Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky has announced her intention to appoint the Rev. Christina DowlingSoka as Conference Superintendent for the Alaska United Methodist Conference, effective June 1, 2022. She will also continue as co-pastor of Willow United Methodist Church in Willow, Alaska, alongside her husband, Rev. Joe-d DowlingSoka. Willow UMC is one of three mission churches in the conference.
Rev. DowlingSoka’s appointment to the superintendency comes as the Alaska and Pacific Northwest leaders actively explore what it will mean to be a ‘mission district’ within the Pacific Northwest Conference. Despite the delay of General Conference, members of both conferences affirmed their commitment to “live into the reality” of this change last year even while they await necessary actions by the General and Western Jurisdictional Conferences.
“I have confidence that the Alaska Conference will be well served by Christina’s deep, grounded spirituality and non-anxious presence especially as we continue to explore what it means for Alaska to be a ‘mission district’ of the Pacific Northwest Conference,” shared Bishop Stanovsky. “In the five years Christina has been in Alaska, she has become a trusted ministry colleague who leads with a high understanding of systems, attention to detail and a heart of compassion. She will provide stable transitional leadership in this season of change.”
The Rev. Carlo Rapanut, Conference Superintendent since 2014, will serve full-time as Assistant to the Bishop while continuing to be based in Alaska. This change will also begin on June 1, 2022.
“The Alaska Conference has been blessed by Carlo’s steady, thoughtful leadership for eight years,” shared Bishop Stanovsky. “And now in a full-time capacity, the Greater Northwest Area will continue to benefit from his leadership, especially through the many thresholds that lie ahead.”
Christina met Joe-d in seminary at The Methodist Theological School in Ohio. She is the child of a UMC pastor and retired UMC missionary/music teacher. They have co-pastored churches in England, in the West Ohio and Iowa Conferences. For the 25 years before coming to the Alaska Conference, they served in eastern Tennessee in the Holston Conference, where they still hold their conference membership. While in Holston, Christina directed (and co-directed) Buffalo Mountain Camp and Retreat Center for 14 years.
The DowlingSokas have two adult children. The eldest, Jo, lives in Sydney, Australia, with their partner and dog and is working on a doctorate in Byzantine history at Macquarie University. Their youngest child Ryan lives in Vancouver with his spouse and their two children, aged 4 and 4 months. Ryan is a Lead Technical artist in the video game industry.
In a letter to the Alaska Conference included below, Rev. DowlingSoka repeatedly uses the word “delight” to describe her feelings about this new role and responsibility. She also expresses her understanding of the shared calling laity and clergy have to the transformational work ahead.
Dear Alaska Conference,
I was humbled and affirmed by the Willow UMC leadership team circle that gathered on a snowy Tuesday as our Alaska Conference Superintendent Carlo Rapanut came to bring word to them of this new appointment, a “calling” that came this past week as a surprise. I was humbled by their openness to change.
Some of us were in the room, some of us were on Zoom, many still wearing our masks. We were very thankful just to be in the same room with Carlo together, this one who has shepherded us so well as superintendent these past eight years.
I will never forget Deaconess Fran Lynch’s words of congratulations coming via Zoom from the mountains of Tennessee. I will always remember her words of tearful, gracious pride and then her charge, “I just want to hear from my pastors that you feel ‘called’ to this work.”
It had been a long hard weekend of reflection, prayer, uncertainty, disorientation, negotiation, resolution, delight…Discernment is challenging work.
I am thankful that, on the other side, I was able to look her in the eye and say that I do feel called to this work. In fact, I will delight in this work.
I am looking forward to stepping into the superintending role in June. It will be my great delight to offer the gifts of administration, nurture, supervision and compassion to the churches, the laity and pastors of the Alaska Conference and the communities they/we serve during this liminal time, this season of transition. I am also delighted that I will be working alongside the Rev. Lisa Talbott, who has been serving as Alaska Conference’s Director of Connectional Ministries (in addition to pastoring Homer UMC). And I am delighted to have the gift of continuing to co-pastor the Willow UMC alongside my spouse, the Rev. Joe-d DowlingSoka.
I believe there will be something very grounding in this old but new model of part-time superintending, superintending while also pastoring, superintending while also engaging in community ministries with and to persons living in poverty, ministries that seek to address food and heat insecurity, the transformation of systems.
The word “delight” is a key word that has been important to me throughout our 40 years of ministry. It is a word that I choose to reclaim for this season. It has been a hard two years, and if you are like me, you may be bone tired. But we serve a God who renews our strength and restores our joy.
My prayer is that we would remember that we are “called to this work” together, laity and clergy alike, that we will find great delight in this season of transition as we work towards the process of moving from Missionary Conference to Mission District, delight as we continue to navigate our way with utmost care for others through this pandemic, delight as we seek to continue to do the hard work of dismantling racism, delight as we seek to offer an enormous, broken, hurting world, all the hope and the faith and the life-restoring love that we find through Christ.
We are delighted for the invitation and for the calling to walk this path with you.