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: http://www.universitybaptistchurch.net/

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: http://www.fairbanksadventistchurch.org/