Tag Archives: First Presbyterian

Good Friday 2020 already? It really seems strange, But Easter is almost here.

It’s been sometime since I last posted, but I’m going to be posting articles regularly now. The last month has been a blur. Trip to England and Africa was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic. Clearly Holy Week is going to be radically different this year.

With “hunker-down” and “social distancing” in place, most Christians will have a radically different experience with Easter this year. Please feel free to share your experience in your comments to this post.

I’ve been experiencing a house church for some time. It is one of several affiliated with Great Land Christian Church. Their model is to worship in house churches every Sunday except one. The exception is when the entire church meets as a congregation at the Boys & Girls Club facility. The congregate meetings, of course, have been discontinued during the pandemic. However, I’ve attended congregate GLCC meetings and find them to be a joy. My longtime friend Pastor Ray Nadon has filled me in on why they switched to this model. I’ll be doing an indepth post on them shortly. I’ve enjoyed worshipping with the Paredes house church for a number of Sundays. They are now meeting via Zoom. The majority of their time is spent discussing the assigned scripture readings. After my return from Africa, they focused on Matthew 23-24, and the following week Matthew 25-26. It is a very personable way to study, pray, and assemble as Christians together. If you would like to join their Easter service, click on this link to obtain a Zoom meeting invitation. (https://www.glccalaska.org/)

Many churches have transitioned to having their services via some type of social media or internet meeting sites such as Zoom or Skype. I’ve talked with several local pastors this week and they shared the following information about their services this weekend. This list is not exhaustive but representative. I suggest looking at church websites for specifics for onlne worship.

Anchorage First Presbyterian Church – Pastor Matt Schulz (http://firstpresanchorage.org/)
Pastor Matt shared “I have been live streaming on my facebook page and the church facebook page since this began. I will do so this week as well for Good Friday. Sunday will be Easter of course, but livestream only, probably from my home.” Livestream link: https://www.facebook.com/First-Presbyterian-Church-of-Anchorage-Alaska-152768168262144/

All Saints Episcopal CHurch – Rev. David Terwilliger
(allsaintsalaska.org)
Rev David shares, “As far as our Holy Week/Easter schedule, we have reduced many of our usual worship activities but certainly not all.  As things stand, I have been posting videos of our services on our church website – linked from a church YouTube account. (http://allsaintsalaska.org/youtube-services)

“Fortunately, I have my household to assist me with the services – usually my wife as Lector and my daughters will Acolyte for us Easter morning.  It certainly seems strange to us to conduct a service to be viewed by our church family online – many I know are able to watch and listen.  Sadly, some, I am sure, cannot.  Nevertheless, I have had folks tell me that they find great comfort in knowing that the Eucharist is still being celebrated within our church sanctuary even if they cannot be here physically to participate.  We are relying on a teaching of the church that “spiritual communion” is available to those whose desired intention is to participate in the Eucharist but for reasons – not their fault – cannot be physically present.  In this, the sacramental benefits of Christ’s sacrifice are apprehended by faith.  This teaching has been around for a long time and is even provided for in the 1662 BCP rubrics as well.  So we are relying of Christ’s presence and our Church’s tradition to guide us during these days.  Additionally, the old Armed Forces Prayer Book offers guidance for Spiritual Communion and a wonderful prayer found here: http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1928/AFPB_Spir_Communion.htm

St Mary’s Episcopal Church – Rev. Michael Burke
(http://godsview.org)
Rev. Michael says they will be using Zoom for the Easter service at 10:00 a.m. with Twitch and Facebook mirroring the service. The Zoom link is (https://zoom.us/j/362945215) or go to the church webpage noted above for a link. The bulletin is also availabe there. Pastor Michael also shares, “People are joining us online from around the world and throughout the lower 48.Much joy despite the crushing busyness.”

St. Patrick’s Parish – Fr. Leo Walsh
(https://www.facebook.com/stpatsak/)
“We are pretty much shut down” say St. Patricks Pastor Fr. Leo Walsh.”I have been live streaming mass is at noon daily, and on the weekends on our Facebook page. Due to the governors mandate, it is impossible to celebrate the Triduum liturgies if there is only one person who lives in the household, such as myself. The Triduum liturgies for the Archdiocese will be celebrated and streamed from Holy Family Cathedral (English) and Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral (bi-lingual in English and Spanish).Mass of the Lord’s Supper, 7 PM on Holy Thursday; Good Friday Liturgy at 7 PM, Easter Vigil on Saturday at 8 PM.  Details are on the archdiocesan website.” (https://www.archdioceseofanchorage.org/)
Fr Leo says he “will be streaming Easter Sunday Mass from Saint Patrick’s at 10 AM Easter Sunday morning.” See Facebook link above.

St. John UMC – Pastor Andy Bartel
(https://www.stjohneagle.com/)
They will be streaming Good Friday services at 7 p.m. today. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC157rFbLUFLjOH9XvQTjCIQ)

Easter Sunday services will also be livestreamed at 9:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. as well.
(https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC157rFbLUFLjOH9XvQTjCIQ)

This is a friendly church with a top-notch pastoral staff.

Wherever you worship this Easter weekend, may God’s richest blessing be with you as you celebrate His richest gift to a needy world.

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.”

Two faith traditions, one common cause—helping others

As the holiday season progresses, various faith organizations are gearing up to help others in our community. A pair of significant events this weekend are worthy of note. The Reform Jewish community and local Presbyterians are holding separate, but similar events this Sunday to raise funds for worthy organizations.

Mitzvah Mall, Congregation Beth Sholom, noon to 3 p.m. Sunday

If you’ve not experienced Mitzvah Mall, you’re in for a surprise. Imagine coming to an event that raises money for local nonprofits without the giver receiving anything in return. It’s something akin to a cash call at a gala. An annual event at Congregation Beth Sholom since 2008, it continues to grow.

“This is something that the congregation has done for a number of years,” explains Rabbi Michael Oblath. “We just provide the space, and gain nothing from it other than knowing that we can contribute a little bit of time and effort into bringing people into a place where they may talk to strangers or friends, meet new people, and, most importantly, bring a little joy into other people’s lives. We do it, just because it’s nice… and a good thing for the community… just seems like it’s the right thing to do. I’ve always seen it as a way to give a double gift… one to a friend, and one to someone that you may never know or meet.”

Intrigued by the word “mitzvah” in the event, I asked Oblath to explain the meaning. “Mitzvah translates as ‘commandment,’ so the commandments, as the guidelines and path to how we live our lives, reflect both relationship to God and to the world, even including humans,” he said. “Within the Reform movement we tend to conceive of the performance of the commandments as the way to achieve the healing of the world. That is the same notion as achieving peace and harmony in life… not just an individual’s life, but basically life in general.”

The way it works is local nonprofit organizations are invited to participate at the Mitzvah Mall and then chosen on a first-come/first-serve basis. Each organization is provided with a table for staff who present their organization. Those attending make contributions to any organization present in someone’s name. That person receives an elegant gift card noting the gift has been given in their name. The conversations I’ve had with nonprofit representatives at past events have helped gain a better understanding of their mission.

According to Penny Goldstein, organizer of Mitzvah Mall, the non-profits represented will include Alaska Botanical Garden, AK Child & Family, Alaska Innocence Project, Alaska WildBird Rehabilitation Center, American Diabetes Association, Anchorage Project Access, Bean’s Café/Children’s Lunchbox, Catholic Social Services, Equine Assisted Therapy of Alaska, FISH (Fellowship In Serving Humanity), Friends of the Library, Helping Hands for Nepal, Joy Greisen Jewish Education Center, Lemong’o Project, Malawi Children’s Village, Parachutes Teen Club and Resource Center, Pedals for Africa, Turnagain Community Arts Alliance, United Jewish Communities Alaska and Victims for Justice.

“If you want to send someone a present,” Goldstein says, “and are tired of the materialism or just can’t figure out a good present, here is your remedy. We have calligraphers to fill out lovely cards that you can send in lieu of, or with, other presents. It is a fun event. We have birds (two owls and a sandhill crane, plus a therapy dog) as well as human representatives of those agencies. We also have music!”

Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea are offered without charge, but no food is being offered. The event is about giving and learning more about the fantastic work being done by multiple nonprofits many may not know much about. Congregation Beth Sholom is located at 7525 E. Northern Lights Blvd. (just west of Carrs).

First Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Market, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday

A similar event to Mitzvah Mall is First Presbyterian Church’s Alternative Gift Market. Open from 9:30  to 1:30 p.m. Sunda,  (except during worship, which begins at 11 a.m. and lasts about an hour) it offers gifts from a variety of mission partners First Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and Yukon Presbytery. Now in its third year, it’s slightly different from Mitzvah Mall.

According to organizer Danna Larson, the market is  “a combination of alternative giving and supporting agencies by buying fair trade products. We offer a fair and just way for our congregation to shop at Christmas, either through organizations that sell fair trade products or those that provide opportunities for one to donate in someone else’s name.”

This year’s partners include Bean’s Café, Downtown Soup Kitchen, Anchor Presbyterian Church (homeless ministry), Presbyterian Hunger Fund Equal Exchange (fair trade coffee, teas and chocolate), Yukon Presbytery: Gambell (new church building), Haiti Artisan Network, Presbyterian Church (USA) Gift Catalog (featuring different projects to donate to in honor of someone), Pal Craftaid, Emergency Cold Weather Ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Two Spirits Carving Studio (cooperative studio for Native artists), and Presbyterian Women.

For refreshments, Presbyterian Women are hosting a Christmas bake sale. A soup lunch that raises support for Downtown Soup Kitchen will be offered. In years past, I’ve purchased Haiti gifts and a variety of soups; both make great alternative gifts.

Curious about the focus of their ministry, I asked Larson for more information. “AGM is an appropriate nonprofit response to consumerism and provides a fair and just way for our congregation members to shop at Christmas and choose gifts that will make an important difference in helping people in our community, our nation and our world,” Larson said “In addition, congregation members have an opportunity to learn about the ministries represented and the importance of supporting those who are involved in fair trade practices. Often times, connections made at the AGM lead to other involvement in the local agencies represented.”

First Presbyterian Church is located at 616 W. 10th Ave.

It’s heartening to see individual faith organizations, like these, stepping up to the plate to infuse new spirit and meaning into a holiday season that has become devoid of meaning for many. If your organization is doing something innovative in the spirit of the season, like these two congregations, let me know. I’m always happy to share the joy.

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

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

Finding a Church:

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

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

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

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

Churches worthy of visits for outstanding features

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

Holy Family Cathedral

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

First Presbyterian Church

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

All Saints Episcopal Church

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

Resurrection Chapel – Holy Spirit Center

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

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

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

St. John United Methodist Church

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

United Methodist Church of Chugiak

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

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church – Eklutna

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

St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral

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

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church

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

St. John Orthodox Cathedral – Eagle River

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

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

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

A visitor’s guide to worshipping in Anchorage (originally published 5/23/15)

If you are visiting Anchorage or moving here, we have many religious worship options. Muslims will find a mosque. Jews can find two synagogues, Reform and Lubavitcher, with Friday and Saturday services. The northernmost Hindu temple in the world is within five minutes of the airport terminal. All major religions in America are represented with convenient and often beautiful worship places, close to major hotels, many within walking distance. Three Orthodox groups in Alaska are very prominent in Anchorage. Formerly called Russian Orthodox — now simply Orthodox — one of our earliest religious groups arrived here 200 years ago. Its bishop lives in Anchorage. Several spectacular churches and a cathedral here are affiliated with them. The Greek Orthodox Church has a beautiful place of worship on the lower Hillside where their Metropolitan performed a Thyranoixia (Opening of the Doors) ceremony last fall. Rounding out the orthodox list is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral in Eagle River just north of town.

Catholics are plentiful in Anchorage. It’s home to many parishes and is the seat of an archdiocese, so the archbishop is very active in the faith community. Recently, Holy Family Cathedral downtown officially shared, with papal approval, co-cathedral status with Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in West Anchorage. There are many independent churches in town, including Alaska’s largest megachurch, ChangePoint. Baptists have numerous churches in Anchorage, including Alaska’s other megachurch, Anchorage Baptist Temple on the east side of town.

I’ve been writing about Anchorage’s church community in blog posts and newspaper columns for seven years. Those weekly columns, published in each Saturday’s Alaska Dispatch News, are available online at adn.com/churchvisits, stretching back to January 2014. My blogging, current and past, and these columns are available at churchvisits.com. Blog entries on this website are being transferred from ADN and reach back into 2012 at the moment. My writing covers every facet of church life in town. Primarily, I focus on Christian churches. When visiting them, I look for warm greetings, a genuine sense of hospitality, well-delivered biblical sermons, and music that’s not merely for entertainment.

Churches are now shifting to summer service hours, so check service times on the Internet first. It’s also worth calling the church to ensure website details are accurate.

Church stops worth making

Several local churches offer more than services. I suggest including them in your itinerary:

Holy Family Cathedral

Located in downtown Anchorage, this church is nearing its 100th year. It was the scene of a papal visit by Pope John Paul II in 1981, who conducted several papal audiences there and celebrated a huge Mass a few blocks away on the Delaney Park Strip, attended by over 50,000 people.

First Presbyterian Church

This large church is on the south side of the Delaney Park Strip. Inside is a spectacular floor-to-ceiling stained glass wall with embedded religious motifs.

St. John United Methodist Church

On the south side of Anchorage, this large, modern Methodist church contains a large totem pole carved in the Tsimshian tradition by a retired UMC pastor, the Rev. David Frison. Called the Easter Totem, it depicts the last events in the life of Christ. Frison also carved a smaller totem called the Christmas Totem. The large totem is inside the sanctuary and copies of both totems are standing outside.

St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral

This large cathedral in Northeast Anchorage is home to a beautiful congregation. Attending services there is always a joy for me. They have a wonderful choir and inspiring liturgy. It is beautifully decorated and sports the onion domes we associate with Russian Orthodox churches.

St. John Orthodox Cathedral

Found in Eagle River, this large cathedral is a labor of love. Many of its icons were beautifully created by a congregation member. Their choir accompanies all services. I’ve been privileged to sing with them several times.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral

This Roman Catholic cathedral is fairly close to the airport but was selected for co-cathedral status because its size, parking, and interior arrangement lend itself to large gatherings. Its beautiful interior has hosted many significant events in its comparatively brief period of existence.

Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church

The northernmost parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, this distinctive church is the only Greek Orthodox Church in Alaska. Its striking interior takes you into another realm of worship uncommon in many contemporary houses of worship.

All Saints’ Episcopal Church

A small but beautiful church in the heart of downtown Anchorage, All Saints’ offers beautifully wrought stained glass windows on three sides. Before his death, Sen. Ted Stevens made All Saints’ his church home,when in town.

Resurrection Chapel

Located at Holy Spirit Center, a Catholic retreat center on the Hillside, this beautiful chapel has a 180-degree view of Cook Inlet to the west, the Alaska Range to the north and the nearby Chugach mountains to the east.

Central Lutheran Church

Sited immediately south of downtown, this church has a beautiful sanctuary containing a wonderfully carved wooden altarpiece. I marvel every time I see it.

While churches are used for congregational worship and teaching, underlying the churches I’ve mentioned is a solid sense of caring for others. Many Anchorage churches reach out to the poor, downtrodden, and hungry. There’s more to churches than bricks and mortar. People come to learn more about their faith, and often come away infused with a desire to serve. If you are looking for a church home, email me at churchvisits@gmail.com for a more detailed listing of some churches I recommend for a first visit.

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.

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.