Chris Thompson

This Sunday, Advent Sunday, signals two significant events in many denominations. First, the church year for many mainline denominations begins. Second, Advent begins: an annual period of about four weeks before Christmas, which for 1,500 years has been marked by fasting, repentance, hoping and prayerfully pondering the first and second Advents. Advent offers real meaning to the season, especially providing teachable moments for children and those new to the Christian faith. While Advent is primarily observed by Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as mainline Protestant denominations such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran and Congregational, other denominations are also slowly adopting its observance. Sadly, for many Christians, Advent only marks the time between...Chris Thompson
This coming Thursday, Thanksgiving will be celebrated across the U.S. Our community goes out of its way to ensure everyone has a place at the table for a hearty and filling Thanksgiving meal. One way this is accomplished is through the local Thanksgiving Blessing, coordinated by the Food Bank of Alaska with the support of the local faith and nonprofit community. Over 8,000 families will be served in this year’s Thanksgiving Blessing in Anchorage, with an additional 2,000 in the Valley. Thanksgiving meals, including turkey and all the fixings, will be distributed Monday, at six Anchorage locations. From 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. families in need can go to the following locations (based on zip codes; visit or call 211 for more information): Crosspoint Church at the Burlington...Chris Thompson
I recently revisited a local mainline church I’ve attended off and on for the past eight years. A new team of clergy -- including people I’d never met -- was leading. During the service, I began remembering different faces I’d known and heard in years past at this church; three permanent senior pastors, and two interim pastors who each served a year during the transition. Five pastors in eight years is not a great track record. Admittedly, the first of the five pastors to leave had been there for a few years prior to transitioning into a new role in local governance, but tragically this church averaged 1.6 years per pastor for the years of my attendance. Church researchers say five is the magic number of years for a pastor to start becoming effective, and five to 14 years is the period of...Chris Thompson
The other night I visited a local church for a music extravaganza where I was taken aback by statements I heard about religion. The onstage announcer said several times they didn’t follow religion, but were driven by Jesus Christ. And all the people said amen, vociferously shouting their approval. I know many of those present came from churches organized around strong religious principles. It started my thinking about what religion really is. Most dictionary definitions of religion are stated along these lines: “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It was interesting that many songs sung that night expressed those same thoughts. Maybe it’s a problem of whipped up enthusiasm for a false idea, or liking to hear the sound of one’s...Chris Thompson
A gentle knoll at Lake Otis Parkway and Tudor Road, one of Anchorage’s busiest intersections, houses a beautiful sanctuary overlooking the Chugach Mountains. It’s also home for a remarkable congregation dedicated to common worship, earnest study and being a caring presence for God in our community. This uncommon Episcopal congregation, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, has attracted my attention for many years. Although I’m not a member, I’m always treated as one, something I rarely experience among other Anchorage churches. Before I started visiting churches and writing about those visits, I had an opportunity to attend this church almost 15 years ago. The occasion was the wedding of a couple I knew. That first visit awakened in me a curiosity about the church and its people. The view of the...Chris Thompson
My Sept. 11 column about Thomas Merton’s brief stay in Alaska jolted Merton memories across the U.S. Then Pope Francis invoked a memory of Merton in his recent address to Congress. In this column, I’m sharing several voices of those who contacted me about Merton in the days that followed. One amazing story comes from John Smelcer, former 20-year resident of Eagle River. He wrote, saying: “This spring and summer, I came into possession of all of Thomas Merton's personal possessions, including all the clothes you've ever seen him wear, including his religious clothing, and his Gethsemani work clothes. The treasure trove also included previously unknown photographs, letter, and the last poem he ever wrote, stuffed in a pocket of the clothes that were returned from Thailand with his body. The...Chris Thompson
After 15 years of attending Anchorage churches, I still look forward to visiting new denominations or congregations. Recently I was able to add a new group to my list: Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many of us have been visited by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses distributing their literature and trying to engage us in conversation about religious issues. Recently, I visited a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation to see firsthand how they present themselves to one coming in unannounced. My primary motive was to see if they represented the degree of diversity, noted in Pew Research data and my last column, which ranked the Jehovah’s Witnesses as the second most diverse religious group nationally. It was difficult locating local JW churches on the Internet. Instead of websites, I found Facebook pages for...Chris Thompson
In July, Pew Research released a new analysis of data from their 2014 Religious Landscape study . Twenty-nine religious groups were categorized by racial diversity, including percent of adherents by race and Herfindahl-Hirschman Index, widely used by demographers to quantify diversity. According to Pew data, the top four most racially diverse U.S. religious groups are as follows: Seventh-day Adventist with 37 percent white, 32 percent black, 8 percent Asian, 15 percent Latino, 8 percent “other,” and an H-H Index of 9.1; Muslims are 38 percent white, 28 percent black, 28 percent Asian, 4 percent Latino, and 3 percent other, with an H-H Index of 8.7; Jehovah’s Witnesses are 36 percent white, 27 percent black, 32 percent Latino, 6 percent other, and have an H-H Index of 8.6; and U.S...Chris Thompson
In August, I was privileged to attend the annual Eagle River Institute at St. John Orthodox Cathedral in Eagle. I was fascinated to hear a series of lectures on “Christianity in the Arab World” by the Rev. George H. Shaloub, pastor of The Basilica of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia, Michigan. Shaloub was raised in Syria, and trained at a monastery in Lebanon. Before returning to Livonia, Shaloub graciously fielded some questions on religious diversity, eschatology, monasticism and marriage. Early in our conversation, I mentioned a Pew Research global religious diversity study from last year that, based on 2010 data, found that 31.5 percent of the world’s population identified as Christian, compared to 23 percent as Muslim and predicted Muslims will exceed Christians by 2050...Chris Thompson
Entering Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral last Sunday afternoon, I was greeted by the glorious strains of “Lift High the Cross” being practiced by an accomplished musical group. This was a foretaste of a wonderful experience to come centered around a centuries-old tradition harking back to the crusades in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. This celebration capped three days of ceremonial meetings of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Northwestern Lieutenancy of the United States composed of Northern California and the states of Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Alaska. With 13 council cities in the Lieutenancy, Anchorage hosts meetings approximately every 10 years. A Vigil at Arms had previously been held on Friday at Holy Family Cathedral,...Chris Thompson