John Ackerman’s book “Listening to God”)

While all churches express their faith in various combinations, we do tend to specialize, and Lutherans often straddle the thinking/feeling line. I believe it is important to broadcast on more than one channel to speak to people where they are and at the same time encourage growth by experiencing God in more than one mode.

Thompson – What do you consider the true role of music to be at Amazing Grace?

Dasler – Thinking and feeling – good hymns do both. they teach concepts and Bible stories by entering into them like:

“Built on a rock” written by Nikolai Grundvig is based on the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and the call of Peter but calls the church to see Jesus in our midst:

“Christ builds a house of living stones: we are his own habitation;

He fills our hearts, his humble thrones, granting us life and salvation.

Where two or three to seek his face, he in their midst would show his grace,

blessings upon them bestowing.”

Or a simple song of dedication and prayer from the Iona community that captures a feeling:

Take oh, take me as I am; summon out what I shall be; set your seal upon my heart and live in me.

Or a favorite at Amazing Grace is the Daniel Shutte song “Here I am Lord” which recalls the call of Israel’s first prophet Samuel and reflects on our own call to love and service.

It’s not just the words – great music has this power to bridge thought and feeling. That is why the music of Bach has such direction. (Mozart has this wonderful longing) but Bach wanted direction through tension and resolution. Bach’s music declares that the world, while filled with tension and discord ultimately makes sense. That is theology as well as music.

The classic chorales, rich in harmony, were influenced by Lutheran musicians like Bach and Mendelssohn. Garrison Keillor remarks how Lutherans are taught choral harmony on the laps of their parents. While group singing in America is being displaced by “American Idol” type performance music I think it is desperately important for the church to sing our faith and many of our people love to do that in harmony. There is something mystical that happens when our prayers, hopes and griefs are carried to God on the wings of songs that we sing and hear ourselves sing. At a recent service we did not have an accompanist to lead the service and I was surprised at how well the congregation sang. We are blessed to have a building that is acoustically alive enough to encourage singing.
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Thompson – What is your vision for Amazing Grace?

Dasler – Now that I have been here a year it is easier to see the particulars of our mission. There are many natural gifts at Amazing Grace that we need to build on.

* Our healing ministries, directed by an abundance of trained Parrish Nurses, provide a real service to the community especially during this time of economic and medical uncertainty.

* Our partnerships for local service, to bring aid to our hurting neighbors through Lutheran Social Services of Alaska, Clare House, FISH, are important expressions of the Love of God. This next year we are hoping to develop a specific partnership with a mission in Africa that aids children recovering from warfare. My vision is that we better identify and focus these efforts.

* With the wider Lutheran Church, we will be participating in the “Book of Faith” initiative to encourage more Bible study and learning.

* I am also particularly excited about our new director of youth ministries, Tyler Malotky. While he has been with us only since April he is bringing energy to our programs for youth and young adults and already having an impact on the church.

Three areas of particular focus:

Specific mission objectives
We have many partnerships at Amazing Grace to care for hurting people in our community and spread the love of God. I want to narrow our focus to several projects here and one in Africa that capture our congregations imagination and passion.

Lively and engaging worship
Our Sunday worship needs to empower people for love and service as well as connect them to the forgiveness of God. Our service concludes with these words: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” If the love of God in Christ can transform lives in rebirth and renewal we need to be more intentional about being the midwives on Sunday to make that happen. Tyler our youth director and Chris, our Music Coordinator are working on a new worship format for Wednesday evenings this summer that will involve our youth.

Lifelong learning opportunities
My wife and I were trained as parochial school teachers. I enjoy teaching new members classes but hope to do more this fall. Too many Christians try to get through life with an 8th grade religious education. The simple concrete answers they received don’t survive complex and ambiguous questions of modernity. Lutherans maintain Seminaries and Universities throughout the country but this learning needs to get into the local congregations. We like many other congregations in the ELCA are beginning a program entitled “Book of Faith” this fall. These new materials will help our people look at some of the big questions like “Where did the Bible come from” or “How is the Bible the Word of God”.

Thompson – Thank you Pastor Dasler for sharing these insights about what makes your church what I consider to be, a gem on the hillside.

Amazing Grace Lutheran – A Hillside Gem

[img_assist|nid=139108|title=Amazing Grace Lutheran Church Sign|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=186]Summary
My visit to upper hillside located Amazing Grace Lutheran Church seemed to have started on the wrong foot as I pushed through a thick knot of unwelcoming members as I entered the narthex. I didn’t realize it was the 9:45 service attenders visiting and exiting. Entering the sanctuary, I was warmly greeted by a friendly woman who gave me a hymnal and bulletin. Confused because chairs were being put up, I inquired if I’d missed the service? She assured me no. Because the 11:00 a.m. service has the fewest attendees, chairs are removed creating a closer sense of community amongst those there.

An understated sanctuary with lots of wood and warm accents, felt to me as though I was coming home. This may have been due to the Lenten accents of cross draped with purple, rough hewn altar, and tasteful hangings of decorated burlap. A signature round stained glass window, featuring a cross, highlights the east wall of the sanctuary without intruding on one’s sight lines to vie for attention. I counted twenty worshipers including a signer for deaf attendees, a pleasant first for my visits. During the Passing of the Peace, it seemed as though one-half of the church greeted me. The service was Lutheran liturgy. Pastor Marty Dasler was hands on and extemporaneous in his remarks. The music was simple and heartfelt. The eucharist was delivered to a circle of congregants around the alter from unusual eucharistic vessels. A touching moment concluded the service when Dasler prayed a birthday blessing for a younger member. I’m told their 8:15 and 9:45 services are heavily attended and feature a choir. A return visit is anticipated for this welcoming congregation.

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Why Amazing Grace?
To create an inner sense of personal symmetry, I visited Amazing Grace Lutheran Church on March 1, the First Sunday in Lent. This was my only unvisited church of the four participants in the Daybreak ecumenical service yet to be presented that night at St. John United Methodist Church. Previously I’d visited and blogged my visits to the other three, St. John United Methodist, St. Mary Episcopal, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Located on Elmore just off O’Malley, its signage is not readily apparant. The driveway turn is likewise deceptive and must be looked for carefully. But the church is beautifully sited on its property. Having had some frustrating experiences with Lutheran Church visits in Anchorage I longed for a totally positive visit to at least one Lutheran Church. Of two previous visits so far, one never made it into print and the other did but with exceptions.

Pastoral Style
To a first time visitor, Pastor Dasler showed both a practical and innately intuitive spiritual side. After the Passing of the Peace he played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” with a parishioner volunteer. The purpose of this exercise was to underscore Lenten discipline and that “…Spirit overcomes flesh.” So simple, so powerful and so memorable. Dasler was extemporaneous in his remarks speaking from his heart, not from transcripts or notes. Psalm 139 was the basis for his sermon.

Sermon Quotes
“God has given forces of hope to everyone.”
“God has made promises to us and we are part of the promise.”

Musical Church
This church has many talented musicians, both instrumental and vocal. I struck up a conversation with the pianist/organist Kathryn Eckmann after the service. I discovered a common bond we shared for the spiritual effect music possesses. One of the songs sung in the service was composed, words and music, by a member pianist/organist Carolyn Nickles.

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord.
God of pow’r and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name;
Comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.

Although not expecting such a small number of attendees, I found size irrelevant. These attendees were clearly focused on worship. I understand Amazing Grace is having special Lenten Worship Services on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. preceeded by a soup supper. The services begin with vespers and are designed to be reflective including a series of Desert Readings featuring quotes by Thomas Merton, selected Desert Fathers and other spiritual leaders.

[img_assist|nid=139110|title=Amazing Grace Lutheran Church Exterior|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=195]