Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Collaborative Community Ministry: Anchorage, AK

While I was in Alaska one of my hosts invited me to  pastors meetings in two different cities. Game for most anything, I said sure. Women don't usually get to experience these things; I was curious. I also breathed a sigh of relief that to learn the breakfast meeting was at 8:00, not 6:00 like so many men's breakfasts. Things wrapped up with an hour to spare before making the the 40-mile trek to a lunch meeting in the other city.   

I don't think I actually contributed anything to either gathering. Except exchanging smiles and handshakes and drinking my share of the coffee. But I was sure glad I went. It gave me a glimpse of what the churches in the Anchorage area are doing. So encouraging! 

That pastors from different churches would get together on a regular basis is not so common. They tend to be quite busy. And then there are some "turf" issues. Most ministers have at least a few friendships with fellow pastors outside their denominations, maybe beyond just the folks they went to seminary with. But to deliberately and regularly gather and collaborate with other leaders from "competing" congregations and radically different traditions? That's kind of uncomfortable, and it's unusual. 

The pastors of Anchorage have been doing it for a long time. About 40 years now. Currently that means lunch meetings every Thursday. People come when they can. They take turns hosting the meeting. Everybody gets to introduce themselves, and there is a time to share about upcoming events or particular prayer needs. The day I went they were discussing re-instituting annual or semiannual prayer retreats where they would get out of town for a few days to spend time praying with and for one another. How cool is that? And how necessary! So good to be with others who do the same kind of work and face the same kind of pressures. People who understand, and who are committed to look to God with whatever comes up. 

"One of the best parts of our prayer retreats, for me," said one guy, "was hearing about the different churches' callings. It seems as if God has given us different ministries for a reason. We do one thing and you do something else. It's in our DNA. I can see how God has things 'covered'!" 

This group is part of  a larger network of Christians who recognize their unity in essential matters. They have formed a group called the Church of Anchorage. Some eighty churches belong. They work together to reach out and serve the people of their city. I think it started off with things like collaborating on a Billy Graham Crusade or JESUS film distribution project. They coordinate their children's ministries; they serve the homeless. Currently they are involved in "52 weeks of prayer" through which different prayer groups and ministries commit to a week of prayer over their city. After the formal meeting, several were getting together to talk about a Good Friday service: that they would have a joint service was almost a given. The guys at the breakfast meeting in the "Mat Su" Valley were planning a similar event, both in local high schools. 

Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you about another way Christians in Anchorage are working together.

 1 How good and pleasant it is
   when God’s people live together in unity!
 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
   running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
   down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
   were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
   even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

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