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Alaska Life

After 47 years, an Anchorage pastor takes the pulpit one last time

After 47 years as pastor of Anchorage's Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, the Rev. Alonzo Patterson Jr. stepped behind the pulpit for the last time Sunday morning and brought down the house with a rafter-shaking final sermon.

The first real snow of winter had fallen outside, but the inside of the church was so packed that people fanned themselves in the heat. The sermon was a reflection on building houses, something Patterson said Jesus knew a thing or two about as a carpenter.

He told the congregation that the house of worship he'd been working in for nearly a half century would continue and thrive after he stepped aside.

"When founders fade, foundations still stand!" he said, hoarse from exhorting the congregation to the back-beat of a drum and keyboard and chorus of "amen" from the crowd.

In the audience was U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan. Other dignitaries had honored Patterson, 80, at a retirement dinner the night before.

In nearly five decades at the helm of Alaska's biggest African-American church, Patterson has preached thousands of sermons, officiated weddings, presided over funerals and baptized hundreds of babies.

His role as the leader of a prominent church and his longtime involvement with various Anchorage community organizations – he was a founder of Bridge Builders – knit him into the fabric of the city.

A program handed out at the service included tributes from figures ranging from former President Barack Obama to the owner of the Arctic Roadrunner restaurants, who called himself a "longtime acquaintance and friend."

Delivering a final sermon as pastor gave Patterson a moment of "emotional rise," he said Monday in an office at the church, quiet after five days of nonstop retirement celebrations.

He said he isn't sad. The new pastor, Undra Parker, is now in charge, but Patterson is a pastor emeritus. He'll still attend services. He'll also work on behalf of the national organization of Baptist churches helping other congregations in Alaska.

"It's not closure," he said. "You're not leaving people, you're not leaving ministry. It's just an office relocation."

In retirement, he says he will focus on helping struggling young people and families.

"Working as a pastor I see the brokenness in our community," he said. "Young men whose lives are being torn apart because of generational neglect. I see the impact of chemicals. The degradation of incarceration."

He said he wants to use his connections to "hold politicians' feet to the fire" in asking for support for programs he believes will help solve some of the problems he sees.

"I tell my people, don't be afraid of the political system because there's nothing in their lives or this place that is not impacted by politics."

Born in New Orleans, Patterson came to Alaska with the military in 1962. He was stationed in Fairbanks for seven years before moving to Anchorage and becoming the pastor of Shiloh in 1970.

Anchorage has changed in just about every way since then, he said, from the skyline to attitudes about social issues, family roles and race.

"Things like same-sex marriage — which I grossly disagree with — yet if that's where you're at, that's where I have to meet you," he said.

And though Shiloh is known as the largest African-American congregation in Anchorage, the church, like the city, has become more multicultural over the years, as new populations have moved into the city and families have blended, Patterson said.

On his 80th birthday, Reverend Dr. Alonzo B. Patterson gave his last sermon on Sunday. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

"We've discovered each other, and love doesn't have any bars around it. It happens where it happens, and that's part of the joy," he said.

Patterson said he's proud of what the church has become. He started to talk about Scripture.

"Greater is our love for each other than our differences and issues," he said and then paused. "Oh watch out, I'll slide into preaching again."

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