Tag Archives: Our Lady of Guadalupe

500th Anniversary of Luther Nailing 95 Theses to Church Door in Wittenburg is Today

On this day 500 years ago, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar in Wittenburg, Saxony nailed 95 Theses, or arguments, against the sale of indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg. Indulgences were being sold in the area. The purchase of indulgences essentially granted sinners forgiveness of sins, freeing them from purgatory. Luther pressed the argument that salvation is free to all as a result of the sacrifice of Christ.

Luther’s action, influenced by reformers John Wycliff and Jan Hus, created a Reformation movement that rapidly spread across Europe. This gave rise to Protestants, or those who protested against certain practices of the Catholic church.  Luther wanted to reform the church, but created a separate religion, Lutheranism, when he found that to be impossible. Many other reformers rose up after this period, creating other main religions of today.

Luther’s movement and others in the reformation emphasized the key essentials of Christianity: faith alone (soia fides), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus).

Luther from painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

Modern Protestantism is deeply in debt to the early church, Catholic and Orthodox, especially with regard to the teaching and writings of early church fathers which helped to develop the essential doctrines most Christian religions observe today.  It’s all too easy to be impelled to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Luther first wanted to reform the Catholic church, but when that became impossible, he created a purer religion than was being observed at the time.

A modern day heresy, the prosperity gospel, is being called out for the error that it is by too few. In my opinion, it is just as dangerous as the sale of indulgences was during the time of the reformers.

My heart was warmed by the joint service between Catholics and Lutherans last Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral.  I’m planning to share some of the aspects of that service in an upcoming column.  The main takeaway was that Christians need to emphasize their unity rather than where they disagree.

Chris Thompson



Church Signs Tell Strong Stories…Or Do They? Part 1

I’ve written about church signage in Anchorage several times over the years. When I was being published in the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage Daily News), I was unable to get my photos of church signs included with my columns. I’ve decided to regularly give examples of great signs and those needing improvement. Signs are needed to identify your church, service times, and hopefully your website where more information about the church can be found. They should be readable when passing at the posted speed limit for that roadway. It is not necessary to put the name of the pastor on church signs, a vanity sign of bygone days.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral – Wisconsin Sign

I enjoy visiting Catholic services and find them of value to people of that faith and others. Many Catholics and Catholic clergy are close personal friends of mine. While the sign in front of Our Lady of Guadalupe is an improvement from the previous sign, it still cannot be read by someone driving by at the posted speed limit. It’s unfortunate it’s not posted perpendicular to their beautiful cathedral. It also contains too much information to digest. This information should be available by referring to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s website, the address of which is missing from the sign.

Faith Christian Community – Wisconsin Sign












Two blocks south of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Faith Christian Community’s sign is simple, can easily be read on both sides while passing at the posted speed limit. It contains worship times and the church website address. I’m always amazed how efficiently and inexpensively this church has used the same sign for dozens of years to great effect.

Cornerstone Church – Seward Highway (Brayton Drive entrance)

For many years, Cornerstone Church has prominently displayed their sign along Brayton Drive and the Seward Highway. Easily viewed when passing at 65 mph, their signage is often changed as the seasons dictate, e.g. Easter, Christmas, etc. What a cost-effective and efficient way to communicate their presence, website, and service times to travelers on a busy thoroughfare.

Churches need not dedicate tremendous sums of money to have effective signage.

Chris Thompson


Anchorage Archdiocese announces series of major clergy changes

Recently, Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, who oversees the archdiocese of Anchorage, announced significant changes affecting Roman Catholic clergy and parishes in Alaska. Statewide, about 15 percent of Alaskans identified as Catholic in a recent survey.

The Anchorage archdiocese has needed a canon lawyer since Rev. Tom Brundage, priest at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River and also judicial vicar, returned to Milwaukee a year ago. He had been on loan from the archdiocese of Milwaukee for about nine years. In the interim, canon lawyer the Rev. Pat Travers from the Juneau diocese has been filling in. Schwietz announced the Rev. Leo Walsh, parish priest at St. Benedict’s Catholic Parish would be returning to Rome to study canon law for the local archdiocese tribunal. Walsh has previously studied in Rome, receiving a doctorate in sacred theology from the Angelicum, the pontifical university there.

“Our God is the God of surprises,” Walsh said, when asked about the change. “Such was the case a few weeks ago when Archbishop Schwietz asked me if I would consider returning to Rome to get a degree in canon law with the intent of returning to the Archdiocese in three years to be the judicial vicar and run the marriage tribunal. Before then, the thought had never crossed my mind. Yet after reflection it made a lot of sense. So I agreed.”

Walsh also noted it would provide a change in direction for him. “It is indeed a career change,” he said. “While the tribunal is not a parochial ministry, it is most definitely a pastoral ministry, and a delicate one at that. People do not petition for a declaration of nullity until after they have already experienced the pain of a civil divorce. Therefore the process requires a very delicate, pastoral approach. Pope Francis has said as much in recent times in this regard.”

After three years of study, Walsh will receive a license in canon law or Juris Canonici Licentia, which is somewhat comparable to a J.D.

The Rev. Tom Lilly, who has been parish priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish for 11 years, will replace Walsh at St. Benedict’s, where he will also serve as priest for the parish and Lumen Christi Catholic High School. Lilly is currently the vicar general of the Anchorage archdiocese and will continue in this administrative role. When the archbishop is outside of the diocese, Lilly acts in his behalf and stands in as the bishop would in administrative matters.

“For me, the coming transfer to St. Benedict’s is another opportunity to serve,” he said. “Same church; different part of the vineyard! I begin there on July 1.” He’s looking forward to encouraging spiritual well-being of the youth there in navigating the challenges of acceptance, faith and reason, career path, low self-esteem and our sex-saturated culture.

He will be replaced at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton by Rev. Steven Moore, who’d recently been appointed as parish priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral — “at no small personal sacrifice,” noted Schwietz, “as Father Moore will have physically moved four times in the last three years.”

The Rev. Andrew Bellisario has succeeded Moore at Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bellisario is a senior Vincentian, who was previously the head of the society’s Los Angeles province, and and his move there represents the beginning of a fresh effort to reach Spanish speakers. With few local Spanish-speaking priests, the archdiocese had long sought better ways to serve Hispanic Catholics, even provided language immersion training for some priests.

Meanwhile, several priests from that society who have served briefly at the co-cathedral have noted a need for more Spanish-speaking priests to serve growing Hispanic population in Anchorage and elsewhere in the state, and forwarded those concerns to the head of their order in Rome. The society now plans to “establish an outreach ministry to the Hispanic community throughout the Archdiocese with the expectation of a third Vincentian priest arriving later this year,” Schwietz said.

When I talked to Bellisario , he told me the Vincentians were founded for the specific mission of evangelizing the poor. Talking about their order founder, Bellisario said, “St. Vincent noted ‘reading the signs of the times,’ he talked about not getting ahead of divine providence.” Noting there were 50,000 Hispanics in Alaska, he said the Vincentians’ mandate was of outreach to Hispanics in the archdiocese.

“The Vincentians are making a major commitment to the development of Hispanic ministry within the Archdiocese,” Rev. Scott Medlock, priest at St. Patrick’s Parish and the Anchorage archdiocese’s vicar for clergy said.

The Archbishop also announced that the Rev.. Scott Garrett, from Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Wasilla, would “return to serving the people of Bristol Bay as pastor at Holy Rosary in Dillingham, St. Theresa in Naknek, and the mission in King Salmon where he served prior to going to Sacred Heart five years ago. He is a pilot and will be flying to some of the villages that cannot be reached by commercial airplane.”

Replacing Garrett will be the Rev. Joseph McGilloway who will also serve as canonical pastor for Big Lake, Willow, Talkeetna, and Trapper Creek.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Andrew Lee becomes parochial vicar at Holy Cross Parish, and the Rev. Mark Stronach, a Benedictine monk from Oregon’s Mount Angel Abbey, will move to Our Lady of the Lake, and serve as parochial vicar under McGilloway.

These are significant changes for the archdiocese. which appear to strengthen the Catholic Church in Alaska.

About the Author

Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who has been visiting Anchorage and other local area churches for over 15 years. Go to his website, churchvisits.com, or follow him on Twitter  at twitter.com/churchvisits or email at churchvisits@gmail.com.

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.

10 ways to make the most of this Christmas

As you read this, the Christmas season is approaching a climax. Before Christmas passes, I’d like to suggest a few activities to help make the most of your observances of this Christmas season.

These practices will, I believe, help make the holiday’s meaning and message more real.

“Christians celebrate Christmas because they see, in the person of Jesus, God’s reign in-breaking amidst the sin, pain, despair and seemingly endless cycles of violence in our world,” says Rector Michael Burke. “The traditional teaching of Advent is threefold: to prepare for the birth of the Messiah, in the form of the tiny Christ child, in a place known only to those for whom the world has no place (or ‘room’).”

Advent observers experiencing a period of watchful waiting for the Messiah may be better prepared than other worshippers to celebrate the birth of Jesus as an eagerly awaited event.

As you celebrate Christmas, use this time to share with those around you the good news of His wonderful gift of love and redemption. Jesus was mostly rejected by his own people, yet much of his brief ministry was directed toward casting out devils, bodily and spiritual healing, kindness to prostitutes, loving the unlovely, and giving hope to the poor. Gandhi is famously quoted as saying, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Those of us who are Christians can remember this by opening our hearts and lives in loving response to the work of Jesus. Let’s share it with our children and everyone around us. Christmas offers many opportunities to do this. Here are 10 ways to restore the true spirit of Christmas in yourself, your family and friends and others.

1. Attend both a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day service.

Both are important. If you have children, look for appropriate Christmas Eve services. Many churches have them. They can be memorable for children and adults alike. A double-page spread in today’s Alaska Dispatch News lists many services offered by area churches. Personally, I’ve enjoyed Christmas services at St. John United Methodist Church, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and Our Lady of Guadalupe co-cathedral, especially the midnight Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe.

2. Read Luke 1 and 2 together with a group.

It’s a story where both chapters are important. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is a wonderful film to watch on Christmas. YouTube has the poignant part where Linus recites the passage from Luke 2 for Charlie Brown to restore his faith in what Christmas is all about. Charles Schulz insisted this be included in the film.

3. Make snow angels outside with someone you love.

In doing so, remember the significant role of the angels of the Christmas narrative in Matthew and Luke.

4. Attend midnight Mass if you’ve never done so.

Like Easter, midnight Mass is one of the highpoints of the Catholic church year. Held at midnight, it rings in the true spirit of Christmas. Regardless of your faith, you’ll appreciate this special event. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church also has a service starting at 11 p.m., which culminates with candles and Eucharist at the stroke of midnight.

5. Invite a friend, regardless of religious persuasion, to join you at a service.

You’d do the same for them if they invited you to a meaningful service in their personal life. It goes both ways.

6. Extend yourself to the ‘beatitudes people.’

You know, the ones Jesus spoke of during his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, revilers and evil speakers. There are ways to reach out to every one of these. For example, there are many examples of the persecuted these days, such as Syrian refugees.

7. Ask any number of charities now if you and your family could help.

The Salvation Army, Bean’s Cafe, Catholic Social Services, Lutheran Social Services, Brother Francis Shelter, Downtown Soup Kitchen, AWAIC, Gospel Rescue Mission, Food Bank of Alaska and many others can make use of your monetary and other assistance at this time of year.

8. Share memories of Christmases past with friends and family.

Many of these memories are stories of hope and meaning that may die unless shared and maybe recorded for posterity. StoryCorps is a wonderful way to record these memories of a friend or loved one, which may otherwise disappear. Storycorps.org has an app available to download to make this easy.

9. Consider a monetary gift to an Alaska-based relief and development project in someone’s name.

Alaska Sudan Medical Project (alaskasudan.org) is one such worthy cause in South Sudan that is saving and changing lives in many ways. So is the Malawi Children’s Village (malawichildrensvillage.org). Both are spearheaded or strongly supported by Alaska physicians.

10. Call a long-lost friend to reach out in love.

Giving the gift of love is a virtually cost-free gift with huge dividends. Using Google or Facebook can facilitate your search.

Here’s my hope that God’s peace rests with you and your family as you celebrate the true experience of Christmas.

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

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

In Anchorage, an ancient order celebrates investiture

Entering Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral last Sunday afternoon, I was greeted by the glorious strains of “Lift High the Cross” being practiced by an accomplished musical group. This was a foretaste of a wonderful experience to come centered around a centuries-old tradition harking back to the crusades in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. This celebration capped three days of ceremonial meetings of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Northwestern Lieutenancy of the United States composed of Northern California and the states of Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. With 13 council cities in the Lieutenancy, Anchorage hosts meetings approximately every 10 years.

A Vigil at Arms had previously been held on Friday at Holy Family Cathedral, followed by Memorial and Promotions on Saturday at Saint Patrick Church presided over by Archbishop Roger J. Schwietz. The Sunday event was an Investiture and Mass presided over by His Eminence Edwin O’Brien, Cardinal Grand Master of the Order. The cathedral was almost completely filled by Knights and Ladies of the Order, clergy, and choir.

During the First Crusade, Jerusalem was briefly conquered by Christians from Western Europe, in response to a call from Pope Urban. Those conquerors created the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre at this time. According to the Vatican website for the order, “…in 1103 the first King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, assumed the leadership of this canonical order, and reserved the right for himself and his successors (as agents of the Patriarch of Jerusalem) to appoint Knights to it, should the Patriarch be absent or unable to do so.” Armed knights chosen from the crusader troops were chosen for their valor and dedication, vowing to “obey Augustinian Rule of poverty and obedience and undertook specifically, under the command of the King of Jerusalem, to defend the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Places.”

Ultimately the goals of the Crusades failed and control of the Holy Land reverted to Muslim rulers, but the Order survived and its role was strengthened over time by Pope’s Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Today its main purpose is to strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, to sustain the work of the church in the Holy Land, to support the preservation and propagation of the faith there, and to uphold the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. In 2013, Pope Francis called and personally attended a special conclave of the order in Rome to better understand it, its works, and to strengthen it.

The Order’s Grand Master is appointed by the pontiff and reports directly to him. The current Grand Master is Cardinal Edwin O’Brien who presided over Sunday’s investiture ceremony. He is an imposing figure dressed in special ceremonial garb. Anchorage Archbishop Schwietz and Bishop Peter L. Smith, from the Portland, Oregon, archdiocese occupied the main platform, with Cardinal O’Brien officiating on the main level in front of the altar.

Several hundred knights and ladies of the order processed into Our Lady of Guadalupe to the strains of “Let Us Go Rejoicing to the House of the Lord,” followed by the cardinal, archbishop, bishop and other clergy. The number of clergy in attendance, particularly archbishops and bishops, was significantly reduced from Archbishop Schwietz’s 75th birthday and 25th anniversary in the episcopate celebration earlier this year. I was told this was budgetary and also due to so many senior Northwest Catholic clergy convening in Washington, D.C., for Pope Francis’ visit. After all were seated the formal investiture service began. A beautifully bound 40-page program provided the service liturgy.

A new lieutenant, Thompson M. Faller, was invested due to the sudden promotion of the former lieutenant, Mary Currivan O’Brien — the order’s first woman lieutenant in the world — to the board of the grand magesterium in Rome. Ten new knights, and 13 new ladies were invested. Each was robed with new vestments of the order after investiture; black berets and white capes with the red Jerusalem cross for the men; black mantillas and black dresses for the women. Five clergy were invested: two deacons, two priests and one bishop. They received special white stoles containing the red Jerusalem cross. The knights and clergy were dubbed by the Cardinal with a special sword formerly held by lieutenancy treasurer, Mary Ann Molitor’s father-in-law, a 4th degree Knight of Columbus, which subsequently passed to her son, also a 4th degree Knight of Columbus.

Ms. Molitor, who invited me to this occasion, said afterward, “This was such a special joyous occasion. I can’t remember any of our prior Anchorage annual meetings where we have been blessed by the presence of His Eminence.” Cardinal O’Brien’s well-delivered homily encouraged and charged discipleship to those gathered.

The musical portion of the service during the Investiture and following mass was performed by Anchorage Concert Chorus members, led by Grant Cochran, a brass quintet, directed by Linn Weeda, along with organist Janet Carr-Campbell, timpanist Robert Arms and cantor Katy Kerris. The Catholic Church is using some updated musical forms, including the “Mass of Renewal” by Portland composer Curtis Stephan. During the Mass, the liturgy was accompanied by this feast of music.

Order members are encouraged to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land and about 80 percent do so. Members fund various projects in the Holy Land. An ongoing Northwest Lieutenancy project is the John McGuckin mentorship program at Bethlehem University, for which $20,000 was most recently given. This program funds selected students to come to the U.S., primarily the West Coast, to devote eight weeks to mentoring in their area of intended study.

What I saw and subsequently learned about this historic order has given me great respect for this tradition in today’s setting.

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.

Archbishop Schwietz honored in extraordinary gathering

Last Friday was an unusual day in the Anchorage Archdiocese. Catholics from all over Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and across the Pacific, converged on Our Lady of Guadalupe, the local co-cathedral, to celebrate Archbishop’s Roger L. Schweitz’s 75th birthday and his 25th anniversary of elevation to the episcopate. Eleven bishops, four archbishops, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo from the Philippines, and a representative from Schwietz’s order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, were present and participated in the celebration of the Mass. Former Archbishop Francis T. Hurley, Orthodox Bishop David Mahaffey of Sitka and Alaska, and numerous parish priests rounded out the group.

The co-cathedral was packed with celebrants and well-wishers. At the start of the service, an Alaska Native contingent went through the church fanning incense, contained in large shells, using bird wings. The long procession of clergy entered led by the Knights of Columbus. A Samoan man blew a conch shell, and a procession of Samoan men, in traditional garb, entered bearing the scripture on a raised platform. (A Samoan contingent also presented leis to the assembled clergy and draped the altar with an extremely long lei.

A special printed program was prepared for this Mass of Thanksgiving, which contained the music and readings. The front and inside cover contained an interesting description of the archbishop’s coat of arms (tinyurl.com/pcq78a9 ). The music was heartfelt, at times spectacular. Much of the music used was taken from the Mass for Renewal composed by Curtis Stephan. Piano, organ, percussion, trumpet and choir blended harmoniously, adding great dignity and joy to the service. The singing of the “Alleluia” by the Samoan Catholic Community was beautiful. All music was linked to specific portions of the service and was done well. I particularly liked “A Prayer for Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz” performed by Kevin and Regina Barnett. In rhyming couplets it depicted various attributes of his service. For example, “A person who can hear and cure, The sighs of rich and cries of poor,” and “A spiritual man who never spares, His ministry of pastoral care.”

The archbishop’s homily, brief but charged with thankfulness, reflected upon early priestly memories and his appointment as bishop of Duluth by Pope John Paul II. The calling papal nuncio’s instruction to select a ministry-guiding motto was followed by Schwietz in choosing “Jesus is Lord” from Philippians 2:6-11, which contains an early Christian hymn. The archbishop’s priestly ties are with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, (oblatesusa.org) which has close to 4,000 missionaries working in 60 countries around the world. After his ordination, noting the reality of the world in which he was ministering, he observed, “It soon became evident that so many people were so busy chasing after so many different gods, that they had little time or interest for our calls to conversion in the following of our self-sacrificing Savior.” Striking at the heart of emulating the life of Christ, he continued, “… it has become more and more clear to me that the life of service for Christ in His Church is not about self-aggrandizing, but about self-giving.” (It’s unfortunate more Christian pastors and leaders can’t avoid the temptation of self-aggrandizement.) He ended with a warm memory of his first Mass as a priest, presided over by the Rev. Francis George, a future cardinal, whose homily encouraged then priest, but future Archbishop Schwietz. He said he’d recently received that homily from Cardinal George’s former secretary.

The Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated in a traditional manner, but contained gestures and music presented specially for the day. All bishops and archbishops were present at the altar as the Mass was consecrated. It was a sight many of us will probably never see again in our lifetime. The bishops of Juneau and Fairbanks, and deacons Mick Fornelli and Jim Lee participated in the preparation of the sacraments.

Mahaffey presented a beautiful gift to Schwietz on behalf of the Orthodox people in Alaska (formerly known as Russian Orthodox). It was a reproduction of an icon which is one of the most revered by Orthodox in North America, the Sitka Mother of God, also known as the Sitka Madonna. The original is permanently located in the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Sitka. It depicts the Theotokos (mother of God), Christ child, and the image of God the Father blessing from above (antiochian.org/node/18929).

During the service the archbishop said that according to church law, he’d mailed his resignation to Pope Francis that morning. When bishops reach the age of 75, they’re required to submit their resignation. The pontiff will ultimately appoint a new archbishop of Anchorage, but Schwietz will remain in the position until his successor is announced.

It’s my understanding that after Hurley submitted his resignation, it was two years until his replacement, Schwietz, was announced. Schwietz is a very active archbishop, maintaining a vigorous schedule of visiting parishes and ministering to people. He recently told me after retirement, he plans to minister in a local archdiocese parish.

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

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.

Changes afoot in local Catholic diocese – 1/17/15

Last Sunday I attended St. Benedict’s Catholic Church’s services. I did so with no intention of writing about their services, but afterward decided to write a few words about my experience there. The reverence displayed by congregants was a real contrast with what I often experience in attending so many other churches services. Often, a din and buzz of conversation makes it almost impossible to adjust one’s mind for the commencement of actual worship, confession, prayer and communion to be received, regardless of faith. There was a reverential quiet as I entered their church sanctuary, which was most refreshing.

I was further impressed by the deportment of the children I observed in my immediate seating area. They were actually paying attention to everything that was going on, even to the point of following the service through the printed liturgical guide that included the key elements of the service. I see children in many churches scribbling, coloring, talking, playing, reading, lying down or acting totally bored. The children I saw were interspersed with their parents and looking on with them, in a most participative way. As a substitute teacher in Anchorage schools, I am often astounded at the levels some of the children achieve in areas such as reading, math, respect for adults and others. Upon inquiring, I almost always find one or both parents are doing what I witnessed in church — being actively involved in their child’s education. It is my understanding Catholics are currently emphasizing re-catechizing all levels of believers so there is a better understanding of the church and its mission. Cardinal Dolan emphasized this aspect last year when he visited. The importance of a role model parent cannot be underestimated. I applaud the behavior I witnessed at St. Benedict’s on Sunday.

The interplay of music, Scripture and readings was well-coordinated. In many churches there is nothing to tie the music to the sermon, or other portions of the service.

St. Benedict’s offers seating on three sides of the platform and its altar. That dimension alone lends a participative air of worship. Their choir, too, sits in the congregation and rises as required. The use of their cantor, choir and congregation on a particular song was beautiful and effective. Clearly this church does not use music as an entertainment platform but as an artful form of instruction and worship.

Although I’m not a Catholic, I appreciate the St. Benedict’s community and its love and respect for its pastors and one another. I urge believers in Christ, Catholic or not, to visit them to see, firsthand, how solid their worship service really is.

Designation of Our Lady of Guadalupe as co-cathedral

Generally, Roman Catholics have only a single cathedral in each diocese, except where practicality dictates otherwise. Seeking to better incorporate the facilities of Our Lady of Guadalupe church in the activities of the archdiocese, Archbishop Roger Schweitz petitioned the Vatican to declare them a co-cathedral to Holy Family Cathedral. The approval process took about a year and was declared publicly on Dec. 12, when Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Pope Francis’ highest ranking ambassador to the U.S., delivered the good news to the archdiocese with a warm homily. (You can read the full text of Vigano’s remarks in the Catholic Anchor.)

For some time, local Archbishop Schweitz had been contemplating how to address parking and other practical issues at Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage. Holy Family, hemmed in by commercial development downtown, has found it is increasingly difficult for parishioners and staff to find places to park.

“The designating of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church as co-cathedral was necessitated by the growth of our Catholic population,” Schweitz said. “This is certainly good news. Also, through this growth the Catholic community is being enriched by the increasingly diverse cultural backgrounds of our people.”

Tourist activities prevalent in downtown Anchorage weighed in on Schweitz’s decision to designate Holy Family a historic cathedral.

When I asked the Rev. Anthony Patalano OP, pastor of Holy Family Cathedral, about the co-cathedral designation, he was most enthusiastic. “I think it’s a wonderful thing,” he said. “It needed to be done.” The Rev. Patalano also emphasized that Our Lady of Guadalupe offers better space layout for pontifical events and other ceremonies, compared to Holy Family Cathedral. The Rev. Augustine Hilander OP, parochial vicar, noted the cathedral was the scene of a papal audience by Pope John Paul II in 1981, and downstairs he conducted a similar audience for the handicapped, underscoring its historical significance.

Cathedrals are considered to be the seats of bishops where they pastor to people of their diocese. What to do for a cathedra? The cathedra, i.e. bishop’s chair, used by Pope John Paul II in his historic Mass here in 1981, is being prepared for placement at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral to signify it is also the seat of the bishop’s presence.

Archbishop Schweitz, very active around the archdiocese, is a familiar face during many of the times I’ve attended Our Lady of Guadalupe. In years past, I’ve visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City several times and have witnessed the love Catholics hold for the Virgin of Tepeyac and her connection with Mary. The imagery of Mary and local ties to the Mexican origins of Our Lady of Guadalupe were invoked several times by Archbishop Vigano, who connected their roles in evangelization and proclamation of the gospel.

2015 is a significant year for the Archdiocese of Anchorage. The centennial of the Archdiocese and 50th anniversary of Holy Family Cathedral’s building will be celebrated. The Catholic Anchor has provided excellent coverage of Catholic events and activities in the archdiocese in print and online. Catholics in our community maintain vibrant, caring communities, consistently demonstrating their love for the gospel. With a long history in Anchorage, the Catholic presence will undoubtedly continue to a blessing for residents of Anchorage and Alaska long into the future.

Cardinal Dolan discusses the pastoral challenges facing Pope Francis – 5/31/14

A rare event happened for Anchorage Catholics on March 24. Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York appeared at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to address local Catholics and the public on “Three Challenges Facing Pope Francis and the Church.” The church was packed with a crowd of about 700 people.

Cardinal Dolan said there were three challenges Pope Francis needs to address: Marriage and family, restoring the credibility and luster of the church and the relationship of the church and culture.

Early in his remarks, Cardinal Dolan humorously recounted Pope Francis’ statement, made 11 days before in Rome, after a dinner celebrating his first year as Pope. Raising a glass of spumante in toast he said, with a twinkle of humor, “May God forgive you for what you did.”

Reflecting on the gift to the church Pope Francis represents, Dolan pointed out the acclaim Francis has received: he’s been featured in Time, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Fortune magazines named him “Most Influential Man of the Year,” President Obama traveled to see him and President Putin quoted him — without Francis’ asking for any of this. Dolan said that Francis exemplifies humility, saying that his stature continues to increase, even as he tries to downsize the papacy. Dolan noted Jesus’ example of putting the gospel first, and said “if we come to serve and not to be served, then we’re going to captivate people.”

Marriage and family 

Dolan recalled, post-Vatican II, there has been only a couple of bishop synods. One is scheduled this fall and Francis has made marriage and family a high priority by designating it as a key topic. Why? Marriage and family are in trouble in the Catholic Church. There are few marriages, and even fewer are going to the orders. Marriage is a reflection of how God loves us. Marriage is life-giving and comes from God. Sexual love ties to marriage. “We’re the only credible voice that stands up for chastity,” Dolan said, “but we’re not making much headway.”

Dolan cited studies from the Pew Research Center and the Center for the Applied Research of the Center for the Apostolate at Georgetown University. He said 51 percent of Catholic young people are approaching the sacred sacrament of marriage. At the same time, he said, state is trying to redefine marriage, while TV makes fun of it and dumbs it down. Dolan repeated Pope Francis’ statement that, “If the church is going to reclaim her role as teacher of the nations as Jesus intended. If we’re going to revive ourselves internally, and if we’re going to teach outside, we had better reclaim the beauty, the dignity of married love.” Recovering the sacredness of marriage will be a major focus of Pope Francis.

Restoring Church’s luster, credibility

Cardinal Dolan noted this restoration “is one big, fat, heavy chore.” Establishing that Jesus and the church are one, Dolan asserted more and more members were saying, “I don’t need the church.” “People today want to believe, but they don’t want to belong. They’re OK with spirituality; it’s religion they don’t like,” Dolan said. He mentioned Pope Francis’ assertion that one can’t have Christ without his church. Dolan said research shows more and more Catholics leaving the church, for all kinds of reasons. But research also shows “that over 80 percent of Catholics that are born Catholic remain loyal to the faith.” Francis wants to address this challenge. Alluding to Francis’ name selection, Dolan told the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who while in seclusion, heard the voice of Jesus saying “rebuild my church.” Pope Francis took his name due to its association with his sincerity for simplicity, and love for the poor.

Relationship of church and culture

Cardinal Dolan said traditionally culture — that is, values, traditions and mores — used to be an ally of the church. It was the engine of Catholic values in many traditional Catholic cultures, for example Italy, Spain, France, Holland, Poland, Germany, Ireland and Latin America. He said America was beneficial for Catholic culture in several ways, including its friendliness to religion and tolerance for religion. But that is changing. The U.S. now has less tolerance for religion, and increasingly is against religion. Catholics created an internal Catholic culture, especially notable if you’re 55 years or older. Young people, affected by our culture, are rejecting and not tolerating religion. Vatican II used the phrase to “engage culture.” This is their goal.

In closing, Dolan recounted Pope Francis’ homily last year at the Feast of St. Joseph. Pope Francis asked attendees to picture Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, tenderly embracing his virgin wife and tenderly holding Jesus. He then asked those present to be tender with each another, let God be tender with them, and be tender to God’s creation. This was a challenge for those present.

During the question and answer session, Cardinal Dolan observed that his New York City office building has an entire floor devoted to annulments. He said he’d like to see it replaced with a full floor of marriage rebuilders.

An excellent communicator, Dolan’s remarks were frank, and deeply personal for many in attendance. I was pleased to have heard them. Video of his remarks are available on the Internet (search for “Cardinal Dolan Anchorage 2014”).

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.

Original ADN Article