Submitted by Rev. David Hall, UMC of Chugiak
At first look, it might seem that our doors are not open. There is caution tape stretched across the main entry to church supporting a sign which reads, “Danger – Use Side Door”. This is certainly not the way we would like to welcome people into our building for worship or for our community programs. Yet, this is how our doors look for now; a product of the large earthquake that shook Alaska in November of 2018. Like many of our neighbors, we spend time working with FEMA and other government agencies to find the funds and the resources to repair what the earthquake damaged. The sign is only temporary. The portico will be fixed and a welcoming entry brought back to life. In the meantime, however, life exists abundantly inside those doors.
The first church building that housed the congregation of the United Methodist Church of Chugiak was built in 1959. Now, I am new to the church and folks may be pulling the new pastor’s leg, but the story goes that the current position of the church was not the approved layout. The contractor that was to set the foundation for the church arrived one morning to lay the footers and upon turning onto the property, he noticed he could see Denali towering over the valley from his vantage point. He thought the church needed to see the view he was seeing as they worshipped each Sunday, so he picked up the markers and rotated them so that the windows of the back of the church would look out at Denali and see the wonder of God’s creation in its full glory as they worshipped. We are lucky he took the initiative!
The congregation of the UMC Chugiak church has been a steadfast member in the communities of Chugiak, Birchwood, and Eagle River, partnering over time with different organizations in different ways to provide outreach and support. Early on, CCS Early Learning Services actually operated out of the UMC Chugiak basement, until they built a separate structure about a mile away. The relationship remained tight and this year UMC Chugiak was nominated by CCS Early Learning to receive an award as “AHSA’s Community Advocate of the Year”. Some lines of the nomination read, “The church has made it easy for CCS Early Learning to meet the needs of many of our families without having to send them to other agencies. They are very generous and willing to help wherever there is a need with our families.” The help mentioned refers to the basic needs of families such as clothes, food, furniture, school supplies, and even gas cards. We are happy to be nominated for this award, but joyful to know that our involvement was meaningful to the families and to the organization it supported. I am pleased to share that we were the recipient of the AHSA Community Advocate of the Year award for 2019 and we look forward to continuing to grow in our support of the local CCS Early Learning facility.
Although the CCS Early Learning school has not met in the walls of our church for a very long time, we still bring the community children through our doors in a different way. It started out as a program called “Homework Haven” and was designed as an afterschool program with an emphasis on helping children who lived locally near the church with their homework. Last year, however, the local school decided that homework was not to be assigned. This allowed the “Homework Haven” program to change its approach and now it offers lessons in “life skills” to the young people who come in from sewing to cooking. There is also quite a bit of fun to be had and games to be played. We also make sure the children are given a good meal before going home.
If you were to come into the church parking lot around noon on any given day, you would see a large number of vehicles in the lot. A local Alcoholics Anonymous support group has been utilizing the narthex of the church for its meetings for many years. The gentleman who leads the group continuously expresses his thanks for the use of the church and we are thankful for his constant support of the folks who come to this gathering. It is a place of transformation, a place of redemption, and a place of forgiveness. I am sure these are things found by those who come for the AA services each day.
I do believe that most of the community surrounding the church would identify the UMC of Chugiak congregation with the “Recycle for a Reason” program. The program was born out of a need many years ago to have a local drop off and purchase place for used items, such as a Goodwill or Salvation Army store. The UMC of Chugiak congregation stepped into the roll and has been operating this service each month for several years. The items are collected and organized by volunteers and then placed out for pick up one Saturday a month. Those who are in need are not asked to provide anything and to take what they need, others are asked to give a donation as they are able. The money raised by the program is then applied to local missions throughout Alaska. It may seem that such a model may not be successful but since 2013, the Recycle for a Reason program has donated $66,779 to local and national missions and $33,389 to missions of the UMC Chugiak congregation.
As we kick off the Fall of 2019, we are in full swing with Sunday school classes for all ages, a Wednesday night Bible Study, a Centering Prayer group, and our Choir. We are also in the early stages of reinvigorating a mission-based youth program that has been well attended in its first two meetings. Life within the doors of the UMC Chugiak church is growing and we look forward to opening our doors up wide for others to explore our worship services and programs. We are also well aware that our doors open for us to work outside as well. We look forward to continued partnerships with local organizations and other churches that help us minister to our community in ways that bring glory to God’s name. We are not averse to trying new things and finding new ways of connecting to our fellow humans and God’s creation.
Our doors are open!
The layout of the UMC of Chugiak was established before I became the pastor in 1965, but during my time there, the architect was credited with the layout of the property, so that Denali was visible in direct line-up with the center aisle. Whatever is accurate, it is a great view on both ends of the sanctuary. The sanctuary and two side rooms were built on my “watch”. The large room and elevators were added later. You are blessed with a good physical plant and a congregation that is willing to serve needs in the community. Good for them.