Tag Archives: Clear Water

Advent and Christmas are much more than consumerism

As we move through this time of Advent, and pre-Christmas, my various visits to church services and religious events have been instructive, mostly offering signs of Advent hope.

Attending Clear Water Church the Sunday before Advent, I saw them taking steps to incorporate the spirit of Advent. Karen Gordon, a teaching acquaintance, making her way to greet me after the service, mentioned she and artist husband Steve had recently switched from another church. I asked to see him. He was making his way toward us from children’s sessions where he’d shown them how to create Advent wreaths, complete with candles; Steve and Karen work with elementary children. That morning 24 wreaths were made: 20 for elementary school families plus four for preschool families. Steve said it promotes Advent as a family social occasion.

“Growing up,” Steve said, “Advent was devotional family time that brought faith to my home, not just at church. It’s a tradition that brings value. God can direct what comes of that. Advent inspires kids and families to talk about their faith.”

Steve’s also been instrumental in creating a puppet show for the children that depicts real-life drama. This Sunday, their Christmas puppet show will be enacted from the viewpoint of the donkey, teaching valuable spiritual lessons.

I asked pastor Mark Merriner about Clear Water’s Advent focus. He mentioned his wife had sparked his interest in Advent several years back and they’d begun observing it in a quiet fashion in their home. Clear Water is making Advent an element in each of its services during December. Various members take a few minutes to share personal thoughts about Advent, using teaching points or a story about something that happened to them.

First Sunday of Advent, I attended services at First Presbyterian Church. It was a rich experience with warm greetings, Advent candle lighting, meaningful congregational and choral music, and a sermon on “holy waiting” that had a sticky factor. Pastor Matt Schultz stressed that Advent was about waiting. As Schultz concluded his message, he urged the congregation to consider waiting a few minutes before eating meals, and waiting again before laying heads on pillows before going to sleep, to ponder what waiting and Advent’s theme of waiting really means. In my mind it was an excellent application of his remarks.

On the second Sunday of Advent, I attended First Covenant Church of Anchorage. This multicultural church close to downtown never ceases to amaze me. They were friendly to me from the time I entered until I left. I like this church’s mixture of music. This morning, their praise band of six led the congregation reverently through four traditional and contemporary songs including “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” “Joy to the World,” “Mighty to Save” and “Come Lord Jesus.” These were not played at earsplitting decibels and were enjoyable to sing.

They recognized Advent with a reading and lighting of the second Advent candle, the peace candle. The theme for second Advent embraces the prophets who foretold the birth of Jesus. Pastor Max Lopez-Cepero was on vacation, and in his absence, the sermon was given by Kristi Ivanoff, wife of Curtis Ivanoff, superintendent of the Alaska Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Kristi, an accomplished student of Scripture, used Isaiah 7:10-16 as the basis for her sermon titled “Sign of Immanuel,” underscoring the day’s theme. A recording of her sermon is available on First Covenant’s website.

A luncheon invitation capped my Advent visit to this social justice-oriented church. I believe they “walk the talk” of Advent throughout the year.

Last week’s column mentioned an Advent concert at St. Patrick’s Parish on Dec. 2. Attending, I was not prepared for the breadth of the music and the skill of the musicians performing. Additionally, there were Advent readings and lighting of each of the four Advent candles: hope, peace, love and joy. I was not prepared for the length of the concert but found it to be a great Advent blessing. The small admission charge, which went to Catholic Social Services to benefit Brother Francis Shelter, was worth it. Many people brought donated warm-weather gear to benefit those in need. Kudos to St. Patrick’s Parish and the many musicians from the community for their hard work in creating this Advent treat.

The sad part of this evening was that St. Patrick’s, by my estimation, was only half full. I fear that many in our church community are too involved with the consumer-driven side of Christmas to be bothered with attending such events. Christian historian John Pahl, writing in his insightful book “Shopping Malls and Other Sacred Spaces,” says: “If places as well as events shape the contours of piety, then clearly a trip to the mall can have an impact on the contours of one’s faith. Personally, I have rarely left a mall inspired to be a more generous and caring person.”

Many are caught up in a frenzy of shopping for each other and themselves at this time of year, because they’ve lost sight of the fact that Christmas is not about giving to each other. The World Bank estimates that more than 700 million people live at or below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The Christmas story is about recognizing the gift of love that was given to us and sharing it with others, but not in self-gratification. Another just-released book, “The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving and Living with a Conscience” by Mike Slaughter, a United Methodist pastor at the at 4,000-member Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio, addresses this topic.

I asked Slaughter why so many pastors are silent on this issue.

“Many pastors have taught a ‘me-centered’ gospel,” he said. “It has been reduced to how God can bless you, prosper you and increase your wealth. This emphasis only fuels the debt cycle that many of our folks are experiencing and fails to heed Jesus’ call of self-denial. One of the mantras that I continually remind our folks is that we are to live simply so other people can simply live. I challenge folks to spend as much on the ‘widow and orphan — the least and the lost’ as they do on their own families each Christmas. Note the emphasis on ‘equal amount.’ Is this not what Jesus meant when he said do unto others as you would have others do unto you? By this practice our people have built 294 schools in Darfur that has impacted 35,000 children as well as agricultural and water projects.”

What a challenge from a Christ-centered spiritual leader who has also appropriately written “Christmas Is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving like Jesus.”

Thanksgiving’s a time for thanks—what are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving will be celebrated soon. This started me thinking about local faith community practices at this time of year. Last week, I noted Thanksgiving Blessing, a huge effort by the faith community and the Food Bank of Alaska. It takes many people to make this event a success and I’m thankful for those in our community who lead or participate in these efforts.

The story of the Pilgrims offers a teachable moment.

It’s a familiar story: After a harrowing transatlantic voyage and a disastrous winter, the surviving Pilgrims were grateful for the bounty offered by their first harvest and Native American neighbors.

Although Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, the story of the Pilgrims links it to American faith traditions. Few of us have ever suffered the privations they endured. It is a proper time to truly give thanks, and to teach others the spirit of the day. Some faith communities show their thanks by emulating that early Thanksgiving by incorporating those around them in that practice of celebrating and sharing.

The Pilgrims fled Europe because they were restricted in free practice of their religion, and sought to return to worshiping as they believed the early church did. I’m thankful for the four freedoms President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated in 1941 that symbolize what our country represents to the world: freedom of speech; freedom of worship; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. These were artistically and forcefully expressed by illustrator Norman Rockwell in four paintings, used as covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

Many people in the world do not have these freedoms as we celebrate Thanksgiving. According to Freedom House’s 2016 assessment of liberty, “Of the 195 countries assessed, 86 (44 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 50 (26 percent) Not Free.”

Few non-Catholic churches in Anchorage seem to be offering Thanksgiving services this year (Most Catholic churches do offer Thanksgiving Mass. Check your local schedule for times.). I would guess it’s probably due to preoccupation by families with dinner, football, etc., but many people of faith have found value in using this day to take time to be truly thankful for the gifts God has placed in their lives. And a few churches are offering Thanksgiving dinners prior to Thanksgiving, but just a few.

Clear Water Church, First Baptist Church and Skilled Missions Alaska are embarking on an innovative approach this year. They will be ministering to displaced families with relatives in Providence Alaska Medical Center. They will accomplish this by providing a Thanksgiving meal and fellowship at the Walter J. and Ermalee Hickel House.

For those unfamiliar with Hickel House, it offers an affordable, comfortable “home away from home” for outpatients and their families receiving medical attention at Providence. I think this is an exciting opportunity to show some true Thanksgiving spirit. (If you’d like to participate, call Clear Water member Brian Whitson at 268-8659.)

Joy Christian Center is holding a Thanksgiving service at 7 p.m. followed by a pie social on Thanksgiving Day. It’s located at 4335 Laurel St. A few local churches are offering Thanksgiving services during the week, but I was unable to locate others offering services on Thanksgiving Day through an internet search.

Bean’s Café and Brother Francis Shelter will serve Thanksgiving dinners Thursday. The Downtown Soup Kitchen is closed on Thanksgiving Day. Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday because People Mover doesn’t run buses on Thanksgiving.

Bean’s, Brother Francis, and the Rescue Mission would sincerely appreciate donations of items such as turkeys, canned vegetables, mashed potatoes, hams and yams to support these special events.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this coming week, take time to consider things you are truly thankful for. The “Four Freedoms” are a good place to start. Whether or not you are a person of faith, Thanksgiving is an ideal time to pause and reflect on those things for which we are truly thankful.

Merton lecture series was well-attended

The recent Caroline Penniman Wohlforth Lecture Series held at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church Nov. 4-6 was well-attended and introduced participants to the prayer and meditative concepts of Thomas Merton. Many people are seeking deeper spiritual relevance and time for reflection in their daily lives.

The Rev. Hugh Grant from Washington state delved into the life of celebrated Trappist monk Thomas Merton in a Friday evening talk to a capacity audience. The lecture, captured by church staff on video, can be viewed at St. Mary’s website. Grant summarized Merton’s life, writings, brief time in Alaska and his relevancy to our everyday lives.

Saturday’s lecture was a time of reflection, training in centering prayer, personal meditation, and practical instruction about how to slow down to perceive God’s speaking to us. Sunday’s lecture focused on observations about what nature can tell us, especially about ourselves.

Coming just days before the election, the lectures offered insights about how to deal with stress and contentious issues. Merton, writing about the spiritual life, said “We are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves, and we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.”

A key lecture topic was contemplation and centering prayer. Merton, writing on the subject, said, “Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart – it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God.”

This lecture series was a gift to the community, and a good number of people took advantage of the opportunity. Thank you, St. Mary’s, and the Wohlforth Lecture Series.

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

Ministering to men, one oar stroke at a time

As the spray from a stretch of rapids splashed over my face on the Gulkana River recently, I turned back to look at the man rowing our raft. Reading the water like an eagle, he was trying to use the power of the river in the safest way possible. Stretching behind us were nine other rafts, each carrying an oarsman and three or four men. The timeless rhythm of the sound of the water and the stroking of the oars brought me back to when I first met Dave Lemaire.

I’d been invited to a men’s “beast feast,” a wild game dinner, at Baxter Road Bible Church several years ago. After dinner, Dave shared a sobering personal account of the kidnapping and brutal murder of his 11-year-old daughter, Mandy, in 1991. He broke down several times as he shared the pain and suffering of that tragedy with the other men. He recalled how his faith in God sustained him during that time, through the trial, and subsequent appeals. In 1999, adding to his pain, the Alaska Supreme Court overturned the original verdict, ordering a retrial. The convicted man was not released from prison while awaiting retrial, and subsequently died before a new trial could be held.

The years after Mandy’s death were filled with bitterness and pain. Dave hadn’t given up on God, but underwent a period of recovery, questioning why it happened. Understandably he was disappointed with God and the church. At one point, speaking on camera for the television program “Ice Cold Killers,” Dave said, “If I didn’t believe my daughter was in heaven, I’d have no reason to live.” He told me he wasn’t suicidal but it was a dark moment in his life. His marriage to his wife of 13 years was destroyed in the aftermath of Mandy’s death.

Fortunately, he met a childhood friend, Michelle, who went on a blind date with him. It didn’t go well initially. Michelle Lemaire said, “When we met as adults, we went out on a blind date. He had just performed a funeral for a child whose parents could not get a pastor to perform it because they did not attend church. He told me all about his life and everything about Mandy. When I left, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would never go out with him again.

“Besides having too many problems, he was shorter than me, had kids still at home, and had a beard — three strikes in my book. But after much soul-searching and a vision that I believe was from God, I looked at his heart and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a man of integrity. A man I could trust with my heart.” They married in 1997.

Dave is a consummate outdoorsman. In 2000, he and Michelle started a ministry for men calledCopper River Float Ministry based out of Glenallen. After the first father-son float trip he conducted for a Palmer church, Dave was invited to join a men’s breakfast there, as they were asking for another trip. His “aha” moment was discovering the participants remembered a talk given six months ago, but not the talking points from the previous Sunday’s sermon.

Now, after 16 years, Dave and a dedicated group of volunteers take groups of men from area churches on up to four 1 1/2-day float trips each year down the Gulkana River for fellowship, to fish and to be fed spiritually. Lemaire’s stated goal for these trips is that participating men form a relationship with Christ and relationships with other men in their church. He encourages what he terms “a ranger buddy type of friendship that can push you toward your goals; someone who’s there with you through thick and thin.”

Participants pay a fee to participate; this trip was $70 per person. The trip was for Clear Water Church, a 3-year-old church meeting at Wendler Middle School. It’s rapidly growing and needed this connecting experience for the congregation’s men. Trips and participants are generally for a specific church, and, with a few exceptions, for men only. The oarsmen come from various churches and denominations. Usually churches arrange for a speaker of their own. Talks are given after supper on the first day, and after breakfast and lunch on the second day. The speaker on my trip was Taylor Davis, team leader for Cru, formerly Campus Crusade, in Anchorage.

Most men fished along the way for grayling and king salmon. King fishing closed at midnight that first day, so there was a rush to fish as much as possible; three kings were caught by midnight. Arriving at a sandbar, we set up sleep and cook tents, and a port-a-potty. Dinner, fresh red salmon, Dave’s trademark blackened recipe, was tasty. Breakfast was eggs and biscuits with gravy the next morning. Lunch served at noon the following day, featured Michelle Lemaire’s chili and hearty tomato soup.

“It was the best men’s connecting event we’ve had,” said the pastor of Clear Water, Mike Merriner. “Twenty-two guys, many of whom did not know each other, now know each other’s names. They shared a common experience. It was the beginning of relationships for a lot of these guys; from now on out. My sense of the trip was it was a fundamental occasion to hang out with each other and foster a sense of community.”

“I agree guys that have been on the trip have developed relationships with trip participants and are more involved in the church and what it’s doing,” said James Embree, adult ministries pastor at Lazy Mountain Bible Church in Palmer. “When you have close friends involved in the church, you become closer to the church.”

“A great opportunity, a great ministry. It’s a shame it’s only a couple of trips per year,” said Henry Couser, pastor of Rabbit Creek Community Church.

Dave and Michelle perform a marvelous service for men and churches in Alaska. It’s a real example of building “servant hearts.”

About the Author

How local churches use — or don’t use — traditional Christian creeds

Christian creeds, developed during the early days of the church, are summary statements of Christian belief.

One of the earliest, the Apostles’ Creed, had developed by the fourth century from predecessors that may date as far back as the first or second century. In its current form it reads: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

A number of creeds have developed over the course of church history. The Nicene Creed resulted from the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.). Athanasius, the fourth century bishop of Alexandria, has a creed named after him, the Athanasian Creed (500 A.D.), which clearly distinguishes the doctrine of the Trinity.

Visiting local churches, I find creeds commonly used in liturgically oriented churches such as Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran and Orthodox. Most evangelical churches that don’t use creeds tend to have statements of belief, sometimes quite lengthy ones. The Seventh-day Adventist church, one of the fastest growing evangelical denominations in the U.S., uses “28 Fundamental Beliefs” as its core statement and test of fellowship.

A local evangelical exception is ChangePoint.

“We do believe in and express the Apostles’ Creed in its original form without the statement ‘He descended into hell,’”  says teaching pastor Dan Jarrell. “We do it because we agree with its theology and believe it has been a unifying creed in the church for almost 2,000 years. It is a ‘focal statement’ of orthodox theology, and singing it and reciting it are ‘focal practices.’”

Southern Baptists comprise the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the U.S.

“Southern Baptists do not subscribe to a creed and firmly believe in the Priesthood of the Believer,” says Dr. David George, director of missions for the Chugach Baptist Association. “This means that we do not rely on any hierarchy to decree how we are to interpret scripture, but it is left up to the individual, his church, and the Holy Spirit.”

Evangelical pastor Mike Merriner of Clear Water Church says his congregation occasionally recites the Apostles’ Creed as they sometimes borrow material from the Book of Common Prayer.

“I like the idea of creeds, because a community of faith should share core beliefs,” he said. “In fact, it would concern me if a member of our church was not in agreement with the Apostles’ Creed.”

Episcopal churches generally use the Nicene Creed before the Eucharist and the Apostles’ Creed before baptisms.

“The Apostles’ Creed is probably the least controversial creed of the Christian faith since it does not contain the Filioque clause that the Nicene Creed in the West has — a point of continued difference between the Church of the East (Orthodox) and the Latin Church(es),” says All Saints Episcopal Church’s pastor David Terwilliger. “Filioque” is a Latin phrase added to the Nicene Creed essentially indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father “and Son.”

“At various seasons of the church year, we also use the ‘Jesus Creed’ in worship, a devotional prayer first shared by Brian McLaren at a conference in Nashville in 2004,” says Rector Michael Burke of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “It has evoked strong feelings and some deep thought among participants in worship, as evidenced by many follow-up conversations with people and in small groups. Because of this experience, I believe that people are also interacting with the traditional Nicene Creed in a new way, and not just reciting it in an unreflective or rote way.”

“The ancient creeds are still relevant today in a world where new and old Christian denominations invent and rearrange their understanding of the faith,” says pastor Rick Cavens of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla.”They fought for a common understanding of the faith around 300 A.D.; we still do, and need to.” He notes they use the Apostles’ Creed every Sunday, and, “once a year we may use the Athanasian Creed; which means you get a long service. It’s all about the Trinity and the historical tie to the early church.”

Rev. Anthony Patalano, pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, says the Nicene Creed is basically the only one used at that congregation, where it is said by the priest and congregation after the homily.

“When I got to Anchorage in 2011, the translation of the Nicene Creed was changed to be more faithful to the Latin text,” he added.

For an Eastern Orthodox view of creedal use I turned to Rev Marc Dunaway, pastor of St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle River.

“We say the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed every Sunday as part of our Liturgy,” Dunaway said. “It is sometimes called just the Nicene Creed or commonly in Orthodox Churches simply the Symbol of Faith. We recite the Creed in the original form it was written by the first and second Ecumenical Councils, that is, without the phrase which was later added in the western Church, known in Latin as the ‘filioque.’ Orthodox hold it was wrong to unilaterally change a Creed written by Ecumenical Councils, and also this change diminishes the understanding of the role of Holy Spirit in the Church.”

“More importantly, we use this Creed first of all as a profession of faith when one prepares for Baptism. Within the Divine Liturgy, it is also an ongoing affirmation of what we believe about certain essential doctrines.”

I like creeds and choke up sometimes when I repeat them. They are meaningful expressions of what one believes. Too many churches and denominations use hundreds or even thousands of words to be explicit about their beliefs. I enjoy hearing and saying core Christian beliefs expressed in minimal words.

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.

Personable follow-up with guests is crucial to churches

The manner in which churches respond to guest visits can determine whether or not those guests make a return visit. This column frequently focuses on how guests are treated at area churches during visits In reality, most church guests decide whether or not they’ll come back based on their perceptions within the first five to eight minutes. But if they stay for the service, afterchurch follow-up can be a critical factor.

In a recent podcast, church consultant Thom Rainer shared what guests have told his organization about how churches should not have followed up with them. I’ve seen some of these in my years of church visits. In this column, I’m using Rainer’s categories to group this follow-up mistakes, but describing my own experiences.

Do not show up unexpected at my house

This has all of the hallmarks of a “cold call,” the dreaded sales technique where a salesman shows up on your doorstep or business wanting to make a sale. I was in sales for a good portion of my career and discovered this was terrible technique.

Once, a local Baptist preacher, his wife and the church secretary showed up on my doorstep unannounced, wanting to be invited in. I was away on a business trip and my then-wife had no desire to discuss anything with them. Despite a previous connection to this church, it was the last straw to me, and certainly for her.

Do not neglect follow-up completely

I’ve visited many of Anchorage’s churches, sometimes filling out guest cards, and often not. Out of hundreds of visits, I’ve had only a couple of churches actually follow up with me in any way at all.  Rainer found out many respondents to this survey had the same experience, and did not return as a result. Several years ago I visited a large fundamentalist church here, and filled out a guest card. I never heard from them. (I later made the acquaintance of a then-member and discovered she wrote their visit thank you cards, but said she did not recall seeing mine.) Incredible! That’s similar to placing a call for home service, and then never hearing back. It’s no different with church. Guest follow-up is critical.

Do not wait a long time to follow-up

Rainer tells of a person who waited for four months before receiving a follow-up. By that time she’d forgotten about the visit, and subsequently never returned. The urgency of follow-up, whether its churches or business calls, is measured in days, not weeks or months. At the minimum, a warm and friendly note from the pastor can go a long way toward establishing a solid connection.

Do not act like a visit is merely obligatory

The church guest should never be left with an impression that a personal visit is obligatory because you just have to do it with every guest. Years ago, I visited a local evangelical church and was contacted by a member who wanted to come over to bring me a plate of cookies, something they did for all new guests. I was incredibly busy traveling statewide in my job, and literally did not have time to meet with him. After repeated calls, the member became exasperated with me and made a rude comment.

Years ago, my then-wife and I visited a church for the first time. We were asked out to lunch and, surprised, said yes. While waiting in the foyer after the service, the husband of the inviting couple let slip they were the “official couple” to ask guests to lunch. We quickly made an excuse and found a delightful meal at our hotel instead.

Do not do hard sells

Many times churches doing guest follow-up visits perform “hard sells” to try to get the guest to affiliate with the church. Some churches are not happy unless they are able to get guests to commit to return and become part of the member structure. If you are pressured, tell your visitors the way you feel and kindly ask them to leave. This type of behavior should not be condoned by any church.

Do not send a form letter or an email

Form letters and emails are disingenuous; they don’t have the ring of authenticity. There are better ways to convey the willingness of the church to be a resource in the life of the guest. That’s why we toss the majority of our junk mail out. If you do use a form response, make sure you’re prepared with a personable follow-up. Once, after visiting a local church, I received a warm form letter from the pastor. I wrote and called him back, but neither yielded results, because his secretary blocked people from reaching him.

Do not ask for money

As unbelievable as this sounds, some churches actually solicit money from guests. It’s totally unacceptable, especially when they are sitting in your congregation. Instead, they should clearly be told, in the bulletin and at the pulpit, they’re not expected to give because they are your guests. Sunday, I visited a Pentecostal church but heard no exception before the buckets, literally, were passed down the rows. It’s even more flagrant when churches ask guests to contribute money in a follow-up visit or  mailing, yet it happens.

Aside from follow-ups, churches can acknowledge their guests by welcoming them from the pulpit, yet many churches neglect to do so. A welcome token, such as a freshly baked loaf of bread, or invitation to lunch with the pastor are also great. Mike Merriner, pastor of Clear Water invites guests to his house for lunch once a month.

The key in all of this is thoughtful Christianity in practice.

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.


New Anchorage churches hold services in school buildings – 2/21/15

During the past year, I’ve attended church services of five church plants here that hold services in public schools. I like the concept of church organizations renting school facilities for after-hours use. The Anchorage School District allows renting elementary, middle and high schools in a businesslike manner. Use charges offset costs of our public school facilities when not in use.

I can see some advantages in using public schools, compared to brick and mortar churches: Schools have slightly more convenient parking, uniform layout for bathrooms, classrooms for teaching children, and large, well-lit multipurpose rooms for worship services. Disadvantages might be the need to bring tables, sound and projection equipment, and displays. However, compared to the cost of purchasing and maintaining a fixed church facility, a rental fee paid to ASD more than compensates for using such a facility. This week’s column will describe two churches using this model for worship services. In subsequent columns, I’ll do the same for other churches.

Clear Water Church

I attended Clear Water Church’s service Sunday. The congregation meet at Wendler Middle School in the multipurpose room, and uses classrooms for “children’s church.” The service lasted about 1 hour and 10 minutes. It consisted of a musical praise time with a small praise band, a heartfelt personal testimony by one of its members, a pastoral time of connection, and a sermon. The sermon, delivered from a script by an affiliated congregation pastor, was a windup of the lengthy series on the Bible called “The Story.” Clear Water conducts communion every other week, and communion was given Sunday. Personally, I liked the service. There was no pressure at any point and attendees were a pleasing mix of millennials to those in their late 50s.

Rev. Mike Merriner of Clear Water said they began meeting at Wendler in 2013, and have been meeting there since. Following up on my observation on millennials, he says 58 percent of attendees are in that category, with 8 percent being college students. The Wendler site was chosen for its proximity to UAA and APU. Clearly it has been a wise choice. In response to a question from me about the cultural pressures and issues millennials face, such as sex, marriage, abortion, afterlife, etc., he said “I think what the millennials attending Clear Water Church appreciate is our willingness to present the Biblical truth claims and argue for their wisdom. Life is better done God’s way. Where else are young people going to get this than in church?”

Merriner, an Anchorage native, received a master’s degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, returning here in 2001. He’s pastored at ChangePoint and Faith Christian Community. Clear Water’s sending church was ChangePoint. A sending church actually facilitates planting a new church in the community, helping it get started financially, prayerfully, and with staff, as necessary. Dan Jarrell, ChangePoint’s teaching pastor, commenting on Merriner noted “When he launched Clear Water, we encouraged people to join him if they shared his vision and even sent one of our elders to help since he was very interested in that work and a close friend and supporter of Mike. We have no authority in those works, but provide counsel and physical support (monthly financial support can often be part of that as are things like buying chairs and tables for them, etc.)”

Clear Water’s vision statement is “Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; love our neighbor as ourselves.” Its mission statement is “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded.” Its motto is “God’s vision for life.”

Merriner, commenting on the meaning of Clear Water, said it’s “because our fundamental desire is to help people see reality as God sees it. We want to present God’s word so clearly that people can see God’s perspective on life as clearly as looking at the rocks on the bottom of crystal clear Alaskan lake.”

Clear Water meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at Wendler.

Chugach Covenant Church

I visited Chugach Covenant Church in October 2014 and commented on a facet of their services, immersion baptism, in my ADN column. The structure of their services is similar to Clear Water’s. Meeting at Begich Middle School in East Anchorage, C3 uses Begich’s multipurpose room and classrooms for children.

Rev. Dan Krause offered insight into their beginnings, and purpose. Feeling called to plant a church, he shared those thoughts with a friend, Rev. Mike Merriner of Clear Water. Through this contact, Merriner connected Krause with Rev. Mark Meredith, then pastor of Community Covenant Church in Eagle River. Meredith wanted to plant a church in East Anchorage and was looking for someone who might be interested in doing so. Through these connections a new church was born in 2011. Initially meeting in the Totem 8 Theater, they grew but were concerned with lighting and availability for children’s areas, sparking their transition to Begich.

Krause, responding to my question about targeting says “While we don’t have a specific target age group or demographic, we seem to primarily attract people from three groups; young families, military personnel, and people from the recovery community. As a former children’s pastor, I firmly believe that we must offer a safe place for kids to learn about Christ and begin a life-changing relationship with Him. We also believe that our location gives us a unique opportunity to reach out into the military community.”

Going further, Krause said “It is our vision to be a multiplying church that God uses to bring thousands of people of all race, culture, and economic standing to a transformational and reproducing faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Starting in East Anchorage, extending into the surrounding communities, and to the rest of the world, we will be a church without walls that seeks to love and glorify God, love others, and serve all in Jesus’ name.”

I like the model these churches use; it obviously works. Many churches operate expensive facilities, calling for huge financial outlays annually. If you seek a solid church, consider these.

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