Tag Archives: Fr Norman Elliott

Remembering Father Norman H.V. Elliott

As the hearse pulled away from All Saints Episcopal Church Sept. 19, I finally realized I’d no longer be seeing my friend the Rev. Norman Elliott; I’d seen him for the last time. His service was attended by a wide range of friends and family. All Saints Rector David Terwilliger, the Rev. Katherine Hunt of Christ Church Episcopal, the Rev. Susan Halvorson,  a Providence Alaska Medical Center chaplain, and Bishop Mark Lattime led the service with Catholic Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz in attendance on the platform. The entire service, which included the Eucharist, was a wondrous blend of music, liturgy and reminiscences.

During his homily, Terwilliger talked of Elliott’s passing on the morning of Sept. 9. For this column, he recounted that time to me: “I went into pray the prayers of the Ministration at the Time of Death,” he said. “The title of the rite sounds more solemn than it is in form — at least to my mind.

The words are words of comfort and mercy but given under the sober petition for God’s grace for the dying and for their spirit to be received into heaven. Like Roman Catholics, Episcopalians are instructed to call a priest for the dying and the prayers are meant to commit the dying person into God’s hands. Often, Episcopalians call these prayers at the time of death ‘Last Rites.'”

The Rev. Norman Elliott delivers the invocation at a ceremony honoring 50 heroes for their efforts to rescue victims from a June 1, 2010 plane crash in Fairview Thursday evening September 9, 2010 at Central Middle School. (Erik Hill / ADN archive)
The Rev. Norman Elliott delivers the invocation at a ceremony honoring 50 heroes for their efforts to rescue victims from a June 1, 2010 plane crash in Fairview Thursday evening September 9, 2010 at Central Middle School. (Erik Hill / ADN archive)

With Halvorson at his side, Terwilliger continued: He “announced to Norm that I was there to ‘pray the Litany’ and Norm motioned with his hand, touched his fingers to his forehead as if to say — I took it to mean — ‘OK, let’s do it.'” During the litany, Terwilliger observed, “Father Elliott became very peaceful, calm and relaxed, which up to that point he had not been; due to coughing and physical discomfort.” Elliott passed within minutes.

For more than 26 years after his retirement in 1990, Elliott had been visiting patients at Providence. Stories of those visits are the stuff of legend. The Rev. Michael Burke of St. Mary’s, recalling one humorous moment, said, “Once a man called me to tell me he had just been admitted to the hospital, and I rushed right over. Upon entering his hospital room, I went right up to the bedside to pray. I said, ‘I’m so pleased that I made it here before Father Elliott. That might be a historic first.’ ‘Ah, you only beat me by 30 seconds,’ he said, appearing in the doorway behind me.”

The Rev. Scott Medlock of St. Patrick’s Parish calls him “a living saint” who, when his son was seriously injured in a plane crash in which another person died, was attended by Elliott on a daily basis. His presence in hospitals will be missed by patients and staff.

Elliott joined many Alaskans in marriage. Julie Fate Sullivan, wife of Sen. Dan Sullivan, shared the heartwarming story of her parents and Elliott. “In 1954, my mother – Mary Jane Evans, a Koyukon Athabaskan from the Yukon River village of Rampart, and my father, Hugh Fate, a cowboy from Eastern Oregon who had worked the first oil rig in Umiat in 1950 – fell deeply in love. They wanted to get married, and according to my Mom, that was the time in our country when some clergy didn’t encourage ‘mixed-marriages.’ Father Elliott was not one of those clergy.”

“When my parents asked him to officiate their wedding, he welcomed them with open arms. At their first meeting, Father Elliott saw the deep love, respect and substance between them, and he blessed their union. My dad always says from that moment on, he knew Father Elliott was a “truly and deeply caring” individual, and they became friends after that.

“Father Elliott married my parents 62 years ago, on Oct. 29, 1954 at the little log cabin church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Fairbanks. They are still married today. Forty years later in August 1994, Dan and I were married at the same church in Fairbanks, with the same wonderful Father Norman Elliott as the priest who blessed our union.

“We were so honored to have him officiate. He was always considered a hero in our family because of the kind way he accepted my parents so long ago. In typical Father Elliott style, I remember some good-natured ribbing between Dan and Father Elliott – Dan was on active duty and wore his Marine Corps uniform at the wedding, and with Father Elliott being a WWII Army veteran, they had a lot of fun interservice rivalry joking going around.”

Elliott was ecumenical to the core. He treasured his friendship with recently deceased Archbishop Francis Hurley. His story of the two waters, recounted in a previous column, was one symbol of that all-embracing character.

Art Goldberg, Congregation Beth Sholom member, recounts how Father Elliott offered them the use of All Saints as a meeting place for about a year. Previously, the congregation had met in Goldberg’s parents’ home. Father Elliott felt the Jewish community needed to be represented in Anchorage and helped make that possible until they could build their own synagogue. Goldberg said, “Father Elliott was one of those people who helped the religious community in Anchorage.”

The same attitude extended to Russian Orthodox congregations. The Rev. Nicholas-Molodyko Harris, a retired Russian Orthodox (now simply Orthodox) priest, told me of being sent to Anchorage in September 1967 for the purpose of organizing a mission to develop into a parish.

That mission ultimately became Saint Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1994. He tells of meeting Elliott in 1967. Having no suitable place to hold their first diocesan assembly in 1968, he asked Elliott if it would be possible to hold it at All Saints. Elliott said, “Of course!” The assembly was presided over by Bishop Theodosius, the Orthodox bishop of Alaska, who later became the Orthodox Church of America’s Metropolitan.

Harris and his wife Matushka Anastasia continued their friendship with Elliott during the remainder of his life.

Harris remembered Elliott’s tremendous love for his wife Stella, saying “She was comical with a sense of humor. They blended together.” He offered a tribute to Elliott saying, “In being a clergy brother of Father Elliott, he was an inspiration to me in the love and caring to everyone he met. His legacy is that he was never absent from someone who was ill as long as it was in his power, especially at Providence Hospital.”

At the funeral, lines were read from Elliott’s favorite poet, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, a WWI British army chaplain. Later, retired Juneau Episcopal priest, the Rev. Mark Boesser a former Virginia Theological Seminary classmate of Elliott’s, shared with me the commendation that accompanied  the awarding of the Military Cross to Studdert Kennedy:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, he showed the greatest courage and disregard for his own safety in attending the wounded under heavy fire. He searched shell holes for our own and enemy wounded, assisting them to the dressing station, and his cheerfulness and endurance had a splendid effect upon all ranks in the front-line trenches which he constantly visited.”

Those lines remind me so strongly of the Rev. Norman H.V. Elliott too: friend, husband, father, pastor, and humanitarian. The stories of marriages, funerals, connecting and reconnecting with God, and hospital memories will continue to be shared. There are so many.

You will be missed dear friend.

Alaska Dispatch News Story – Fr. Norman Elliott’s Passing – 9/13/16

The Alaska Dispatch News ran a story on Fr. Norman Elliott’s recent death, and brief review of his life.  This link will take you to the story online. There is a factual mistake in that he was awaiting a call to the Philippines rather than India as reported in the story.


I will be addressing Fr. Elliott’s life from a personal perspective, as well as including comments from others who were also impacted in a major way, within the next couple of weeks.

RIP – Fr. Norman Elliott

The much loved senior clergyman in Alaska, Fr. Norman Elliott, passed on Friday.

A Visitation will be held Monday 9/19/2016  from 1:00pm to 4:00pm with the service starting at 4pm.  It will be held at All Saints, with overflow being in the Egan Center.  A reception will follow at the Egan Center. The burial will be the following day (Tuesday)  at 1:00pm at Angelus Memorial Park Cemetery.

Fr Elliott’s passing will be mourned by scores of Alaskan who owe their connection to God to him. I’ve written several columns about him which can be found using the search tool on the right under the word cloud. Use Elliott for your search. I’ll post a detailed column after his services.
RIP dear friend.

Longtime Alaska priest Norman Elliott turns 97

Well, it’s happening again. The Rev. Norman Elliott of All Saints Episcopal Church will celebrate another birthday Feb. 2, his 97th. It’s extremely rare to find clergy still active at his age. Elliott’s ministry and friendships have touched thousands of Alaskans and beg recognition while he’s still with us. Elliott retired in 1990 at age 70, a church requirement then, but came out of retirement two years ago to act as “priest-in-charge” at All Saints when their previous rector departed with little notice. The Rev. David Terwilliger has been selected as All Saints’ new rector and will be installed by the Right Rev. Mark Lattime, bishop of Alaska, at Easter.

Recently Elliott was hospitalized with pneumonia. Still recovering, he maintains an active schedule of worship and hospital visits. While he was in the hospital, Sen. Lisa Murkowski visited him. She told me: “He is a guy that’s not going to let things pass him by. A couple of weeks ago when I visited him in the hospital at Providence, he was sitting there in the hospital bed grumping about the fact that he had places to go. I think with Father Elliott, he lives every day to the fullest, from the time that he wakes up in the morning to the time that he goes to bed at night. He is living every day, and that’s living a life well.”

Elliott regularly visits patients at Anchorage hospitals.

“Father Elliott is famous for visiting sick people in our local hospitals, somehow knowing exactly when someone is admitted,” says the Rev. Michael Burke, rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. “In all my years of ministry, it was rare I got to the hospital before him. Once, when visiting a parishioner who both he and I had connections with, I was astounded I’d arrived at the patient’s bedside before Father Elliott. I remarked about this to the parishioner. The patient broke into a huge grin. ‘Look behind you,’ he said, just as Father Elliott arrived in the doorway. I had beaten him there by a full two minutes!”

At last Friday’s funeral for former Anchorage Archbishop Francis T. Hurley, Elliott reflected on his longtime personal friendship with the archbishop in a story about two bottles of water. The story began with Pope John Paul II inviting the choir that sang when he celebrated Mass on the Delaney Park Strip in 1981 to Rome to sing at the Vatican. Two months later, a group of 250 departed Anchorage for Europe.

At the direction of Hurley, who envisioned the church as ecumenical, the group was not limited to Roman Catholics. Elliott and his wife were part of the group, which stopped in London for the weekend. While there, Hurley celebrated Mass at a large Catholic cathedral and invited Elliott to vest. In his homily, Hurley noted that at one point, Roman Catholics and Anglicans had been one church but centuries earlier the Church of England (which in U.S. is the Episcopal Church) split off, and said that at some point down the road maybe the two churches would be unified again. Several days later, the same thing happened: At a Mass at the Vatican, the Catholic archbishop — with the vested Episcopal priest by his side — gave the same homily.

How did the bottles of water fit in? After Mass in London, Elliott went to the River Thames and filled a bottle of water there. After Mass in Rome, he filled a second bottle from the Tiber River. At one of Hurley’s birthday parties, Elliott presented him with the two bottles, saying it was his wish that one day both would stand unified at Ship Creek pouring both bottles of water into the river to celebrate a united church.

The archbishop held on to the bottles and had a case built for them. When Elliott retired, Hurley presented him with both bottles. Elliott concluded that he would most likely not be around to see that unification happen but hoped it would happen and that the waters from the Tiber and Thames would be poured into Ship Creek.

“I had the privilege of meeting Father Norman Elliott when I first arrived at the Archdiocese of Anchorage as the newly appointed archbishop,” recalls Roger L. Schwietz recalls. “It was shortly after Father Norm’s 81st birthday.  He had supposedly retired 12 years earlier. I would have never known. I have great admiration for Father Elliott for his continued dedication to ministry, his deep love of Christ and his longing for the unity of the Christian family.  May God continue to bless him in his life of service to the greater Anchorage community.”

Sen. Ted Stevens was a close friend of Elliott’s. Whenever Stevens was in Anchorage, he worshipped at All Saints. When, in 1978, a Learjet with Stevens and his wife, Ann, aboard crashed at Anchorage International Airport, Elliott was alerted that Stevens was in serious condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center and was provided a police escort to quickly reach him. It fell to Elliott to break the sad news to Ted that Ann had died in the crash. Later, when Stevens married his second wife, Catherine, he chose Elliott to perform the marriage.

Former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan first met Elliott in the early 1950s in Nenana, where his dad was a U.S. marshal and his mom commissioner, a judicial position. He has fond memories of Elliott’s care for his family, even though they weren’t Episcopalian. When Sullivan’s dad and mom were in hospital prior to their deaths, Elliott provided warm spiritual care for them.

I deeply enjoy my conversations and relationship with Elliott. He’s a real Christian in every sense of the word, and I wish him many more happy and healthy years.

All Saints Episcopal Church invites friends of the Rev. Norman Elliott to an early birthday party at McGinley’s Pub in downtown Anchorage from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31.

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.

Six inspiring things from Anchorage faith organizations in 2015

During my forays into the local faith community in 2015 I experienced an intriguing mix of sights, sounds, venues and celebrations. This week I’ll briefly describe some that made lasting impressions. Next week I focus on my perennial quest regarding what I’d like to see churches tackle in 2016.

These impressions are mine alone, and omission isn’t intended as a slight to any faith-based organization in Anchorage.

Faith community support of social causes

As the years go by, I’m increasingly enthusiastic when local faith organizations and their members go out of their way supporting charitable causes such as Thanksgiving Blessing, Crop Hunger Walk, food banks and food distribution programs, kids programs, etc. There is sufficient need in our community, and these efforts show that, for the most part, Christian organizations walk the talk. When Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church periodically holds two-hour Beer and Hymns events, more than $5,000 is raised for Lutheran Social Services of Alaska. Church food drives are incredibly successful too, such as when St. Mary’s Episcopal Church collects donations of more than 4,000 jars of peanut butter plus other food items during the year.

Catholic celebrations mark years of progress

The Archdiocese of Anchorage held several important celebrations this year. One marked the 100th anniversary of Holy Family Cathedral, and the 50th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Anchorage. Many artifacts of local church history were on display, accompanied by colorful presentations by many local Catholic leaders. The ceremonial Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe marking Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz’s 75th birthday (and 25th anniversary of his ordination as bishop) was full of music, co-celebrating archbishops and bishops, and many priests. The investiture ceremony of the Royal Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, presided over by a cardinal, was a spectacular peek into church history.

Orthodox visits impressed me deeply

The Eagle River Institute at St. John Orthodox Cathedral during August afforded opportunities to learn about orthodoxy, and its history, especially Syrian-born Rev. George Shaloub’s lectures on Middle Eastern Christianity. With the Syrian refugee crisis in the headlines at the moment, it’s too bad more local Christians did not hear his messages. Vespers, held after supper each day, provided music and liturgy harking back to apostolic times. A recent visit to St. Tikhon Orthodox Church delighted me. The hour and a half liturgy was supported by an all-male choir singing in four-part harmony. The Russian Christmas celebration at St. Innocent Russian Orthodox Cathedral was filled with music and liturgy, my first experience with starring, a beautiful Orthodox tradition brought from Ukraine.

Church worship experiences in middle schools

New churches (church plants) meeting in middle schools were a pleasant visit focus. Clark, Begich, Wendler, and Hanshew middle schools were the focus of those visits. They pay a standard Anchorage School District rental rate for use of the multi-purpose room for adult meetings and classrooms for the younger kids. Churches must bring everything needed and set up every Sunday, taking it all down after, but it works beautifully. Many of these locations provide better settings than some of our local churches. In each of these services, the proportion of millennials was greater than in an average church. I’ve been personally blessed by the number of these services I’ve attended, never feeling the absence of a dedicated brick-and-mortar church as a disadvantage.

AFACT support of Medicaid expansion

Earlier this year, Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together challenged the state Legislature with words and prayer at the Legislative Information Office to expand the Medicaid system on behalf of the working poor who slip through the cracks. AFACT, a local coalition of 14 local congregations, worked tirelessly on behalf of expansion. In the end, expansion of the health-care program did happen. When I attended the AFACT celebration at St. Anthony Catholic church in early fall, I was impressed with the passion this dedicated group expressed. I was especially taken with Pastor Julia Seymour’s remarks referring to “social junk.” She’s right. It’s so easy to criticize and ignore those among us we regard as not worthy of our consideration. However, everyone counts in our society, or it begins to rot from the center.

Longevity of senior pastors in our community

My interview with All Saints Episcopal’s Rev. Norman Elliott as he reached his 96th birthday was a true delight. His tireless devotion to his church, and the spiritual lives of those in our hospitals, should be an inspiration to us all. It’s not often we get to know a living church legend; Elliott certainly fits the bill. His stories of pastoring and teaching in the villages, coupled with flights of daring in the parish airplane, are fascinating. Whenever he digresses into the poetry of Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy, which he manages to slip into most sermons, he becomes a different man. Elliott is devoted to God and to his church. Retired Archbishop Francis T. Hurley celebrated his 45th year as bishop this year. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing him several times, and like Elliott, he was a flying priest who ministered to a far-flung area. Both have interesting tales of serving God by airplane. The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church celebration of Pastor Alonzo Patterson’s 45th anniversary as their pastor and 66th anniversary of being a pastor was a warm and effusive display of love for their pastor. Many guest pastors were on hand to add their congratulations and thanks to God for Patterson’s many years of service. The musical tributes were warm and from the heart. It was an exceptional event to have experienced.

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.

Archbishop Hurley: 45 Years a Bishop

I first met Archbishop Francis T. Hurley at the installation of Lutheran Bishop Shelley Wickstrom. Surprised to see him there in a Protestant church along with many other clergy, I introduced myself to him as ADN’s community church blogger and asked if we might meet. When we met at his residence he was cordial and conversational with me, a non-Catholic. I’d researched the proper terms with which to address him — finding “your excellency,” “monsignor,” “your grace” and “the most reverend.” Asking Archbishop Hurley which term would be appropriate, he said, “Just call me Father.” Recently, I arranged another interview on his completion of 45 years as bishop in Alaska this week. That interview further enlightened me about significant events occurring during his career in Alaska.

Road to bishop

Born in 1927, Archbishop Hurley graduated from St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California. He was ordained as priest in 1951. After serving as a priest in the San Francisco Archdiocese, primarily at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, he was asked in the early 1960s to join the staff of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. He first worked in the office of Catholic education and then as associate general secretary for the United States Catholic Conference. In 1968, the first bishop of Juneau had retired. The diocese was vacant and under the administration of Archbishop Ryan, the first archbishop of Anchorage. In early 1970 Monsignor Hurley was asked by Pope Paul VI to become a bishop and serve as auxiliary to Archbishop Ryan in his role as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Juneau. Archbishop Hurley likes to tell of calling his mother about the Alaska appointment. She responded, “Did you turn it down?” His episcopal consecration as bishop was on March 19, 1970, at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, with his brother, Bishop Mark Hurley, as principal consecrator.

First Juneau, then Anchorage

When Bishop Hurley discovered the size of the territory the seven parishes his Juneau Diocese covered, he decided to become licensed to fly. With a diocesan airplane, he could fly to outlying parishes quickly, celebrating the sacraments and ministering to people as necessary.

After nine years in Juneau, Bishop Hurley was appointed Archbishop of Anchorage by Pope Paul VI, moving here to succeed Archbishop Ryan in 1976. Retaining his pilot’s license, he continued to fly to hard-to-reach parishes such as Dillingham, Bristol Bay and some on the Kenai Peninsula. Over the years Archbishop Hurley accumulated over 5,000 hours of flying.

Pope John Paul II’s 1981 visit to Anchorage

A high point in Archbishop Hurley’s years in Anchorage was Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1981. The pope would be returning from a papal trip to Japan. Archbishop Hurley was given just five weeks to put it all together. Local Catholics created a “popemobile,” built an altar on the western end of the Delaney Park Strip, and diligently prepared all the details. When Pope John Paul II arrived, he went first to Holy Family Cathedral for an audience with local Catholics, then to the cathedral ‘s basement to meet disabled people. From there, he traveled to the Park Strip for Mass. Secret Service and other local law enforcement provided security for the event. Archbishop Hurley gave a welcoming address at the Mass and Pope John Paul II preached. The Mass was celebrated by 50 bishops and cardinals who had traveled for the occasion. Attendance estimates ranged from 50,000 to 65,000 people. Hurley called the occasion “a strong interreligious event, where we wanted to show respect for the pope, not overwhelm him.”

Russia trip

A significant event in Archbishop Hurley’s life came when Holy Family Cathedral helped Ted Mala, a Yupik-Russian doctor, facilitate medical exchanges after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Archbishop Hurley was invited to return with medical personnel to Russia. He discovered interest in establishing a Catholic presence in the Magadan area — something accomplished in 1991 when the Holy See established a Catholic parish there in response to Archbishop Hurley’s request. In 1994, Hurley recruited a Palmer priest, the Rev. Michael Shields, who built a church there and still serves that area. Hurley encouraged this development with multiple trips there.

Hurley’s driving force

Archbishop Hurley says his ministry was driven by a key principle of Vatican II: “The Church is all of the people.” Under his direction, the archdiocese blossomed and grew rapidly. When I asked him what he’d like as an epitaph, he laughed and pointed me to a nearby book. Picking it up, I noted the title on the cover: “Pastoral Insights from 15 Years as a Bishop in Alaska.” Upon opening it, I discovered it was blank. When I asked what happens after his last breath, he responded, “That’s His job.” Again he laughed.

A tribute from the Rev. Elliott

The Rev. Norman Elliott, acting rector of All Saints Episcopal, offered this tribute to Archbishop Hurley:

“Of all the clergy in Alaska Archbishop Francis T. Hurley is surely one of the most ecumenical. An example: In 1982, following Pope John Paul’s visit to Anchorage in 1981, the Archbishop led a pilgrimage of over 250 people to Rome for a private meeting with the Pope. He invited me, my wife and members of the Episcopal Church to join. Eighteen did. The pilgrimage included a weekend stop in London. On Sunday he celebrated Mass at Westminster Catholic Cathedral and asked me to vest and stand with him at the altar. He began his sermon with the words, ‘Many years ago there was one river — the Catholic Church it split and became two rivers: Catholic and Church of England (in the U.S. it is the Episcopal Church). This morning, Father Elliott and members of the Episcopal Church are worshipping with us. Perhaps we can show you that the two rivers may one day flow together.’ We were then presented to the Pope. In Rome this was repeated at a Mass in the Basilica.

“I was privileged to be invited by him to preach at his retirement and he accepted my invitation to preach at mine. He is a close and valued friend.”

The Rev. Norman Elliott, an Alaska clergy legend, turns 96 on Monday – 1/31/15

National data indicate the average tenure of a pastor is between three and four years. Many pastors retire in their 60s and 70s. One local pastor clearly beats these norms. The Rev. Norman Elliott, who is still going strong, turns 96 on Monday.

During my first 10 years in Anchorage, I didn’t know of Elliott. This changed in 2010, when Mark Lattime was consecrated as the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska. A clergy friend invited me to the post-consecration banquet that evening. The Rev. Norman Elliott was the master of ceremonies, regaling attendees with humor, narratives of the history and growth of the Episcopal Church in Alaska and many introductions. Since then, I’ve talked with him after services at All Saints Episcopal Church in downtown Anchorage. Each time, he shared thoughts about religion and insights into the history of this wonderful church. Recently he gave insights about the wonderful Kimura-designed stained glass in All Saints.

In 2013, 25 years after his official retirement from All Saints, he was thrust back into a leadership role when their rector abruptly left. Currently he serves as priest-in-charge until a new rector is selected. But that’s not all. He is a volunteer chaplain, making almost daily visits to all local hospitals, some resulting in long stints through the night. Elliott is regularly asked to speak to civic groups about his life and experiences in Alaska.

Born in England, he and his family moved to Detroit when he was four. A lifelong Anglican, he made a momentous decision when a middle school teacher pressed him to make a career choice so he could guided into the appropriate high, commercial or technical school. Indecisive, but pressured to decide quickly, he decided one night to choose the ministry. At once he was at peace. After serving as a commissioned officer during World War II, another source of marvelous stories, Elliott finished college. Then it was on to Virginia Theological Seminary, an Episcopal institution, whose primary focus then was training missionaries.

During his final year, his VTS homiletics professor assigned a project researching the life of a famous preacher. Uncharacteristically, for that professor, he suggested Elliott write about World War I English chaplain Geoffrey Anketell Studdert-Kennedy. Elliott feels this was a life-changing experience, especially Studdert-Kennedy’s poetry, which he often recites while telling this story and in his homilies. Elliott is especially taken with “Indifference,” “Woodbine Willie” and “The Sorrow of God.” He credits Studdert-Kennedy with shaping his theology and approaches to people. Graduating in 1951 from VTS with a master of divinity degree, Elliott was ordained a deacon of the Episcopal faith.

Elliott had a burning desire to go to India to serve as a missionary, but no positions were open. Consequently, he accepted a position to go to Alaska, arriving in 1951. Initially serving at St. Mark’s Church in Nenana, he was ordained a priest in 1952, and has served as a priest, rector or archdeacon since.

Dr. Loren Jensen, a longtime member of All Saints, gives the Rev. Elliott this tribute: “I am more than a little biased toward the guy. He is as unique as Alaska itself. Where else would you find a priest that used to fly his bush plane and run a dog sled team to minister to congregations in the villages? He then settled down in Anchorage to be the rector of the oldest Episcopal church in Anchorage, and served his congregation for 27 years until he reached mandatory retirement at age 70. That was 25 years ago.

“Unable to do something as quotidian as retirement, he felt the call to step back into the pulpit when an interim leader was needed for All Saints. That was a year and a half ago. He has been our full-time pastor since then.”

One cannot talk about Elliott’s ministry long without hearing flying stories. In order to get around in the territory he served, he learned to fly and flew until he was transferred to Ketchikan in 1958. The airplane was a tremendous asset to his work. Elliott has pastored at St. Mark’s Church in Nenana, St. Stephen’s Church in Fort Yukon, St. Matthew’s Church in Fairbanks, St. John’s Church in Ketchikan and All Saints Church in Anchorage. He also served as archdeacon of the Interior Deanery in Fairbanks, and currently serves as archdeacon of the South Central Alaska Deanery.

As he is a volunteer hospital chaplain, I was curious as to his experience with death. Elliott says dying people he’s been with have settled faiths and are ready for the next phase of their journey. Deathbed confessions? No, he’s never heard one.

Asked about major village issues, Elliott feels key ones are suicide, alcohol and bringing people to faith. He recounted a village story in which a wife shot her husband. He was taken to the airport to be medevacked to Fairbanks. The Wien plane was in, unloading a major shipment of alcohol. It wouldn’t leave until the alcohol was all unloaded. The man died on the runway.

Asked when Jesus will return, he responded, “Jesus talked of an immediate return. So did the apostle Paul. All I know, it’s in God’s hands.” Asked about changes he’d like to see in religion, he said, “I’d like to see more witness of the faith by clergy and parishioners.”

The Rev. Leo Walsh, pastor of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, offered an explanation of Elliott’s secret. “Father Elliott is one of those unique pastoral personalities that, when he speaks to you, makes you feel like you are the most important person in the world at that time. He gives you all of his attention, not just part of it. In this way, he is a perfect reflection of the God who calls us each by name and loves us individually. You don’t just know Father Elliott, you are known by him, and that makes all the difference.”

Elliott is a major spiritual force in our community. The Episcopal Church today has its critics, but All Saints’ members and its leaders, Elliott and the Rev. David Terwilliger, are jewels in our community. I praise God for Elliott’s service. If you’re a person of faith, pray that God will strengthen him and keep him in the palm of His hand. Thank you for your 64 years of godly service, Elliott.

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

All Saints: Stirring Lenten Service

On Sunday, March 11, I visited All Saints Episcopal Church in downtown Anchorage. I’m not sure why I’d not visited this little gem of a church sooner, but now I’m sorry I hadn’t.

I was warmly greeted by a smiling woman who also handed me a bulletin. What brought me to All Saints on this day was a notice in the Anchorage Daily News’ Faith Matters section that Maestro Robert Ashens, Anchorage Opera’s Interim Artistic Director, was providing special music this day. As an aficionado of the arts I always enjoy something different. I was not disappointed this day.[img_assist|nid=160488|title=All Saints Episcopal Church – Sanctuary|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=350|height=263]

The service was Morning Prayer, which offered everything a normal Episcopal liturgy contains but without the celebration of Holy Communion. 40-50 members and guests were assembled this morning until we were joined late in the service by the Pt. Hope women’s basketball team, and their retinue, which easily doubled those already present.

The presiding pastor was the Rev. James A. Basinger, a warm and welcoming minister, who delivered a wonderful Third Sunday of Lent sermon on the Israelite tabernacle in the wilderness (click here to listen or download) , a part of Basinger’s Journey Through the Bible series started with the new year. He’s an excellent speaker with great thoughts and good presentation skills.

The liturgy was standard Episcopalian, but flowed nicely. The music, with Maestro Ashens at either the organ or piano, was wonderful! I was particularly taken with his theme and variations style offertory based on that wonderful hymn Be Thou My Vision. After the service, in checking with Maestro Ashens, I confirmed he’d spontaneously created the variations on that hymn which made it all the more compelling.

Even The Passing of the Peace, a service time I don’t normally like, was delightful. I witnessed so many members going out of their way to ensure all were greeted. It was a warm time and I enjoyed this positive change in an otherwise dreadful experience.

The interior of the church is beautiful polished wood, accented by stained glass on most sides. The Apostles Windows on the north side are especially colorful, a delight to see.

All Saints is a very active church with many ongoing activities in our local community. I was intrigued with their “Macaroni March” collection of donated boxes of mac n’ cheese to stock New Hope On The Last Frontier’s food pantry.

This church is a “must see” even if you’re not of the Episcopalian persuasion. Ted Stevens considered it his church when he was in Anchorage and is fondly remembered there. I was pleased to meet and have a pleasant conversation with The Venerable Norman H.V. Elliott, Archdeacon of Southcentral Alaska – Episcopal Diocese of Alaska. He filled me in on church history and direction. I intend to interview him for a future blog post.

Maestro Ashens is also participating at All Saints’ Good Friday service which is going to be based on the seven last words of Christ. I’m hoping to be in attendance as this important day in the church calendar helps to bring Holy Week to a conclusion leading to Easter.