Wednesday, June 29, 2016

10 churches around Fairbanks

Bethel Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
Bethel Church, Fairbanks
We were within fifteen miles of Fairbanks the entire time we were on the ground in Alaska, so we thought our church sightings would be skimpy and drab.


We appreciated the variety of church buildings we saw in the North Star Borough (of which Fairbanks is the main city). Here's a sampling.
Chena Valley Baptist Church, Alaska
Chena Valley Baptist Church (near Fairbanks)

Community Baptist Church, North Pole, Alaska
Community Baptist Church, North Pole

Fairhill Christian School, Fairbanks
Fairhill Community Church of God's Christian School, Fairbanks

Bible Baptist Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
Bible Baptist Church, Fairbanks

Light of the World Lutheran Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
Light of the World Lutheran Church, Fairbanks

Immaculate Conception Parish, Fairbanks, Alaska
Immaculate Conception Parish, Fairbanks

First United Methodist Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
First United Methodist Church, Fairbanks

Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church, Fairbanks, Alaska
Saint Matthew's Episcopal Church, Fairbanks

Anglican Church of the Redeemer, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska
Anglican Church of the Redeemer, Pioneer Park, Fairbanks

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

University Baptist Church and Fairbanks Seventh Day Adventist

University Baptist and Fairbanks Seventh Day Adventist Churches
Fairbanks, Alaska
Before this trip began and as we’ve made our way on this adventure, we’ve told people we would be going to a church in every state. A common response has been, “Including Alaska and Hawaii?” We’ve always assured them that we do consider the 49th and 50th states to be included as a part of “every state.” That is not a question we heard in Fairbanks, Alaska. People in Alaska are well aware of the misconceptions people in the lower 48 have about their state. Apparently, since most maps of the United States put Alaska in its own little square next to Hawaii, many people assume Alaska is an island too. Many people in the contiguous states are unaware that you can drive to Alaska. (We flew. We were well aware we could drive, but it would have taken too much time, and it would have involved foreign travel during this All American Trip.)

An interesting factoid we learned about the state is that it consistently ranks low in polls of states for church attendance (usually bottom ten). I asked Gary Cox, Pastor of University Baptist Church in Fairbanks why he thought that was the case. He said, “There’s not a cultural tradition of church attendance as there is in the South. It is not the expected thing to do. Also, people in Alaska often have a fiercely independent spirit. There are many atheists and agnostics.”

On the plus side, someone mentioned, that means that the people in church in Alaska want to be there. Especially when it is forty degrees below zero outside, and they could be comfy on their warm couches inside. Everyone in the pews on those mornings considers church a high priority.

We were not in Alaska during those cold, sunless days of winter. We arrived in Fairbanks a couple of days after the summer solstice. Most days of our stay we not only enjoyed more than twenty hours of sun but also twenty-plus hours of temperatures in the 70’s. I asked someone whether church attendance was lower in the summer or winter. and he said that people on such beautiful days might be more likely to stay outside. (Of course, looking at it another way, people know that even if they spend an hour or two at church, there will still be lots of sunny hours left in the day.)

We came to Fairbanks because one of my former youth group students offered us the opportunity to stay in his house. Stephen came to Alaska when he attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. When he was looking for a church, he tried University Baptist, which had a very active College and Career Group. (“College” and “Career” are both represented in the group, which has a twenty year age span.) He soon made connections and felt at home there.

I asked him is there was anything else that drew him to the church. He said that when he goes to a church, he tries to get to know the senior pastor. He figures that if he can to get to know the pastor, the church is small enough for him to get involved.

The evening after we arrived, we had dinner with Stephen, his parents (who are also friends or ours, visiting from Concord, California), and some of Stephen’s friends from church. I asked Whiley, one of his church friends, what she appreciated about University Baptist. She answered, “There is so much I could say about what I love about this church.” She talked extensively about the sense of community provided by the church. Her husband, Josh, added that he saw people from the church three or four times a week. He said that community was especially appreciated during the long winter months.

We attended an adult Sunday School class before the Sunday morning worship service. The class, studying the Second Epistle of John,  was taught by Josh’s father, Wally.  That morning the topic was how to deal with heretical teachers. There was a lively discussion with interaction from regulars and guests (like us!).  People were still talking when a man came through the hallways ringing a bell to let people know it was almost time for worship. Members of the choir departed first, before the class formally closed.

As we went to worship, a number of people introduced themselves. As the worship service began, I was impressed that there were more men in the choir than women. (This is often not the case.) Laura, who’s  been the choir director for almost 30 years, later told me that she chooses the music for the service based on the Scriptures. Sometimes she went with hymns and sometimes choruses and usually a mixture of both. She said that as she leads the choir, the goal is to remember that they’re “performing for an audience of One”.

Pastor Cox preached on chapter 8 of Hosea, and when we returned for the Sunday evening service he preached on Hosea chapter 9. He said that though the prophet Hosea was speaking to the people of Israel, we can receive it as a message to America.

We attended another church in our time in Fairbanks, the Seventh Day Adventist Church (not surprisingly, on Saturday). Soon after we arrived we were invited to stay after church for a lunch for visitors. Quite a number of visitors were there that morning; we appeared to be two of twenty people from out of state (at least six of those other visitors were from Canada).

Before the service started, a video about a Seventh Day Adventist work in Fiji played on the screen in the front of the worship center. The denomination has established a health clinic to help with diet and prevention issues. During the service the youth of the church made a presentation about a recent service project at a Christian camp further in the interior of Alaska. The congregation was given another opportunity for service for the next day. A couple with health issues needed help clearing trees and brush on their property about an hour away. People were invited to be a part of the work team. It sounded like breakfast would be provided as well as the opportunity to keep the cleared trees for firewood.

Alaskans may be fiercely independent, but from what we saw, many people there need and appreciate the community a good church affords.

University Baptist Church
11:00 am service
Service Length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Sermon Length: 30 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted by several people when we came in. There were visitor cards in the pew backs, which we filled out, but there was no mention of what to do with them.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 115
Probably Ushers' Count: 135
Snacks: coffee and hot water for tea or hot chocolate were available in the lobby before and after Sunday School
Musicians: piano (woman), percussion (man), choir (9 men, 8 women), choir director (woman), organ (woman)
Songs: "Come, Now is the Time to Worship"
"Holy, Holy, Holy"
"I Stand in Awe"
"Joyful, Joyful, we Adore Thee"
"Here I am to Worship"
"Come, Let us Worship and Bow Down"
"Before the Throne of God Above"
"On Our Knees" (choir)
"Worthy of Worship"
Distance to Church: 9 miles
Miles from Start: 20,788 (5,092 by air)
Total 2016 Miles: 20,492 (5,092 by air)
Church Website:

6:00 pm service
Service Length: 1 hour 16 minutes
Sermon Length: 42 minutes
Visitor Treatment: No particular notice was taken of visitors, but the pastor had heard about our journey and, after talking with Dean just before the service began, asked us to share for a few minutes. Several people talked to us afterward.
Snacks: none
Musicians: piano (woman), organ (woman), singers (1 woman, 1 man), worship leader (woman), percussion (man)
Songs: "At Calvary"
"Come, Thou Fount"
"O, What a Wonder it is"
"Draw me Close"
"People Need the Lord" (piano solo)

Fairbanks Seventh Day Adventist Church
Service Length: 1 hour 29 minutes
Sermon Length: 21 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Visitors were asked to raise their hands and introduce themselves when a mic was passed (this seemed not to be the norm). After this, a woman named Gail invited guests to a lunch after worship, followed by a trip to Fairbanks' visitor center/museum. We didn't see any way to keep track of visitors, although that may have happened at the visitors' potluck.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 107
Probably Ushers' Count: 125
Snacks: lunch after worship for visitors
Musicians: piano (woman), bass (man), acoustic guitar (man), vocals (3 women)
There was also a man who sang a solo
Songs: "This is my Father's World"
"I've Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy"
"Speak, O Lord"
"Tell it to Every Kindred and Nation"
"Sweet Hour of Prayer"
"To the Foot of the Cross I Must go" (solo)
Distance to Church: 10 miles
Miles from Start: 20,748 (5,092 by air)
Total 2016 Miles: 20,452 (5,092 by air)
Church Website:

Monday, June 27, 2016

6 facts about Alaska that should encourage you to visit more than once

Alaska state flower, forget-me-not

1. The state’s nickname is “The Last Frontier,” which you may have known. I’ll bet you didn’t know that the motto is “North to the Future,” and the state flower is the forget-me-not. You knew, though, that the state dog was the Alaskan Malamute, right?

2. Alaska is the largest US state by area: 2,261 miles wide and 1,420 miles long (more than twice the size of Texas), but it has the lowest population density (1.26 people per square mile). Almost half the population lives in the Anchorage metropolitan area.

3. Oddly, it’s the northernmost, westernmost, and easternmost state (a few of the Aleutian Islands extend into the Eastern hemisphere. An island further north is only six miles from a Russian island.). However, the highest and lowest temperatures in Alaska occur near Fairbanks. Summer temperatures there range from over 90F in the summer to below -60F in the winter, and sunlit hours range from 4 hours in late December to 21.5 hours in late June.

4. The coastline is longer than the coastlines of all the other states combined; including islands, Alaska has more than 33,000 miles of shoreline. The word Alaska is derived from an Native idiom (either Aleut or Urrangam) meaning “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” From the same root, another name, “Alyeska,” means “great land.”

5. The discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the 1977 completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline led to an oil boom in the state. (In Fairbanks, we heard repeated references to “Pipeline days” when things were apparently quite lively.)

6. According to the 2010 census, the state race and ethnicity makeup is quite diverse (64% non-Hispanic white, 15% American Indian and Alaskan Native, 7% two or more races, 6% Latino or Hispanic, 5% Asian, 3% Black, 1% Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, 2% other. As of 2011, around 51% of the Alaskan population under 1 year old had two non-white parents.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

QUIZ! New York Churches UPDATED with identifying captions

Ten points for identifying at least four of these churches (bonus for naming the town or city where they're located). How did you do?

Saint Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church, Kingston
(Hudson River Valley)

Old Dutch Church (First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church), Kingston
(Hudson River Valley)

This one is Saint Peter's Roman Catholic Church, Staten Island
(oops -- sorry, not Long Island or Hudson Valley)

Church des Artistes (a bed and breakfast in a former church), Kingston
(Hudson River Valley)

Morning Star Highway Church of Christ, Brooklyn
(sort of oops. Brooklyn is geographically on Long Island, but not "Long Island," so I apologize to all New Yorkers)

Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Bohemia
(Long Island)

Little Church at Saint John Nepomucene, Bohemia
(Long Island)

Saint John Nepomucene, Bohemia
(Long Island)

Side of the Little Church at Saint John Nepomucene, Bohemia
(still Long Island)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Salem Church: not just for Scandinavians

Salem EFC Staten Island New York
We had our own ideas about the church we would visit in New York. Before the trip began, we were wondering if we could just go to the Baseball Hall of Fame and say that we went to the “Church of Baseball.” Going to Cooperstown meant we would see more than just New York City; we went to Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan last year, so we wanted to see more of the state.

But we were urged by a good friend and New York native to go somewhere else. Steve Palm, my roommate in seminary, sent me this message, “(A) very notable church is the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Their pastor, Jim Cymbala, wrote a great book on prayer, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire. The prayer movement at the Tab is remarkable. They attract a larger crowd to their midweek prayer meeting than their worship services! The Tab is filled with testimonies of hookers and drug dealers who’ve found Christ through their evangelistic outreaches. If there is a book at the end of your 50 state journey, the Tab is a needed chapter!”

Well, Steve had me sold, but there still was the matter of where we would stay. If you’d like a trade secret of travelers to churches in states, a prime consideration for where we go is where we have a place to stay. And Steve had taken care of that as well -- he arranged for us to stay with his mother-in-law on Staten Island.

It seems God had other ideas about where we should go to church. We were approached by an Evangelical Free Church publication about the possibility of writing an article about our travels. In an aside, the editor asked if we had (after twenty three states so far this year) visited an Evangelical Free Church yet. And I had to admit that though I grew up in a Free Church, went to a Free Church seminary, served in a number of Free Churches and was ordained in the Evangelical Free Church of America, we haven’t gone to a Free Church this year. So we thought about that.

Then, in our visit to a New York bar last Wednesday night (for those of you who haven’t found our other blog, we are going to a bar in every state as well as a church in every state), the first person we talked to raved about the church he attends, Salem Evangelical Free Church in Staten Island. He told us there was a special worship service in the park on the upcoming Sunday, and we really must go.

The next morning, we asked our hostess (Steve’s mother-in-law, Joanne) where she attended church. She said that she attended Salem Evangelical Free Church. Those three things made us think that God was directing us to go somewhere other than Brooklyn Tab.  We believe God wanted us to go to Salem. Maybe you think it’s crazy to assume God involves Himself in such decisions; maybe you’re questioning the sanity of people who have decided to take a year to go to a bar and a church in every state… Well, you might have a point, but we went to Salem.

You might not have heard of the Evangelical Free Church of America, so you might not know that the denomination has Scandinavian roots. The “Free” part goes back to the day when people in Sweden and Norway had to choose between the State Church (which was Lutheran) or a “Free” Church. When Swedes and Norwegians immigrated to the United States, they kept the word “Free” and changed the meaning to congregations being free to make their own decisions without a denominational bureaucracy. And those first Evangelical Free Churches usually held services in Swedish and Norwegian. Salem Church on Staten Island began as a Norwegian congregation back in 1905.  For about the first three decades, services were conducted in Norwegian; by 1941, when all services began to be conducted in English, the Norwegian cultural influence was still strong.

But the congregation has evolved through the years. Eddie Cole, who pastored the church through great growth (during his service from 2003 to last year) said, “The methods have changed, the demographic has certainly changed, but the message is the same. There are very few Norwegians remaining, but in many ways we stand on the shoulders of these early Scandinavian men and women who followed Christ. Today we have about 25 - 30 cultures represented at Salem, and we are still reaching newer Americans.”

We met friends of Joanne’s, John and Henne, who have been attending Salem since 1958 when the Norwegian influence was still strong. That was an attractive part of the church for them, as they were of Norwegian heritage. They remember when the hymns of the Old Country provided the soundtrack of the church, but they’re fine with the transition to modern choruses, since it’s all part of attracting younger people to the church.

Usually there are two services inside Salem’s sanctuary on Sunday morning. The room seats a maximum of  520 people. But at this annual Father’s Day event, the church holds just one worship service, at 10:30 am, at the park next door to their property. The church itself is short on parking, but the Staten Island Zoo parking lot is available on Sunday mornings. We brought a beach towel to sit on for Church in the Park; many people brought their own lawn chairs, and folding chairs were provided as well. Small bottles of water were available at welcome tents, along with the morning bulletin. Church volunteers wore t-shirts reading “Love God Love People” (a variation on the church’s motto, “Passion for God, Compassion for People”).

Worship began shortly after the stated start time with the band and sound system doing their best to shake the park. But the sound system conked out during the third chorus. (“You know God is up to something good when Satan gets into the sound system,” the worship leader joked.) As tech people worked on the system, the crowd was invited to stand and greet each other. We met a woman named Karen, along with her husband and three kids. We asked how long she had been attending and she calculated (using the ages of her children, as parents do) that she had been there four years. I asked her what drew her to the church, and she said it reminded her of the church she grew up attending in Brooklyn. She said that the children’s programs were good, which was important for her family.

Eventually the sound system was repaired, singing resumed (the worship leader said, "We just turned off the sound system so we could hear you singing"), and then it was time for Pastor John Welborn to preach. He began the sermon making mention of the recents deaths of Syrian refugees, the shooting in Orlando, and the death of the toddler at Disney World as evidence of our need for hope. The theme of the sermon was that we need more than religion; we need a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He concluded the sermon with an opportunity to pray to receive Christ (“with all heads bowed and all eyes closed”).

The service concluded with baptisms. Two portable pools on the platform allowed Pastor Welborn to switch back and forth, baptizing a couple of dozen men, women, and children. (“Upon your confession of faith, and because God has commanded us to baptize believers, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Buried in the likeness of His death and raised into the newness of life”.) Each person was greeted with applause (and a dry towel) as he or she came out of the water.

I was able to chat with Pastor Welborn after the service, just prior to the Father’s Day barbecue and celebration. He’s only been at the church for a year, and he feels he’s benefited from entering a place where years of good work has already been done. He was introduced to the church back in 2008 when he was a part of a Southern Baptist missions trip. The church has annually hosted groups that have come up to Staten Island to be serve in evangelism and work projects. Coincidently, one of those groups (consisting of sixteen people) had been at the church the previous week and was worshiping in the park with Salem Church that morning.

In line for hamburgers, we met a woman named Emily who’s been part of the church for a year. She said that when she and her husband first visited the church, she knew it was the place she wanted to be. As the mother of an autistic child, she greatly appreciated a church support group for parents of children with special needs.

We certainly choose the day to come. Not only was lunch provided, there was a bacon bar just for dads with bacon pizza, scallops wrapped in bacon, bacon pancakes, and chocolate covered bacon. In the gym, a bounce house and jousting offered entertainment for kids; outside, a shaded tent, face painting, and bean bag toss games were available for everybody. An ice cream truck arrived playing its beckoning song, to provide an hour’s worth of all you can eat frozen goodies. The line formed as soon as the truck entered the parking lot.

We were glad to have an opportunity to worship with the not-just-Norwegians-anymore of Salem Evangelical Free Church. Brooklyn Tab and Cooperstown? We hope to be back to see you another time.

Service Length: 1 hour 27 minutes
Sermon Length: 25 minutes
Visitor Treatment: At the welcome tent, visitors were encouraged (strongly) to fill out visitor cards. We were asked if we knew someone who was being baptized. During the greeting time and in line for food afterward, we were asked, "How long have you been coming to Salem?" -- a great thing to ask when you're not sure if a person is new, avoiding the embarrassment of not recognizing someone who's attended a long time who you haven't happened to meet yet.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 500
Probably Ushers' Count: 625
Snacks: Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, bacon treats for dads, punch and lemonade, water, ice cream treats from the truck
Musicians: percussion (man), acoustic guitar (man), electric guitar (man), singers (woman and man), keyboard (woman), bass (man), slide guitar I think (man)
Songs: "Multiplied"
"O Praise the Name"
"This I Believe" (The Creed)
"Beneath the Waters" (I Will Rise)
"Death was Arrested"
"The Lord Will Make a Way"
Distance to Church: 3
Miles from Start: 15,483
Total 2016 Miles: 15,186