I had the privilege of representing LIRS this week at the Alaska Synod Assembly in Anchorage. I went a few days early for their Collegium in Seward. Bishop Shelley Wickstrom and I drove from Anchorage to Seward. She told me it would be a “pretty” drive. I was totally unprepared for how breathtaking it was. Here are a few of the shots I took.
Seward, gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park.
Doug Capra presented to the pastors on the history of Seward. These are the native tribes.
This is DEM Director for Evangelical Mission, Lisa Smith Fiegel. She coordinates the work of the Alaska Synod Mission Table, a team of lay and clergy who work on congregational renewal, new starts and stewardship for the synod. Lisa attended Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) and did her internship at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church in Anchorage in 2003-2004. She served as pastor at Central Lutheran Church from 2005-2013. Lisa is also on the board of AK Child & Family, a residential treatment facility in Anchorage.
It was fun to see Meredith Harber, who I first met ten years ago when she as serving as a YAGM (Young Adult in Global Ministry) in Jerusalem.
John Hergert is the interim pastor at Shishmaref Lutheran Church.
There was discussion about Shishmaref, a village sinking into the ocean due to global warming. There is one church in this village of 100, Shishmaref Lutheran Church.
Interim Pastor John Hegert says they estimate the cost of moving the village at $150 million, however many believe the actual costs will be twice that.
Spring Creek Correctional Center
Today I, along with six other Alaska pastors, visited Spring Creek Correctional Center, the only maximum security prison in the state of Alaska. They have roughly 500 inmates. 30% are lifers. 40% are Alaska Natives. Alaska Natives represent 15% (106,000) of the population of Alaska (710,000).
The drive back up to Anchorage from Seward was gorgeous.
The Alaska Synod Assembly is being held at Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage.
Assembly costs $350/person, but this includes travel. Many congregations are not accessible by land. Six congregations in southeast Alaska have to fly in. Five Seward Peninsula congregations fly in. Every fourth year they don’t meet in Anchorage. Every seventh year they meet off-road (at a congregation not accessible by roads). For example, Juneau Alaska is not accessible by roads.
Bishop Wickstrom grew up in Spokane. She served congregations in Alaska, then in Montana. Then she served as the Regional Coordinator prior to being elected bishop. In 2018 she was elected to a second term on the first ballot. Watching her with the pastors you can see why.
• Camp Lutherhaven staff- Coeur-d’Alene, Idaho summers of 1976-1980
• Pastor-developer of Dillingham Trinity Lutheran-Dillingham, Alaska 1987-1994
• Lord of Life Lutheran-North Pole, AK 1994-1997
• American Lutheran-Billings, MT 1997-1999
• Christ the King Lutheran – Bozeman, MT 1999-2007
• Coordinator for Missional Leadership-Region 1 2007-2012
• 2012- Bishop, re-elected in 2018 on the first ballot.
The synod office is in Anchorage. It’s not uncommon to see a moose on the lawn. 70% of their congregations have Native American members.
I created this map to help get my mind around where these congregations are. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1174DBnLY7DTBLBZgp-AIcxN-IWg3m5Wq&usp=sharing
The Alaska Synod Assembly began on Friday, April 26, 1019. Pastor Shelley led in a gentle, though occasionally parental way.
Romans 8:38-39 is the theme verse.
Assembly banners through the years…
Here’s what’s fascinating to a Texan. It’s 46° outside, a warm spell, but there’s no air conditioning. So they open the door to let some of the cool air in. You can see the snow on the ground.
I had the pleasure of leading a couple of Bible studies.
I stood at an LIRS display table during breaks. Sue Ellen Spotts helpfully sent materials for the table (with brochures, stickers, pins and pens) and also a slide show for the workshop. I got cornered with lots of questions throughout both events.
The Alaska ELCA pastors are fully supportive of the work of LIRS. There is a significant amount of immigration in Alaska, including immigrants from China, Japan and the Philippines. Immigrants make up 8% of Alaska’s population. 88% of self-employed business owners in Alaska are immigrants.
At the synod assembly, my table was constantly busy. People asked what they would have to do to sponsor a refugee. LIRS has not had resettlement here. Catholic Social Services, in Anchorage, resettles about 100 refugees a year in Alaska.
I was able to encourage congregations to pray, give, advocate. I spoke about Refugee Sunday. It amazes me how people confuse immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.
Around 14 signed up for the LIRS workshop, but about 25 showed up. There were lots of good questions. So many I couldn’t get through the entire presentation. Lots of questions about how to support the work of LIRS in the current political climate. I learned LSSA here does a lot of work with Alaska Natives.
Even up here, old animosities exist, but thanks to the love of Christ, we are tearing down the dividing wall of hostility between the maize & blue and the scarlet & gray.
And I was honored to receive a gift from the Buckeyes.
Prairie Rose Seminole was an awesome Churchwide Rep.
We capped the end of assembly by going out with a dozen or so folks to check out the local wildlife.
Still light out at 11:00. And then light again at 5:30 a.m.
Worship this morning at Lutheran Church if Hope in Anchorage, followed by a Synod Council meeting, then off to the airport and home.
before leaving I was introduced to pickle ball by Pastor Keith Anderson, and also to a fermented tea called kombucha, by Synod Attorney Zach.
Many thanks to all for the gracious hospitality.