Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Pageant, a Feast, a Funeral and a Wedding

Grace and greetings.

A pageant, a feast, a funeral and a wedding; that is how we will be finishing out the year 2007 at Utqiagvik Presbyterian Church. In a way, it is almost like the scripture reading tonight, (Matthew 2.13-23), they had the pageantry of Jesus’ birth, the feast of visitors, the funeral of the Slaughter of Innocents and the celebration of returning to home land.

In the midst of the Christmas story, of joy and excitement, we come upon the story of Herod killing the innocent children just because of his fear of being replaced as King. How sad it is that the realm of Christ was misunderstood then as much as it is now. We read of the horrors of children being killed, and move on with Jesus as he and his family move to Egypt and back again. And yet the horrors of war and other atrocities come across our computer and/or television screens and we mourn for those who died, then quickly check the sports page to make sure the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys both lost. (I guess it is kind of hard since they are two different sports with different seasons, but I can always dream).

But just like the funeral last week, death is a part of life. It is a part that we do not always understand, so we fear it. We are sad when it happens, we will miss the person who died, if we knew them, and then go on with our morning coffee. Hopefully there are days and events that make us want to stop and demand justice for the people who have died, whether by the hands of somebody else or death itself. In the story of Herod and the slaughter, we want justice and revenge. In the case of the wars going on throughout the world, we want the leaders to be held accountable for the actions of the armies they control. Just like following World War II and the wars where we hold trials for “Crimes against Humanity”; but isn’t war a crime against humanity in of itself?

Then we hear the words of Jesus, to love and forgive. Forgive the Slaughter of the Innocents? Whether the slaughter was two thousand years ago or earlier this morning? We are called to love and forgive so that we may come to the wedding feast and celebrate.

When it is hard to forgive somebody because of a cruel statement, how much harder is it to forgive somebody who is responsible for the death of millions? We are not called to judge, only God gets to do the judging. We are called to love and forgive, to speak out and act to protect…but to carry forth judgments of punishment of hell, that is for God. Nobody said that following God’s path was easy.

May you have a very blessed New Year.

Peace and blessings.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday evening

Grace and greetings.

It is the night before Christmas Eve. Anticipation of tomorrow and Christmas day runs through our very selves, and yet, we each approach Christmas differently. We all have different experiences with the Christmas season, and they affect how we see the Christmas holiday. Most of us experience the highs of the season, but yet still experience the lows of expectations not met. Sometimes maybe we are expecting too much of this one day or time of the year.

I have the usual memories of childhood that most probably go through; the anticipation, the expectation, guessing what the gifts are, imagining what I could do with them. I remember one year I got a running suit, and I thought the suit was going to make me a better and faster runner, of course it had no impact upon my ability to run.

This will be my 51st Christmas; some I would love to relive again, and others I have long forgotten. But I keep coming back to one Christmas scene in my mind, and I replay it every year that I can: I think it was our first winter in Anchorage, I went to the candlelight service at Immanuel and came home in the quiet. When I got home, everybody else was already in bed asleep. As per our family tradition, the Christmas tree lights were only lights in the house along with the full moon outside. I sat down on the couch, and I just sat. I sat looking at the tree, and out the big picture window we had in the living room. Something in the dark and quiet was comforting. I sat there praying and talking to God, saying Happy Birthday once again. I find that is the Christmas memory that I think of the most; just sitting quietly with only the lights from the Christmas tree. Each year, I find myself repeating the scene.

Christmas is a time of relationships, of joy, and renewal. For many people, joy comes being with and around others. For this introvert, I find the renewal of spirit in the quiet place, where I spend some quality time with myself and God. I do not get caught up in the expectation of the commercialism of the season, just being “present” with God and myself is my greatest gift of all.
So I wish for you, that you are present with your God and family during this Christmas day, for that is the true reason of this Season, that God is born again anew in you.

Peace and blessings.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Cold Front Hits the Arctic Coast

Grace and greetings.

Just like throughout much of the northern part of the United States and Canada, it is turning deadly cold here as well. In the last two days, the weather has dropped to -50 below, and that is BEFORE considering in the wind chill. This afternoon, I was one of the lucky ones to get the church's Ford Expedition to start. Fortunately, the breeze that we have is not that strong, around 5 to 10 m/p/h; but even that slow breeze drops the temperature fast.

But life still goes on here in Barrow. Tomorrow we will be having a funeral and burial. As I have commented before, the family is responsible for digging the grave, preparing the body, and the burial. I ask for prayers for the family that nobody is hurt or injured in the bitter cold during the burial.

The last couple of days, even the church feels cold, with the new boilers working overtime to keep the church above freezing.

Well it is time to get back with the Christmas Pageant practice; Merry Christmas to all.

Peace and blessings.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Winter has arrived...

Grace and greetings.

Yes, it is December, and Christmas is next week, though I am still having a hard time believing it. The church is busy trying to get the Christmas Pageant ready, which open to the whole congregation to participate rather than just the Sunday School. This year it started out late because of several different situations happening at the same time, so there is a rush to get it done by Monday night.

Then there is the Christmas Feast, which is just like the Thanksgiving Feast, only for Christmas . There is the setting up of the materials, covering the floor again, and getting the people lined up.

As if that is not enough to do, we will be having a funeral this weekend to confuse the other activities as well.

The temperature has dropped as well. This week it has been averaging around -22 degrees. Fortunately, there has been only a light breeze to go with the cold, when the wind picks up, of course the wind chill will drop far below the present heat wave.

Hope all is well, and your Christmas is fantastic if I do not make anymore entries between now and then.

Peace and blessings.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mid-December already?

Grace and greetings.

Here it is December 13th already, and I am still wondering what happened to October and November. Though winter has set in here on the North Slope, I still have a hard time believing how fast this year is going by, Faster and faster every year.

I know I am in trouble already, as today is my baby brother's 44th birthday, I have purchased only one Christmas present. Though it seems that the way to buy Christmas presents now is over the Internet, I am still way behind on my gift giving.

Anyway, Happy Birthday little bro.

Peace and blessings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Busted boiler and broken pipes

Grace and greetings.

After causing problems for the last couple of months, and spewing glycol every couple of weeks, the boiler for the Christian Education wing finally gave up and died completely. The church had been running on one boiler for so long, nobody remembered when the other one died, and was to be replaced. So on Saturday night we decided to replace the boiler completely, (what other choice did we really have?). Of course finding two boilers was going to be the question. We were told that it could take any where from one to six weeks to the the situation fixed. With the outside temperature ranging from 5 to 20 degrees we had to worry about the water pipes freezing and busting. So we shut down the water, which included the only bathrooms in the entire building and prayed for the best.

Monday morning we were told that two boilers were found in Anchorage, and would be sent up as soon as possible, it all depended on when the airlines could get the space to ship them up. We notified the different people who rent office space in the building, from city, state and federal agencies, to let them know that the heat and water were all gone. We made it through the first week okay, with the hope that the boilers would be here soon.

They arrived Friday, and the workers from Barrow Mechanical worked all day Saturday to install the boilers. We had heat for Sunday, but still no water. Somebody donated a honey bucket to be used for Sunday School while waiting for the water to be turned on. The water company came by on Sunday afternoon to reinstall the water gauges and turn the water back showers to people and our new boilers as the water pipes upstairs had frozen over the week. Monday morning, Barrow Mechanical was back on the scene and by yesterday afternoon, the water problem had been fixed, the bathrooms were working and we had heat for the workers in the offices. The honey bucket was picked up this afternoon, so all is well....until Barrow Mechanical gets back with us with the bill.

Well, we have a new heating system for the Christian Education Building and hopefully water and heat for the cold weather to come, January, February and March.

With prayers of a safe and warm holiday season for all of you,

Peace and blessings.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Open Seas

Grace and greetings.

There are discussions taking place through out the world pointing to Barrow and the North Polar Ice Cap as their proof. Some are saying that there is global warming and it is affecting the area as well as the world. The two seas that meet at Point Barrow, Beaufort Sea to the east and Chukchi Sea to the west; they are part of the other bodies of water that make up the Arctic Ocean. With the winds and currents as high as they have been this winter, and winters of the past several years, the waters are still open as of today. There have been times where it looks like it will freeze over, but the winds and currents break it up.

The other side of the argument is that this is how the cycles of Nature go. There are times of cold, and times of warmth. Eighteen (18) years ago, Barrow made world news because three bowhead whales were trapped in the frozen over seas and leads were cut in the ice to get the whales to open water. That took place in late September and early October. Now the whales would have no problem getting back to the Pacific Ocean. I was talking with somebody the other night who said he remembered in the 60's and 70's there would already be four to seven feet of frozen ice out in front of Barrow in December. I also spoke with someone earlier this year who remembers swimming in the lakes and ocean growing up as a child, during the summer of course!

Several people have commented on how mild the winters have been of the last several years. Of decades past, December is usually around zero degrees Fahrenheit, but now it is around 20 degrees above zero. So the debate continues...

Anyway, I wanted to get another blog posted this week, two in two days, Oh wow...

I pray all is well with you and your families.

Peace and blessings.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It Has Been a While

Grace and Greetings.

It has been a while since my last post, so I thought I had better get something up.

To answer the major question on everybody's minds, yes the sun has now set for the year. Though it set on November 18th, we still get some light for a couple of hours at the moment, but I am sure that will be gone too here soon.

The weather has not been that bad here, averaging between 15-25 degrees above. The fun is not the temperature itself, but the wind chill, with winds up to about 30 miles an hour. There was one day last week that got down to -15 then add the 15 mile an hour wind, and it was cold.

Thanksgiving here is a little different as well. The majority of the people gather at the church for a service on Thanksgiving day, then they have a feast. The feast is all traditional foods, starting with duck or caribou soup; fried bread; Eskimo ice cream, (whipped caribou fat with some meat in it); muktuk and of course the whale meat from the hunts earlier in the year. The whole church is prepared three days before the feast by having plastic sheets and cardboard covering ALL the floor space; people cook at home and then come to the church early in the morning and get ready to share the feast with all that show up. The service started at about noon, the feast started about one, and they were through serving people about 4:30. By 7 pm you would never had known that the feast had happened, except for the particular smells that come with the prepared food.

We will be having another feast this Christmas, but that involves a week long celebration between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Until next time, hopefully it will be MUCH sooner, thank you for sharing your time with me.

Peace and Blessings.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Trying to get back

Grace and greetings.

My physical and emotional low points are still keeping from working on this blog. It just seems that I do not have the mental capacity to say anything witty or worthwhile, (not that I have said anything witty or worthwhile anyway).

Now to answer the question most people ask, no it is not completely dark yet. The sun will be setting for the winter in a couple of weeks, then will re-appear again at the end of January. Winter has hit here, snow and cold blowing winds, with the temps around 20 degrees above zero Fahrenheit.

I am not sure that I had mentioned this before, but the addresses here run a little different than other places. Here, each building has it's own "house number", this includes the garages and sheds. Though the Church is 1268 Agvik St., we would only have to say 1268 for people to find it. ("Agvik" means Bowhead Whale) Of course it would helps to know which street houses are on, because like in other places, the numbers do not always follow the same pattern, 2500 may not be on the same street as 2700, nor just two streets away.

Well, I am late for another meeting, so I will sign off for now, just trying to get back into the swing of things...

Peace and blessings.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Making a comeback

Grace and greetings.

It has been a couple of months now since I last wrote, and I thank you for the readers who let me know that I have not written for a while.

Since the last time I wrote, as you can guess, much has happened.

In Barrow, the weather has changed. Since the end of September, we have had snow. The average temperature has not really dropped that much, it has been around 25 degrees above Zero for the last couple of weeks. The ice has finally returned to the Barrow shoreline. Most years the ice flow comes in and out of Barrow all year long, but this summer we had not seen the ice since it left in early July. The missing ice flow has caused problems the nature here above the Arctic Circle, walruses, seals and polar bears do not have the ice flows to live off of or give birth off of. In Greenland they are growing vegetables they have never been able to grow before. Whether it is Global Warming or the cycle of time, I do not know, but what ever it is, it is not good for up here.

I have been fighting a cough and bronchitis for the last couple of months, which is part of the reason I have just not felt like writing. My wife got sick just after we returned from Wisconsin for her mother's memorial service. The flights back left me with plugged ears for about a week, which meant more pain and a loss of hearing. Since returning from Wisconsin, both my wife and son have tested positive for strep. All three of us are recovering slowly. (I thank my daughter for catching a spelling error,strep, but she missed the other one).

Now is the time to get something to eat to keep up my strength. I find that I tend to not eat, then get too tired to work or do anything...eating on a regular basis just might be a good thing.

Peace and blessings to all.

Monday, August 27, 2007

School is in session

Grace and greetings.

The season of change is upon us. The sun has started setting, though it is only for a little bit right now. Of course it will continue to get darker longer as the nights go by. The economy is looking a little brighter here, gasoline has dropped 10 cents a gallon, all the way down to $4.45 a gallon. That is still less expensive than milk, which comes out of the store at $8.99 a gallon.

Our son celebrated his seventeenth birthday last week. Then got to start school the next day.

School has been very frustrating at the moment. I made contact with the school the first week I was here, back during Easter in early April. Then again when we officially arrived the first week of May. Of course, the school was in their last week when we arrived. We were assured that meetings will be had in a timely fashion so that everybody will be ready for the start of the new school year.

With the turn over of teachers in the Bush, (outside Anchorage or Fairbanks), and an unexpected resignation, our meeting never happened. The first week of school came and our son was not registered. Of course to complicate matters, we were not sure how many credits had transferred from Seattle, since he missed out on the entire last quarter. Though this is his third year of high school, which means he should be a junior, he could still be a sophomore or even a second semester freshman because of his hospitalizations in the previous years.

Friday, we finally had a meeting with the school to get our son registered and a temporary class schedule. Even then, not all departments were in communication with each other. The special education department had not communicated with the headquarters, and the transcripts were misfiled, misplaced or could not be found just yet. But, we have things going forward now, (I hope).

Tonight I start my first class of Conversational Inupiat. We will see how that goes.

Peace and blessings to all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

American Football arrives in the North Slope

Grace and greetings.

I do not know if you have heard or not, but Barrow, Alaska now has its own football field. That may not seem too extreme until you consider all that is involved.

Last year, they decided to try football, all eleven players on the field at one time. The borough leveled out a field with gravel and marked it with corn flower. The Barrow Whalers had a couple of home games with high school teams from the Fairbanks area, and played three more out in Fairbanks and Anchorage areas. One must consider that the nearest football team is three hundred miles away, and the only way to get into and out of Barrow is by plane; a football team is expensive enough, but add on $600.00 tickets per team MEMBER per game. It adds up quickly.

The promotion was to help build character, not just a macho sport. Some people backed the idea and they had their first season. In the meantime, ESPN hears of the football team in the frozen north, and runs a news story on it. So much for the grand experiment and 15 seconds of news fame.

Well a business woman in Florida heard the story. She thought to herself, "wouldn't it be great if they did not have to play on the gravel, but on a real football field?" She started to ask around northern Florida about the possibility of getting an artificial field to Barrow. I understand her husband was a former NFL player, still with contacts and her sons also play high school football. She made some telephone calls and started getting serious about the field. During the winter and spring, she raised the $500,000 for the artificial turf, now just to get it to Barrow.

After a few setbacks and a few surprises, everything fell into place. The field is in the Blue and White colors of the High School. After all was said and done, we now have an artificial football field in Barrow, Alaska. If all bills were paid the "normal" way, this field cost close to one million dollars. But a lot of time, materials and transportation cost ended up being donated to the cause. And it is a beautiful football field.

The Barrow Whalers played the Seward Seahawks for it first official game Friday night. The Whalers were the first to score in the second quarter, but Seward came back to take a 7-6 lead at halftime. The third quarter was going mostly Seward's way, and I headed home. But to make this story come out with a happy ending, with thirty seconds left in the game, Barrow scored the winning touchdown to win their opening game on the new field.

It is a wonderful and touching story of how one person had a dream to reach out to a community four thousand miles away. I pray the million or so it took to make it a reality here in Barrow is able to be a wise, well spent gift for not only the Barrow High School, the community and the North Slope as a whole.

Peace and blessings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday noon

Grace and greetings.

The rainy season has hit Barrow. It has been overcast and rainy for the last several days, which makes everything muddy. Since the roads are just dirt to begin with, it makes for one great big muddy mess.

The sun will start setting this week for the first time since we moved here. (The fount size just changed, and I am not sure how to change it back, or what I did to change it in the first place. I found the fount size change, I guess I had it on small all this time.) Now getting back to the setting of the sun...since it has been overcast for the last several days, I am not sure if the sun has started setting yet, or if it will be in a couple of days. Though Sunday morning at 1:00, the sun bouncing off the clouds lit up the sky with a beautiful red and different shades all across the horizon.

Of course, with the setting of the sun, means that the seasons are changing. Here winter will be on its way all too soon. The sun will set for the last time this year sometime in November.

A couple congregation members have commented on how warm and dry this past summer has been. It has been one of the more pleasant summers in a long time. Some worry that the ice have not been flowing in and out of sight in Barrow. I guess usually one can see ice throughout the summer, but not this year, the ocean has been ice free since it left in June or July.

Kim's mother, Polly, was cremated last week. We are still trying to figure out a way where all three of us can go to Wisconsin for a service with the rest of her family. They are wanting to do it sometime in September before school starts in Madison. Of course, everything being equal, school starts here next week. Some church members are trying to help us get to Wisconsin, but Alaska Airlines has a monopoly here, so it can charge what it wants. To fly from Barrow to Anchorage is about $600.00 per person. Then we would have to fly out of Anchorage to Wisconsin. Right now, the fare is about $1800 per person, but we are exploring different ways that we can find the tickets.

Well, I think I am going to go and get some lunch to eat.

Peace and blessings to all.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Following Polly

Grace and greetings.

This is a quick follow up post to yesterday. (Wow, two days in a row...:-))

In answer to my daughter's question, what was the gain? The gain was that she died peacefully and is no longer struggling with this life.

I found out earlier today that we will be able to bury Polly's ashes between her parents in Lena, Illinois. The question is when. The thought was to have a service for her before school starts. But school starts here in Barrow in two weeks, where as in Wisconsin they still have a month or so.

There has been a HUGE response from the congregation here in trying to find ways to get Kim, Sam and myself to Wisconsin for the service. At least now, we have a few weeks to work with. Now if only I could have my daughter and family to move up here from Birmingham, Alabama, things would be perfect, (at least for me).

Peace and blessings.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Loss and A Gain

Grace and greetings.

Saturday morning my mother-in-law died peacefully in her sleep. She had been suffering the affects of several strokes and living in a nursing home the last several years.

Polly was a wonderful and strong woman. She was born to a Scottish family of thirteen in 1929. She was put up for adoption and raised by her parents in a small German community of Lena, Illinois. She grew up with the violin under her chin and played professionally in Rockford and Chicago, Illinois. Looking like pictures of Audrey Hepburn, she married at a young age to a World War II veteran and young teacher. They had three children together, a son and two daughters. My wife grew up listening to her mother play the violin, give lessons and even get frustrated when she, (Polly), could not get a particular run down on the violin.

Polly followed her husband faithfully as he went to University of Wisconsin for his Masters degree and then his PhD. He ended up being Superintendent of Schools in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Polly continued to play and teach the violin; working at the local library; raising three children, as well as typing most of her husband's papers. While in Wisconsin, the marriage finally fell apart and Polly divorced her husband.

Though she was raised in the Presbyterian Church, she became Roman Catholic for the sake of the marriage. In the community were they lived, she was denied communion at the local parish while her ex-husband, as Superintendent of Schools was allowed to participate in communion. She returned to her Presbyterian roots, and her daughters followed. My wife later became, (and still is), a Presbyterian Church (USA) Minister of the Word and Sacrament.

Following a heart attack and several aneurysms, she turned her life around for the cigarettes and Bourbon she was drinking to get through the divorce and aftermath. Arthritis had taken its toll on her arms and hands, and she could no longer lift up the violin to play any more. Her last several years before her major stroke was helping to raise her youngest granddaughter, while living with her youngest daughter's family. Though she surprised everybody, family and doctors alike, she came back from her stroke, until she had another one.

She was not able to recover this time around. She lost the ability to move her self around and to communicate. Her daughter was no longer able to care for Polly at home, so Polly lived the last several years in a nursing home. She still had her smile, and a twinkle in her eyes to tell people of her love for them. Unfortunately, we have not been able to see Polly since we moved from Pennsylvania to Seattle in 2003.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, if anybody were willing to donate in her name to the South Beach Chamber Ensemble, 827 16Th Street, Suite 12, Miami Beach, Florida 33139. This is a group that is led by a former student and "adopted son". If you are not able to make a donation to the South Beach Chamber Ensemble, maybe you can light a candle a say a prayer for Polly and her family.

Peace and blessings.

Friday, August 3, 2007

A Few Tales

Grace and greetings.

As I started out my last blog with prayers for the Korean Presbyterian Group, I again lift them up as I have not heard of any resolution as of this writing. Also, I lift up the people in Minnesota dealing with the I35 bridge collapse.

When I first moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1974 I was not sure what was going to happen. As I explained in my first blog, I came for six weeks and stayed a resident for thirteen years. While going to college and seminary outside of Alaska I loved to tell different stories.

One of the first, and I still tell, is the complaint from Texas about the size of Alaska. Texas claims to be number ONE in EVERYTHING. But in 1959 when Alaska became a state, Texas was reduced to be the SECOND largest state. To help heal Texas' feelings, I purpose that we divide Alaska into three, and make Texas the FOURTH largest state. No, Alaska is not that large, but almost, it is not quite three times the size of Texas.

When we moved here in 1974, there were four time zones in the state, the same as the Continental United States. If you were to put Alaska in scale on top of the Continental United States, you would have the pan handle (Sitka, Juneau, Skagway, etc) in the Carolinas; the North Slope, (were we are) would be in the Great Lake area of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota; then if you follow the Aleutian Chain, it would be WEST of Los Angeles, California. So when one speaks of what is Alaska like, it all depends on where you are at the time.

Another story I always wanted to send to Reader Digest is three quick lines.

"I love school here in Alaska, because come the summer time, the school melts."
"During the summers I use to work for the Alaska Railroad, and while training for
Cross Country I would have to run with a 357 strapped to my chest."
"If you wish to check on either of these stories, please check out the schools and buildings."

I did have to run with the 357 strapped to my chest for the brown bears, also known as the grizzle bear. Not that I would have been able to kill a grizzle with a 357, I could hope to scare it away. My thought was that if all else failed, I would save one bullet, ram the gun down the Bear's throat and pray. Understand that to kill a grizzle, you need to hit it in one of four places, and then it does not always mean the bear will "go down"; the brain, which is about the size of your fist sitting behind several inches of thick skull; the heart; the lungs; and the spinal cord. Again, just because the bullet finds these places does not mean that the bear will die instantly. Fortunately I never saw a bear while I was running, but we did see them while we were on duty working on the tracks.

Peace and blessings.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Prayers Answered

As a Presbyterian minister, I witness the answer of prayer many times. This past summer has been no exception. But before I go on, I am lifting up prayers for the Korean Presbyterian Church members who are being held captive in Afghanistan. Two members of the group have already been killed as of yesterday morning (31 July). I ask that you, the reader, also lift up prayers, not only for the Korean Presbyterian group, but for the entire Middle East, that we stop killing each other in the name of the same God.

Now that I have said that, I am going to comment on a few prayers answered here in Barrow this summer.

There was a member here in Barrow, (that while she was a student at the same seminary my wife and I attended, this member attended our wedding in Wausau, Wisconsin twenty two years ago) left with Breast Cancer to go to Anchorage for surgery and chemo therapy for the month of June. During the surgery, the doctors were able to get all of the cancer, so she was able to return home within the week and without the chemo treatments. She was back in the village for my installation on June 17. It was truly a blessing to have her back home.

The other story concerns the congregation, the community and the Board of Deacons. The deacons run the ONLY food bank in the community of Barrow, a community of 4,200. They would receive five to six calls a week for food. The deacons would meet with the family at the store, (only one grocery store in Barrow) and purchase food depending on the number of people in the family. A total of $250.00 could be spent for one family twice a quarter. The Board of Deacons responded to anybody and everybody, especially if there were children involved. The only time the Board really worried about families abusing the ministry is when the adults were drinking alcohol or using drugs rather than feeding their families. Being the only food bank in town, they were taking care of the whole community.

After spending almost $10,000.00 in the past five months, with little funds coming in, the bank account ran dry fast. The store allowed credit, but that was soon used up as well. It turned out that the Deacons were $4,000 in debt. They had to stop the food bank effectively immediately.

Of course, that night we had three families call in for food, we had to say "sorry". I mentioned the debt on Sunday morning and had them announce the decision to stop the food bank on the evening radio show the church host every Sunday evening. The next afternoon, one of the people helping to clean up the sanctuary found an envolope with a check for $1,000.00. By Wednesday night, another check for $500.00 was added to the fund. The next Sunday night, a very retired couple paid the remaining balance of the debt with a check for $3,000.

That was two weeks ago. The debt has been paid off, but the Board of Deacons still have little funds to continue the food bank, so they are still not able to buy food yet. They will be meeting next week to try and find another way to maintain the food bank for the community. Obviously, buying food at the moment of a phone call was not working. We are looking into buying bulk items, and then passing them out to families on a weekly basis. But this still requires the funds up front. Unfortunately in Barrow, we are a isolated community. We can not just drive to the next major town and get more food, everything has to be either flown in or by barge during a six to ten week open sea time frame. Anything coming by barge to get here this summer, left Seattle back in June.

The Board of Deacons are still trying to find a way to care for the community. They will be praying and trying to figure out how to be the best stewards of the gifts that God has bestowed upon them. I look forward to seeing how we can make this work.

Again, as this post is about answered prayers, I would ask that you continue to lift up the Board of Deacons, the Korean Presbyterians in Afganastan as well as the rest of Creation, as we all try to be wise stewards of the gifts bestowed upon us by our wonderful loving God.

Peace and blessings.

Friday, July 27, 2007

PYT, part II

I am commenting on my time at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT). Wednesday morning we were introduced to our "Small Groups". Each of the 4,400 participants were placed in small groups of consisting of 18-22 members. Since we were originally divided up with colors and then numbers, we were Purple group 7020 or Purple 20. We were asked to come up with our own name; I suggested the "Royal 20" since purple was the color of Royalty, but we ended up with "The Royal Twenty-Somethings". The small groups then meet once or twice a day for the remaining week.

The Royal Twenty-Somethings consisted of 17 youth from age 15 to 18, and three adults, the group leader, another Adult from Layfette, and myself. We figured that I probably the eldest in our group, as I was a senior in college when the next eldest person was born. The people were from all over the United States, New Jersey and New York to Florida, to New Mexico and California. There were several from that "other" large state of Texas and myself coming the farthest from Alaska.

By Wednesday afternoon and evening the 85 degree weather and exhaustion had caught up with me, so I basically slept from 5 PM, met with my "Huddle Group", at 11:15; four youth (two from Barrow, one from Anchorage and the other from Wyoming) that I checked in with each evening to see how their day went and to make sure they were there for curfew; then went back to sleep for the rest of the night. Since I had problems with heat stroke and heat exhaustion several times before, my Son was very worried about me. Fortunately, the heat was not too much of an issue throughout the week. It was hot, but not deadly.

The rest of the time at PYT was spent eating, in small groups, worship, free time and lights out by midnight. The theme of this years gathering was: "Hope In Our Midst". Of course with each of the scripture readings and stories we had to find the hope and despair. The bible stories used were: Noah and the Ark, The Good Samaritan, Jesus and the Woman at the Well, and Jesus and Peter walking on the Water.

There was a time for the students to receive information from the different Presbyterian Colleges and Seminaries. Unfortunately, Whitworth University, (they went from College to University starting 1 July 2007) had a table there, but nobody was present. Oh well. Also there was displays from Cokesbury, Serrve, a group for Young Presbyterian Women, Peacemaking, Self Development of People, among other groups.

This was the first conference were a Sabbath time was planned and used. Nothing was scheduled for Friday morning, breakfast was a sack meal handed out the night before. The majority of the people asked said they spent the time sleeping until noon or later. I can say that I actually got up before 10:30 A.M., very good for me. We met in small groups that afternoon to watch movies. We were divided into five groups to watch different movies; Goal, October Sky, Sister Act II, Anna and the Bee (not the right name, but sponsored by Starbucks), and another movie I can not think of at the moment. I saw Goal, about an illegal alien growing up in L.A. and being "discovered" by a former soccer scout to make it as a big star in the English Football League. There was despair and hope throughout the movie.

Our group from Barrow ended up missing the last worship on Sunday morning, as did probably about half of the participants, because of flight schedules home. We reversed our travel home, drove to Chicago, (this time without the wrong turns), flew to Seattle and with a 45 minute layover flew on to Anchorage. There our sister church, Immanuel Presbyterian, had sleeping bags and food waiting for us. We ate and then slept. Eight of us got up and went shopping at the Diamond Mall in South Anchorage, but had to be back within a couple of hours. Then we returned to the Anchorage International Airport, [a/k/a Ted Stevens International Airport, (money and power can still buy you things...)] arriving home in Barrow a little after 5:30 Monday afternoon.

I arrive just in time to told of another death in the community; thoughts of my first ten days went quickly through my mind. As it turns out the woman is going to be buried in another village, our prayers are with the family. Then Tuesday morning I returned to the office with Vacation Bible School already under way, having started the day before.

It is now Friday afternoon, I have survived Vacation Bible School, (not really involved other than being present), the bulletin is ready for Sunday Morning, and I think I have finally caught up with my sleep. Now I get to go home and catch up with the dishes my wife left for me during the week I was gone. (I will explain why later...)

Peace and blessings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


It has been several weeks since I last wrote any comments, so I thought I better get to it, especially now that I have actually told people of my blog. I now remember how difficult it is for me to keep a journal, daily or otherwise. I have several stories to tell and want to save them each for their own separate time. I will not be going in chronological order, but rather as I remember them.

I spent the last week at Purdue University for the Presbyterian Youth Triennium (PYT) with FOUR THOUSAND teenagers, including my own 16 year old son. It is an event that happens every three years, (thus the name, Triennium), and it is always at Purdue University in the middle of July. This was my second PYT, the first being an Adult Advisor for the Presbyteries of Glacier and Yellowstone (Montana) in 1992. When I arrived in Barrow and mentioned that I had been to PYT before, I was recruited again as an Adult Advisor.

In the group was two other adults and five teenagers from Barrow. My son had registered with the Presbytery of Seattle, so he was just traveling with us staying with the Seattle group. We were later joined at the PYT by a group from Anchorage which brought the numbers from the Presbytery of Yukon to five adults and eleven teenagers. There was one or two others from the Presbytery of Alaska, but they traveled with the Seattle group.

This time the travel took a little longer. We left Barrow Monday, 16 July at 6:00 P.M. With a stop over at Fairbanks, we flew on to Anchorage. We arrived in Anchorage about 9:10 P.M. and picked up my son who had spent the previous week at his grandparents. At 10:30 P.M. we caught our flight to Seattle. We arrived in Seattle at 3:30 A.M. and sat around Sea-Tac airport for a couple of hours. I thought we were going to be in real trouble at Sea-Tac, because nothing was going to open up for us to eat until AFTER we left at 6:00 A.M. As it turned out, a couple of the shops were open 24 hours, then at 5:00 A.M. other shops opened up. (Starbucks being one of the shops to open at 5:30, but who was going to wait in line that long?). So we were able to get something to eat in Seattle, which was my worry, because we were not to land in Chicago until noon Central Time.

We arrived in Chicago on time, tired and hungry. We got something to eat then looked for our luggage and rentals. We rented two mini-vans for the nine of us, with only two of us driving. Since I was the only one to drive through Chicago in the last ten years, I tried to get us out of O'Hare Airport and on our way to Purdue. Starting right out of the gate, I miss read the directions and took a wrong turn. After doing a couple of illegal U-Turns, (the other driver being a Federal Judge), we finally got on the right freeway to head into downtown Chicago on a hot muggy afternoon. I thought once I got on the freeways, everything would be fine. But this is Chicago....anything is closed....missed exits...but finally all works out, and God delivers us out of Chicago. Now we only have to survive the two hour drive to Purdue.

We arrive at Purdue with enough time to check in and get ready for dinner. Or course, since Sam was suppose to stay with the Seattle group, he and I went looking for them, not sure which dorm they were staying; locking the van and taking the keys with me of course, so everybody had to wait to empty the van until I returned after dinner. After dinner was worship, then meetings for the Adults and then another meeting with the youth. At about 11:30 P.M. Eastern Time, we were quite ready for bed.

This is becoming longer than I thought, so I will continue my experience at Purdue University with FOUR THOUSAND TEENAGERS along with the HEAT AND HUMIDITY that is NOT in Barrow sometime tomorrow, (or at least by Friday).

Thank you for reading. Peace and Blessings.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Pleading the 5th on the 4th

Yesterday was the 4th of July. It was a beautiful day here in Barrow, just as is today. 50 degrees, very slight wind, almost perfect. Trouble is that I am inside, and the fantastic weather is outside. I guess this will be made up very soon, as the weather turns to winter quickly enough.

I wanted to be up early yesterday, clean the house a little and enjoy the parade through the village. Instead, I was woken up by the sirens of the fire trucks as they went by our house in the parade. It was 12:25 pm. I slept through the morning again. I went downstairs and watched the parade as it went by the house. My wife and son were both woken by the sirens as well, but only my son mustered the energy to get up.

We spent the day quietly, enjoying the day off. The village has a three day celebration, with the parade, races, dances, ball games, tug-a-wars, etc. Last night being Wednesday night, we held our regular Wednesday night services before the Barrow Dancers performed.

Today we have been having problems with the Internet connection at the church, and it becomes very frustrating with the slow connections even though we have DSL. Of course I intended to write much more than I have so far, but all that I wanted to say has long left my head. "That train has left the station."

Last week I went to Wainwright, a village southwest of here, I will "blog" about that next time. Right now, I think I am going to enjoy the sun outside, and worry about the office later.

Peace and blessings.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Family Ties

I started to write yesterday, but had trouble finding the time to finish. I guess it was just not to be. Today is Tuesday, mostly cloudy, and the sea is losing most of its ice.

Friday I wrote about family coming through for each other. I learned early on how true that is.

Things are different here in Barrow than outside of the North Slope. In my first ten days in Barrow, I had presided over seven funerals. One may think that because it is in the frozen north that they were waiting for the spring thaw or in this case a minister to come. That is true in other places that we have lived and served. Smaller northern communities, the funeral homes will keep or hold the bodies until spring to be buried. A friend of mine in Anchorage had to wait four months to bury her husband, opening the old wounds of loss and sorrow.

In Barrow, funerals happen regardless of the time of year, season or weather. The first two funerals were in zero degree weather along with a strong wind chill factor driving the temperature well below 20 degrees below zero f. It was not until the fourth funeral that it dawned on me what the major difference at the grave sight, there was no funeral home people directing the burial. It was the families themselves that were burying their dead relatives. The families would gather after the death and before the funeral to dig the hole. This was done regardless of the time of year, season or weather. The people would borrow augers and drill out the land, then dig out the frozen soil with picks and shovels. Then following the funeral service, the family would lower the casket in the hole, then the casket cover and then fill the hole back up. At first when it really dawned on me what was happening, I thought it was strange that they would first put snow in the grave before the dirt. But at the ground is frozen year around, so the snow would not melt. It was then that I truely realized that it was the families that were doing the work. It was not hired hands of those who worked for the funeral homes or grave sights, but the families.

My first thought about this was how it must be healing for some to be that connected with the funeral process. That there is more closure for the family. I am not so sure though. Following up with family members after the funerals, they greive just as much as those who have somebody else do all the dirty work. Another thought came to me as I am typing this, who wants to be in sub-zero weather greiving for a lost family member by digging a grave? But it happens, and it get done.

I am not sure where I am going with this right now, but I did want to pass on this observation and realization, one that was very slow in coming to me. Hopefully, I will be more aware, and have a little quicker learning time in the future.

Peace and blessings.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cloudy Friday

Since the last time I finished writing to now, it has been overcast for the Summer Solstice. So much for the longest day, not that it is much of an issue here above the Arctic Circle.

Yesterday, as I was walking to get our mail at the post office, I realized what writers must go through in order to write everyday. Here I am just trying to post a blog every so often, but yet if I really wanted to write, I would have to write everyday. Hopefully with the words meaning something as well, not just words after words. A new respect for the dedication others bring to their respective crafts.

This afternoon, I presided over my first wedding here in Barrow. The bride and groom did not really have any idea what they wanted for their wedding, so I was going to be relaxed in the preparation for it. The couple had been living together for 12 years now and already had three children. So their pre-marital counseling was fairly short. How much more could I help them? They came last night to the rehearsal not sure what they were doing. I gave them some of my own thoughts on the matter and left it to them. That is when their families came together. It is the family that keeps this community going. If left up to the couple, the service probably would have been very plain. Instead it was filled with music, (from a previously recorded CD), and the sanctuary was decorated with beautiful streamers and white bells, paper flowers and lights. The reception room was filled with decorations as well. I think that the bride and groom will remember more of the wedding because of family. Isn't that the way it is suppose to be anyway?

Speaking of family, Friday's are Family Night. I am going to go check on the reception one more time, and head home, to spend more quality time with my own family. As these days get shorter, bringing about the ever continuing circle and cycle of life, let us not forget to take any and all opportunities to let our families know how much they mean to us, and specifically to me.

Peace and blessings.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The time is 1:40 p.m. on a beautiful sunny day. Right now it is about45 degrees with a slight wind blowing. But the clouds are moving in from the sea. Today is the second of four celebrations this spring year for the successful whale catches. The celebrations are known as "Nalukataq". The crews that caught a whale invite the whole village for a grand celebration. Throughout the day, food is given out, meat from the whale to smoked fish to fruits. Then sometime between 5 and 6 they will serve a traditional dinner followed by the famous blanket toss and traditional Eskimo dancing. There were twelve different crews that caught whales this spring, so they will be dividing the celebrations up over the next couple of days.

Last Sunday I was installed as Pastor for the Utqiagvik Presbyterian Church. The service is hosted by the congregation but the installing is done by the presbytery, in this case, The Presbytery of Yukon. Usually people would drive to the service from throughout the presbytery to partake. The trouble with Barrow is that you can only fly in or out. (Unless you want to snow mobile or four wheel it depending on the time of year, as well as coming by boat for the six to eight weeks that the sea is open). Right now, there are only two flights a day that connect us with Fairbanks or Anchorage, one in the morning and one in the evening.

My mother and step sister came up for my installation service from Anchorage and decided to stay for the Nalukataq Monday afternoon. Monday's weather was overcast, rainy and cold. Not good for a celebration outdoors. We quickly got the schedule for the celebration, food, dinner, blanket toss, (which is why they stayed) then the dancing. Since their flight was leaving at 6 p.m., they missed everything they stayed for. During the short time I was out, I caught a head cold and my ears plugged up for the next couple of days. Though I wanted to return later that night to watch, my ears hurt too much, so I took some medication and went to bed with the knowledge that there will be more Nalukataqs.

Whales are a major portion of the yearly diet for the people of the Arctic Circle. So successful whale hunts are to be celebrated, because it means that people will be able to eat this year. The Inupiat people also use as much of the whale as possible then returning the waste to the sea with a small ceremony and prayers.

Well, I am going to go check out the celebrations this afternoon before coming back to work for a wedding rehearsal. Hopefully, I will be able to come back from this Nalukataq with something other than a head cold and ear aches.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Starting Off

As most bloggers start off, "I have never done this, but I thought I would try". I have recently been called as Pastor to the Utqiagvik Presbyterian Church in Barrow, Alaska. I plan on recording my thoughts, experiences, discoveries and hopefully learning about the different culture and people in Barrow.

First, I want to explain where Barrow, Alaska is in case you are not sure of your geography. If you go the farthest north point in Alaska, and still be on land, you have found Point Barrow. The community of Barrow is just southwest of the "point." I still have much to learn and hopefully to pass on to others if they care to hear of my rambling random thoughts. We are a little more than 500 miles from Fairbanks and not quite 1000 miles north of Anchorage. I once heard that the mileage between Seattle and Barrow is about the same as Seattle to Boston, MA.

Since this is already 17 June 2007, and we have been here for six weeks already, I will probably be weaving my observations in and out of time to try and catch up with my learning curve. Today is bright and sunny, 44 degrees above F. Yesterday was a big local celebration which I will explain later, but of course it was overcast, windy, cold and 35 degrees.

I arrived with my family, (wife and son), 3 May 2007. We had moved from Seattle, WA where we had been living for the last four years. We liked Seattle, but I was working for a national retail company who feels that $7.00 an hour is a living wage in the greater Seattle market. Though employees from this Minnesota firm had it tough, we do not have it as bad as another national retail company from Arkansas.

I am not new to Alaska, for I moved to Anchorage for my senior year in high school. I can still remember sitting in my United States History class my junior year at Whittier High School, (in the LA area, where Richard Nixon was from), and looking at a map of the United States. It was one of the unusual maps where Alaska is suppose to be, not down in Baja California. Three weeks later, my mother came to me saying, "I heard the best joke, somebody is offering Don a job in Alaska." (Don being my step-father). Well that was in January 1974, and by June we are already on our way, driving to Anchorage. I had asked my father if I could move in with him and his new wife, but he gave me the best advice he ever gave me, "Give Alaska six weeks". I went for six weeks and was a resident for thirteen years.

Of those thirteen years, I must admit that four winters were spent at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington and four winters were spent at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, with me coming home each summer. I left Alaska for the last time August 1985, not sure if and when I would ever be able to return. Now, not quite twenty two years later, I am back in Alaska and this will be my story....