By Rev. Jim Doepken
Well, to be honest, I’m not from “Kenai.” Kenai is a city in Alaska (although some who read this would question whether “city” is an accurate designation for a community of 7,500, that’s city-sized in Alaska). I’m not from “Kenai” but “the Kenai.” I’m from the Kenai Peninsula and serving as pastor of the United Methodist Churches of Seward and Moose Pass (not a made up Alaskan-sounding name but a real Alaskan-sounding one.)
So, we’re not in “The Kenai” anymore.
However, that cheap allusion to the famous line from The Wizard of Oz is a somewhat accurate representation of what it can feel like at this joint annual conference session of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon-Idaho Conferences; at least to us Alaskans. That “fish-out-of-water” theme which typifies the experience of Dorothy and Toto is accurate for those of us who told our congregations we were headed to “the Lower-48.”
See, this is the first annual conference I’ve personally been to in 20 years where I didn’t stay in an igloo, fight off polar bears, gather with colleagues after hours watching “The Deadliest Catch,” and have to shoo penguins from the conference floor. To join with our sisters and brothers of the Greater Northwest Area, we Alaskans had the luxury of riding in planes rather than our usual seat in the back of the dog sled. And, here, our meals are provided by the conference center and not hunted and gathered during the clergy session. It’s quite a shock.
(Of course you know that the above paragraph isn’t all true. Penguins are from the Southern Hemisphere 😊.)
Regardless of your perceptions of what life may be like in the Alaska Conference, this session is quite a change for us. Things are simpler up there. We only have 27 United Methodist Churches in Alaska and there were less than 100 people in attendance in our conference in early June. The dollar figures in our budget have fewer zeroes, making the math easier to comprehend. There is an informality — sometimes a stunning informality — in our processes. We get along. We know each other — both lay and clergy alike. Our Annual Conference usually takes place in one of our local churches, which provides a different feel. Yes, we get our work done. But there’s quite a bit less work to do. There’s a lot of time just to enjoy our time with each other in some fellowship and holy conferencing.
Being here in Portland is different. It’s bigger. It’s brighter. It’s louder. The size requires more formality. There is a lot more to report and hear and celebrate. It’s exciting.
We’re not in Kenai (or “the” Kenai) anymore.
As your Alaska Conference guests we will be watching and learning and celebrating with you during these days. We hope that we can go back with ideas that will work in our more Northern setting. We recognize that there is already a great sharing of resources, ministries and vision and we pray that we can foster relationships that will continue to nurture these. And, along with you, we celebrate our new bishop, Elaine Stanovsky, and proclaim that we are on this journey together.
I hope all of this happens. We hope all of this happens.
And, after the fun we have down here with you, we’ll go back to Alaska, looking forward to the quaintness and quirkiness and comfort of our unique ministry settings in the Last Frontier.
We will look forward to the next time we’re together again.
Rev. Jim Doepken is part of a delegation from the Alaska Conference participating in our shared Annual Conference Session this week. He serves in Alaska as pastor of the United Methodist Churches of Seward and Moose Pass.