This is not a post about Santa. It is about my visit to New Hope Methodist/Presbyterian Church in North Pole, Alaska, last weekend. My friend and colleague, Rev. Curt Karns, executive with the Yukon Presbytery, and I were on the same plane to Fairbanks. We try to show up together at our union churches. It helps that we have been friends for over 20 years so our union churches appreciate our ecumenical connections.
It is possible that this congregation is like yours...struggling with how to be an attractional church in a culture that is not easily attracted to church programs and buildings. One woman talked about their way of being church as the "New Hope way." It was a confession of sorts as they struggle to face their reality and contemplate change.
The "New Hope way" is not unique to New Hope church. I have witnessed the same phenomenon in other congregations across Alaska. There is almost a sense of pride in the voices of some of our leaders when they talk about how they have done church for many years. It is as if new people have to demonstrate that they can swim against the current and navigate obstacles to prove themselves worthy to be members of the club.
I could see the bulbs light up as Curt and I talked with them about ways to be Church in new ways: moving beyond welcoming to becoming an inviting church; giving from our abundance, not our scarcity; helping others in North Pole, not to get butts in the pews, but simply to share God's grace; taking an honest look at our worship practices and how they appear to new people.
Curt and I left New Hope feeling hopeful. Trent and Linda Baggett are doing great work as interim pastors. They have much promise for a bright future. The bottom line is that this is God's work and our work is to imagine what God can do, cooperate as fully as possible, and retool ourselves as we move forward.