By Kelly Tazuko Marciales
Alaska’s delegation to General Conference 2019 issued a statement endorsing the One Church Plan but acknowledges that the Alaska United Methodist Conference is diverse in geography, populations, and theology. With siblings in Christ in many theological camps around the communities in Alaska, we went to Alaskans at General Conference 2019 to understand what the implications of the various plans might be on the Missionary Conference.
The Alaska Conference considers itself one church with twenty-nine doors, ministering to communities across the state. And each of those doors opens outward to love those around the church with the love of Christ.
Rev. Charley Brower serves Nome Community UMC, the “door” of the conference in Nome, AK. If the One Church Plan does not succeed at GC2019, Charley is concerned that funding for the ministry in Nome might be reduced or possibly stop all together. Funding may have to be found from government sources to continue serving the needs that the church, and the affiliated Community Center, currently serves. In a community of 3,800 people, Charley estimates that the Nome Community Center serves approximately 1,000 residents. He shares that the Gospel is alive and being shared with new families and youth in innovative ways. “More and more of the younger folks are coming; a lesbian couple with three children. Our Social Justice Task force has women 25-40 years old with 8-15 members that work collaboratively to work on systemic changes in the community of Nome. Just this year, two new city council members were added that were Native Alaskan on what has been a traditionally all-white, male council,” Rev. Brower says, smiling and wearing a rainbow stole given to him by the Love Your Neighbor Coalition.
Pastor Jim Doepken, of Seward and Moose Pass UMCs says, “Alaskans like to think of themselves as independent. Many people come to Alaska to get away from something in the ‘Lower-48’ (apologies to Hawaii). We like to think of ourselves as being ‘a little different’ and doing things our own way; out of sight, out of mind from our neighbors to the south.” However, Alaskans are very dependent on those outside of Alaska. Alaskans rely upon them for goods, tourism, the purchase of oil, and a whole lot of Federal dollars.
The Alaska United Methodist Conference is very dependent on the rest of the denomination as well. They are dependent upon finances and work teams from their friends to the south. They have a history of assistance from the General Board of Global Ministries. Moreover, since there is no Annual Conference membership for clergy in missionary conferences, many clergy have their membership somewhere else, in conferences across the nation. Says Doepken, “We would like to keep those relationships open.”
There are reservations about the One Church Plan which was produced by the Commission on the Way Forward and recommended by the Council of Bishops. Steve Fisher, keeping open “the door” of First United Methodist Church, Anchorage open, says, “I believe that the One Church Plan forces local congregations to become congregational churches in a sense, instead of appointive churches and that’s not who we are… I don’t think that brings a healthy process to us. I prefer to think of this whole [denomination] as a global church instead of local churches. We are supposed to be a connectional church.”
Linda Haynes, lay member from Christ First UMC in Wasilla notes that the Alaska conference is tied into the Pacific Northwest Conference and the Greater Northwest Episcopacy. As the conference statistician, Haynes is concerned that the demographics of the the episcopal area are not reflective of the Alaskan Conference ministry areas.
Headed into General Conference, Carlo Rapanut, Superintendent and Head of Delegation, offered the following prayer to the Alaska Conference:
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power; crown thine ancient church’s story; bring her bud to glorious flower.
As we engage in the work of the General Conference Special Session in St. Louis, help us to create gracious space for conversation to happen. Give us the grace to stay at the table, even with those with whom we disagree with. Keep us mindful of your children and our siblings who do not have a place or a voice at the table. Make us sensitive to the moving of your Holy Spirit and discern the ways in which we are called to act. Lead us in a way forward.
God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power; Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the living of these days, lest we miss thy kingdom’s goal, and serving thee whom we adore.
May it be so!
Kelly is a Deaconess currently serving in the Alaska Conference as the Executive Director of Valley Interfaith Action (VIA).