By Kristen Caldwell
In this season of uncertainty and anticipation and about the future of The United Methodist Church, its heartwarming to see generosity flowing multiple directions across The Greater Northwest Episcopal Area.
This summer the Pacific Northwest and Oregon-Idaho Conferences committed to a special offering in the local churches to help lower the cost of Alaska Conference members traveling to Puyallup, Wash., for a shared Annual Conference this June. When a cry went out from churches in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington located far from the Conference site, the Alaska Conference responded in kind for their siblings in Christ in the Oregon-Idaho Conference who will also endure significant travel costs to attend.
“People just really resonated with the idea that we want to come alongside in solidarity,” said Rev. Carlo Rapanut, Superintendent for the Alaska Conference.
This reciprocal giving from the Alaska Conference for a travel fund started after Rapanut received inspiration during a General Board of Global Ministries gathering in Atlanta earlier in the fall.
Bishop Hector Ortiz-Vidal of Puerto Rico asked for a moment of privilege during the gathering and called on Bishop Tom Bickerton, president of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to stand with him. Churches and communities in Puerto Rico received massive UMCOR support in 2017 after Hurricane Maria.
“Bishop Ortiz takes out an envelope with a check in it and says, ‘this is a gift from the thankful people of Puerto Rico,’” Rapanut recalled from the presentation.
Ortiz said the check, a significant amount, was being presented to help those in the Bahamas recovering from Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
“Everybody was in tears. (Puerto Ricans) are people still in need, yet they wanted to help people in the Bahamas,” Rapanut said. “It was just a Holy Spirit moment for me.”
Rapanut came back from that meeting and wanted to inspire his church members — many of whom will travel hours to get on a plane to fly to Anchorage to connect another flight to Seattle – that are already financially strapped to extend their generosity beyond Alaska’s boundaries.
He personally promised $50 at each of his charge conference gatherings to raise fund to assist remote churches in the other two GNW conferences with travel expenses. To date the 29 churches in the Alaska Conference have given $4,271.
“The response has just been incredible,” Rapanut said.
The PNW and Oregon-Idaho Conferences have raised approximately $11,000 to date to assist with Alaska travel funds.
The GNW Area cabinet recently met and decided, because of distance, it would be up to Sage District Superintendent Rev. Karen Hernandez and Crater Lake District Superintendent Rev. John Tucker to utilize this gift. The two district superintendents in the Oregon-Idaho Conference are still working out exactly which churches will qualify for the support.
“In a time of crisis in the denomination, when the Alaska Conference is trying map out its future with limited finances, this is the most beautiful response I can imagine,” Hernandez said. “Because of the timing it’s so selfless of them.”
Homer United Methodist Church responded to Rapanut’s call with great enthusiasm, raising more than $1,000 for the other two conferences.
Rev. Lisa Talbott, pastor of Homer UMC said their church has been supported by churches in the lower 48 states for more than 70 years, allowing it to establish its ministries in Homer and the lower Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.
“[The churches] sustained us through really tight years. Now that we are a financially self-sustaining church this is our response with gratitude toward the churches who may have supported us,” Talbott said. “For me, this is also a way to remind everyone that mission and ministry don’t go in one direction in the Greater Northwest Area. We are all partners in ministry together.”