Chris Thompson

My first Ash Wednesday service was in Chicago, some 45 years ago. In a new career position, I’d just been trained by someone who’d formerly followed my beliefs, but had discovered the joys of being Episcopalian. Jack, who enjoyed shocking me with belief practices foreign to my way of thinking, encouraged me to join him for Ash Wednesday services at a large Episcopal church. I was invited to receive the imposition of ashes, but, overwhelmed by the music, liturgy and unfamiliar practice, declined, unable to grasp it all. Since then, I’ve received the ashes and over time, this spiritual practice became very important to me. The service marks the beginning of Lent, and focuses worshippers on Lent’s meaning and relationship to Easter. Ash Wednesday falls 40 days, plus six Sundays (nonfast days...Chris Thompson
Well, it’s happening again. The Rev. Norman Elliott of All Saints Episcopal Church will celebrate another birthday Feb. 2, his 97th. It’s extremely rare to find clergy still active at his age. Elliott’s ministry and friendships have touched thousands of Alaskans and beg recognition while he’s still with us. Elliott retired in 1990 at age 70, a church requirement then, but came out of retirement two years ago to act as "priest-in-charge" at All Saints when their previous rector departed with little notice. The Rev. David Terwilliger has been selected as All Saints’ new rector and will be installed by the Right Rev. Mark Lattime, bishop of Alaska, at Easter. Recently Elliott was hospitalized with pneumonia. Still recovering, he maintains an active schedule of worship and hospital visits...Chris Thompson
For several years, I’ve written about issues churches face in the failure of attracting millennials -- at least as we currently understand that word. Pew Research defines millennials as the demographic group that fell between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2015 and projects that they number about 75.3 million , slightly surpassing the projected 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51 to 69). As I visit churches, in many I’m seeing fewer attendees I would identify as being in the 18-29 year range. In any organization, this group would ordinarily be the lifeblood that carries an organization into the future. (This is true not only for churches but also for civic and fraternal organizations such as Rotary Clubs and Masonic Lodges.) But not all churches are losing millennials. In mid-November I attended...Chris Thompson
Last week I attended Orthodox services at St. Alexis Mission in celebration of Christmas. The Orthodox Church in America counts nearly 90 churches across Alaska , and congregations here, and in Canada and 14 other countries, celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, a practice harkening back to the church’s beginnings. The church in these regions follows a modified Julian calendar. (Locally, Greek and Antiochian Orthodox celebrate the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25 using the Gregorian calendar for dating Christmas.) In Alaska, Orthodox churches conduct Divine Liturgy services at 9 a.m. When a place of worship becomes too small, they do not add services but form a new body, i.e. mission, for the purpose of raising a new church. St. Alexis Mission meets at the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association...Chris Thompson
As I write this column, it’s Epiphany, a holiday on traditional church calendars that I’d never previously observed -- though for most of my life I understood its meaning. Epiphany celebrates the visit by the Magi, or wise men, to the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, a story told in Matthew 2. Although the gifts of the Magi tend to be linked by popular custom to Christmas, it has little to do with that tradition. The Magi traveled to Jerusalem led by a star. Seeking King Herod, they asked (as rendered the New International Version): “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Herod did not know to whom they were referring and inquired of the Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law what this meant. He was told the Messiah...Chris Thompson
When I write about churches I visit, I am really visiting congregations or assemblies of people. They may or may not meet in a dedicated building. For Christians, the biblical term for church is taken from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” When people refer to their churches, often they’re referring to a specific building, but my columns tend to focus on churches as a congregation made up of its members, including leaders -- and this column is no exception. In this year’s top 10 list, I’m offering recommendations that can strengthen and maintain strong Christian congregations. But they’re not only for church leaders: Individual church members must also take responsibility for their congregations. Leaders alone cannot achieve what their church...Chris Thompson
During my forays into the local faith community in 2015 I experienced an intriguing mix of sights, sounds, venues and celebrations. This week I’ll briefly describe some that made lasting impressions. Next week I focus on my perennial quest regarding what I’d like to see churches tackle in 2016. These impressions are mine alone, and omission isn’t intended as a slight to any faith-based organization in Anchorage. Faith community support of social causes As the years go by, I’m increasingly enthusiastic when local faith organizations and their members go out of their way supporting charitable causes such as Thanksgiving Blessing, Crop Hunger Walk, food banks and food distribution programs, kids programs, etc. There is sufficient need in our community, and these efforts show that, for the...Chris Thompson
As you read this, the Christmas season is approaching a climax. Before Christmas passes, I’d like to suggest a few activities to help make the most of your observances of this Christmas season. These practices will, I believe, help make the holiday’s meaning and message more real. “Christians celebrate Christmas because they see, in the person of Jesus, God’s reign in-breaking amidst the sin, pain, despair and seemingly endless cycles of violence in our world,” says Rector Michael Burke. “The traditional teaching of Advent is threefold: to prepare for the birth of the Messiah, in the form of the tiny Christ child, in a place known only to those for whom the world has no place (or 'room').” Advent observers experiencing a period of watchful waiting for the Messiah may be better prepared...Chris Thompson
Let’s face it: Our stories about Christmas originate from the Gospels, particularly Matthew and Luke, but we don’t really know when Christ was born. Many scholars tend to favor spring as the most likely time of year. This is based on the account of shepherds watching over their flocks by night, something more likely to have taken place in spring than winter. We probably celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 because of efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to co-opt pagan celebrations held around the winter solstice. It was also the birthday of Mithra, the pagan god of light. On the darkest day of the year, Roman pagans celebrated by lighting up the night with fires to repel the dark. Saturnalia, the ancient Roman festival of Saturn, was also celebrated in December, with often-unrestrained...Chris Thompson
Last Sunday was the first in the season of Advent. That morning I visited three churches along the O’Malley Road corridor. In last Saturday’s column, I mentioned that not all churches observe Advent, and on Sunday, I set out to visit several services to see what different congregations do during this liturgical season. Amazing Grace Lutheran Church My visits to Amazing Grace over the years have been satisfying, providing deep spiritual experiences. This time of year they offer three services: 8:15, 9:30 and 11 a.m. The sanctuary was decorated with white poinsettias, especially massed around a rough-hewn altar. An Advent wreath with four blue candles and one white one was positioned on the left. A trimmed Christmas tree was on the right side. Five banners hung from the large sanctuary...Chris Thompson

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