Chris Thompson

Last year, I wrote about local initiatives some churches have taken by planting church gardens or allowing church property to be used for community gardens . When I started writing that column, I pre-supposed those gardens would be used primarily for producing fresh food for Bean’s Café, Downtown Soup Kitchen and other community organizations that feed the hungry. And many church organizations do use them for that purpose. What I didn’t realize was that a growing number of churches allow anyone to use a garden plot on their grounds regardless of where the food goes. As I wrote that column, I was unaware of the garden at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Northeast Anchorage. It was created through parishioners' conversations with neighbors. The neighborhoods around the church are heavily...Chris Thompson
Easter, as celebrated by Western Christianity, concluded almost a month ago. Yet Holy Week for Orthodox Christianity, which has up until now been observing Great Lent with fasting, prayer, and reflection, commences Sunday. Orthodox churches use a Julian, rather than Gregorian, calendar, which is what accounts for this time difference. Pascha, the Orthodox term for Easter, is preceded by Holy Week, a time of great solemnity ultimately ending with great rejoicing. Orthodox Christians observe “The Twelve Great Feasts” but Pascha (Easter) is in a class by itself and called the “Feast of Feasts." Orthodox services are celebrated in worship spaces adorned with icons and they adhere closely to a liturgy, with clergy speaking or chanting, augmented by choirs or cantors, and worshippers following...Chris Thompson
When I’m looking for churches to visit, I almost always look at accompanying websites with my “church visitor eye.” These sites should be well-designed. They should show the ministry, rather than pictures of the church or beautiful surroundings. They should contain the basics: location, service times, phone number. And they should be up to date. Unfortunately, with the explosion of social media, many churches mistakenly believe websites are no longer important. Consequently some churches desperately try to push much about their church to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and in doing so risk becoming invisible to prospective guests. Recently, while planning to visit a local Orthodox church for Great Lent, I found its website not up to date. The most current calendar was August...Chris Thompson
Charismatic, Pentecostal churches are growing fast worldwide, and only a bit slower in the U.S. For those unfamiliar with these terms, “Pentecostal” refers to churches or religions characterized by an emphasis of speaking in tongues, baptism of the Holy Spirit, healing, prophesying and exorcism. The word comes from the Pentecost described in the Book of Acts. Webster defines “charismatic” in the context of religion as “describ[ing] Christian religious groups whose members believe that they can communicate directly with God to receive help and guidance and the power to heal others." “In the U.S., Pentecostals represent 5 percent to 12 percent of Christians, depending on the measurement used,” according to the Hartford Seminary . “That figure is outnumbered only by Baptists, Methodists and...Chris Thompson
As I visit churches, readers frequently ask me, “What church do you belong to?" This seemingly innocent question is a tell for other questions possibly lurking beneath the surface. One might be probing my religious roots, or looking for leanings toward a particular strain of theology. Quite often I respond that when I leave home on Sunday mornings, I feel God is steering me toward a particular place of worship. Unless I’m attending an event of particular significance, I want to experience the fullness of faith: the warmth of hospitality, being with others in corporate worship, lifting my voice in praise and listening to the Bible being opened in new ways that inspire and urge me to share the good news of salvation. On major holidays, like Easter and Christmas, I enjoy the act of worship...Chris Thompson
Western Christianity’s 40-day Lenten trek is almost over. Sunday is Easter, which means wonderful celebrations at many churches. Easter and Pentecost were the earliest celebrations of the Christian church, and the only two holy days they observed until the fourth century. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection, where sin, death and Satan were conquered. Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit’s descending on believers as recorded in the Book of Acts, shortly after Christ returned to His Father. At the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Easter Sunday was finally declared so as to regularize the date of observance. Previously, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was commemorated around Passover, as many of the early Christians were of Jewish descent. Many scholars believing the Last Supper was...Chris Thompson
Last Sunday I attended Forgiveness Sunday services at Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church and St. John Orthodox Cathedral, both churches in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Each service was conducted with pastoral admonitions to members about the importance of asking forgiveness of each other for the sins and slights committed toward the other. Rev. Vasili Hillhouse of Holy Transfiguration said he needed his congregation’s forgiveness to continue in his role as their pastor. At St. John Orthodox, as the Rev. Marc Dunaway gave instructions for the forgiveness services, he said, “I know I need it.” Both pastors shared insights about observing Lent in proper ways to stay focused on their spiritual journey to Pascha. The journey is aided by the Great Fast. Wesley Smith, in "First Things...Chris Thompson
It’s been more than a month since Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent at many local churches. Easter will be celebrated March 27, yet Orthodox churches won’t start observing Great Lent until March 14. Orthodox Easter, Pascha (Pah-ska), is celebrated May 1, more than a month later than other Christian faiths. Why so late? Blame it on Julius Caesar and the astronomically based Julian calendar. Some Orthodox follow the Gregorian calendar for certain portions of the church year such as Christmas. Others follow the Julian calendar for the entire year. A detailed discussion of the calendar and connected issues would consume this and subsequent columns. The three strains of Orthodox in Alaska: Antiochian, Greek and OCA (formerly Russian Orthodox), all use the Julian calendar for Lent and...Chris Thompson
Christian creeds, developed during the early days of the church, are summary statements of Christian belief. One of the earliest, the Apostles’ Creed, had developed by the fourth century from predecessors that may date as far back as the first or second century. In its current form it reads: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church...Chris Thompson
Two and a half weeks ago, Lent began for a large portion of Christianity with Ash Wednesday (Orthodox churches begin observing Lent on March 13). Some local Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal clergy brought “ashes to the people” in downtown Anchorage that day. I applaud this approach because it brings clergy to the people, instead of people expecting to have to go to clergy. This may be Christianity at its best. “Sharing ashes on the street is an opportunity for Christians to practice very public theology, said participant Nico Romeijn-Stout, pastor of discipleship and social justice at St. John United Methodist Church and one of those clergy. “Our practice was to take a moment with each person asking their name and how we can be in prayer with and for them. Even in a short moment a...Chris Thompson

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