Submitted by Rev. Bennie Grace P. Nabua of Sitka UMC.
Small Church, Big Heart
The United Methodist Church is blessed to be able to minister and serve in this beautiful island of Sitka in South East Alaska. This is a town with a population of about 9,000 people, a 14 mile road system, and a rich history of Russian influence. It is home to Tlingit and Haida Alaska Native groups, was the site of the Alaska Purchase, and was formerly the capital of Alaska.
Life in this “rock” as locals say, is serene and simple but it is not without challenges as Sitka is only accessible by plane or boat. High cost of living, difficult access to low cost housing, growing senior population, and substance abuse are also realities that Sitkans face in varying degrees. But being the Alaskans that we are, resilience and community help people cope and thrive. The strong and close-knit community fosters a “we make it happen” spirit that is evident in arts, education, sports, recreation and even mission.
The breath-taking beauty of the mountains and the islands cannot hide the other side of the city that shows a growing number of people who live in the margins. The Salvation Army has their Monday to Friday lunches that we support in cash and in kind. Saturday lunch is initiated by St Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church and Sundays is Manna Lunch where five churches take turns in providing hot soup and brown bag lunches.
We serve on first Sundays of the month and the hustle and bustle begins when volunteers come to prepare sandwiches followed by our Sunday school kids packing them. After service at 12:30, volunteers serve at the site and converse with our unsheltered friends.
Children and Youth Ministry
Our young families in the congregation tell of how child-friendly the church is and take note of the love our Sunday school teachers have for kids. Aside from Sunday School, our Vacation Bible School, Advent and Lenten workshops continue to draw kids in the community.
We are excited to have opened The Journey, our Middle School Class and continue on with our BeTween, our pre-teen ministry to provide a safe space for them to explore their growing faith and ready them to face the challenges of teen life.
We have our Choir and Bells ministry that meets on Wednesday nights and two offerings for adults on Thursdays that provide opportunities to carve out sacred spaces in their busy schedules. In the morning, we have an ecumenical group that attends the Contemplative Reading of Scriptures (now in Luke) and, in the evening, a Bible Study (now in the Gospel of Mark). We also have our Choir and Bells ministry that meet on Wednesday nights.
Dream and Work
We dream and work big for our youth ministry and we pray that God will continue to raise adult leaders who will invest in walking along side our young in life and faith. We dream and work to be more rooted in the Word and invested in lives of those who are in the margins. We dream and work to be in connection with God and others to grow our community of faith called to worship and serve this community we love.
Makes me homesick to see that beautiful sanctuary filled with beautiful people. It must have been God’s timing to allow me to be the pastor in Sitka last, because it was truly the best place we lived and served in Alaska. We enjoyed them all, but we could have stayed in Sitka forever. Every summer I remember my wildberry picking project and my gratefulness that I only saw bear scat and never any bears competing with me for the bountiful crop of wild blueberries. Sheldon Jackson College was also an important part of our experience there. Sadly, it is no more. The Sitka Music Festival was always a highlight of summertime, too. Berries in the morning and music at night. Couldn’t get any better than that.