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Chris Thompson: Try something different for church this weekend

Chris Thompson

We’re having a great Alaska summer in Anchorage and the vicinity. Anchorage and many other Alaska communities are hosting tens of thousands of tourists and returning snowbirds. Our glorious environment, incredible weather and many natural wonders are spectacular. Despite potential distractions, I urge visitors to seriously look at churching differently while here. Locals, take an opportunity to breathe deeply and become better acquainted with our church community. The following suggestions are offered as ways to step outside your religion box, while honoring the concept of a rest day.

Try a different church

No matter your faith tradition, there’s value in worshiping elsewhere from time to time. Mainline church members express amazement in seeing the dynamism offered by some of the evangelicals. Pentecostals can gain new insights from participating in a slower liturgically based service. In my church consulting, I frequently suggest churches have teams of visitors who go out regularly observing the conduct of worship in other churches, especially in denominations other than theirs. Often they discover practices to bring back to their home church, or find they already do a great job but are still improvable.

Review ADN’s Matters of Faith listings

For years, ADN has been providing listings in Saturday’s paper of notable religious events. Often, I find notifications of religious events that may have escaped my notice otherwise. Many of my blog posts or columns have started from spotting something out of the ordinary here. Concerts, special lectures or unique events have caught my eye. Years ago, an insert by St John United Methodist Church of a free performance by a chamber orchestra and choir of Vivaldi’s “Gloria” caught my eye. It was a wonderful evening of music. My review of this event led to an introduction to Karen Horton, St John’s organist and choir director at the time, and her invitation to join their choir. I sang with them off and on for years as my church visiting schedule allowed. The saying is true, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

Think topical church visits

Stained glass aficionados have a feast of churches to select from with wonderful displays of stained glass. We can’t begin to compare with the East Coast but are blessed nonetheless. Here are several impressive examples. St. Patrick’s Parish and Amazing Grace Lutheran have inspiring round cross church windows. First Presbyterian has a huge stained slab glass wall with various motifs embedded therein. All Saints Episcopal is a panoply of stained glass with many themes. Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish has beautifully themed displays of huge floor-to-ceiling panels behind the altar, as does Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.

Icons are a hallmark of Orthodox Christianity. St. John Orthodox in Eagle River has a wonderful display of them. If you are lucky you might find their iconographer, Robin, is present at the service when you attend. St. Innocent Russian Orthodox also has an impressive display of icons.

Totems, anyone? St. John UMC has a large carved wood totem, Tsimshian style, in their sanctuary. Depicting the passion story, it is a marvel to behold. Rev. David Frison, pastor emeritus, carved this and a Christmas totem. (You can see fiberglass replicas of these totems outside, if you visit when the church is closed, along with plaques telling their story.)

Churches with views? Three Anchorage churches offer spectacular natural views not to be missed. St. Mary’s Episcopal offers a wraparound view of our beautiful Chugach Mountains. Resurrection Chapel at Holy Spirit Retreat Center renders a 180-degree view of the Knik Arm leading up to Sleeping Lady and then to Mount McKinley. It takes one's breath away. Finally, Chugiak UMC has a window wall looking out on Denali.

Megachurches here too

Megachurches are defined by a generally accepted term of consistent weekly attendance of 2,000, and by that definition Alaska has two of America’s approximately 1,700 megachurches. It you would like a taste of this in our huge state, give one of these a try. ChangePoint, at 3,300 average attendees, is our largest, offering four services each Sunday. They have great messages and good music, but bring some ear protection if 105 decibels bothers you. Anchorage Baptist Temple is independent Baptist, averaging about 2,200 attendees, with a main and an evening service.

Look outside of Anchorage

One to 1 1/2  hours outside of Anchorage are the towns of Girdwood, Moose Pass, Palmer, Wasilla, Willow and Sutton. All have churches worthy of visiting. Check the Internet or call the church for the smaller towns just to make sure they’re there when you’ll be. Who knows, you might even be invited to lunch.

If you're visiting, we’re glad you’re here. If you're local, try some of these ideas. Remember the Apostle Paul’s advice to not forsake assembling ourselves together. God bless.