Airplane crash in Gambell, Alaska (St. Lawrence Island): August 30, 1975.

As some of you know, I was the pastor at Nome Community United Methodist Church from 1974-1981, a total of seven years. One of my first accomplishments (under the leadership of Presbyterian pastor Alice Green, serving at Savoonga, also on St. Lawrence Island) was the establishment of the Nome Presbyterian Church and the Aywaan Bering Sea Larger Parish. The Larger Parish included two Presbyterian Churches on St. Lawrence Island, at Gambell and Savoonga, located 140 miles and 170 miles out into the Bering Sea from Nome and 40 miles from Russia.

To assist me in relating to the people of that island, it was arranged for me to visit each community at least once each year. One of my visits was not pre-planned.

On a very foggy Saturday day on August 30, a Wein Flight F-27 airplane full of passengers (31 with a four-person crew) was attempting to land at the airport in Gambell. The plane had not been able to land for days, so the pilot was making an extra effort to land through the fog and rain.

In the course of making this attempt to land the airplane, the pilot made a very fatal error. He probably thought he was landing to the left of the Bering Sea waters, when in fact he was landing to the left of a small lake on the island, which was backed by 600 foot Mt. Sevuokuk (Gambell). When he learned of his error, he put on full power and attempted to miss the top of the mountain. He failed. The tail of the plane hit the top and the plane was flipped on its back as it crashed on top of the mountain.

This mountain contains an unique part of the Siberian Yupik culture in that traditionally people are buried on the slope, with whaling captains having the highest place of honor there. While hiking, it was not unusual to find bones and skulls among the rocks.

After the crash, there was silence on the mountain top. Soon there were several sounds: the moans of the injured, the crackling of deadly flames from fire and the prayers of one of the passengers, Estelle Oozevasuk.  Gilbert Pelowook, an Alaskan state trooper in route with a magistrate to Gambell for a case, regained consciousness. Some how he got out of his upside down seat and soon started tearing the airplane apart with his bare hands, attempting to save as many as possible. Some of the passengers had broken backs. When he was done, he had saved 19 passengers beside himself. Ten died and one young man, in shock, uninjured, had wandered off the mountain without helping anyone. He suffered greatly for that lapse in his response.

As word of the tragedy reached the outside world, I was asked to fly with a medical team in a small plane to the island to provide pastoral care. There was one extra seat. The church at Gambell was without a regular pastor, though a lay pastor was providing services. Even though I was scheduled to fly to Anchorage (500 miles away) on the following Monday in preparation for a major trip to the People’s Republic of China. I made arrangements for a replacement for myself on Sunday and departed for the island.

When I got there, this is what I found. The villagers had removed all survivors and all the deceased from the mountaintop. The crash site was less than half a mile from the village, but rugged terrain forced the rescuers to take the injured about five miles by land, around the back side of a cliff face. The survivors were ferried across a small lake and given emergency treatment at the village school. Every one had a note pinned to them detailing the known injuries.

When I arrived there were nineteen persons on stretchers. A Coast Guard supply plane had gotten word of the tragedy, striped itself of cargo, picked up a medic at a Loran Station and was going to provide airlift of nineteen victims to Nome or Anchorage. After I left Nome, fog came in and no one could land in Nome. The airplane had the range to take the victims to Anchorage, which they did, getting there at approximately midnight on the day of the crash.

After arriving in Gambell, I had just enough time to have a word of comfort and prayer for the stretcher patients as they were being tied into the airplane. Seeing that Coast guard C-130 take off was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  For a long time, I got teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Then another type of work began. I went to the four homes that had experienced death that day, sharing prayer for the deceased. There were many images from that day.

-I went to one home where a woman had lost her husband, George Imergen. Her faith was so strong that she comforted those who came to comfort her. It was a powerful experience. Later she lost a son from freezing and a son-in-law in a car accident in Nome. Her faith never wavered. She was a remarkable woman.

-I went to the home of an elderly couple in their 80’s, Charles and Amy Slwooko, who had died of smoke inhalation, with no outward sign of damage to their bodies. They were members of the Nome Presbyterian Church and were making one last visit to Gambell. Thirty members of their extended family gathered to dress the bodies for burial from their children to their great-grandchildren. It was also a powerful experience.

-A young girl, Sharon Campbell, had died in the fire. I went to comfort the family and was able to comfort her mother. But the father stood outside the home, just glaring at me. He was very angry with God and I was there representing that God. We did not speak. He just glared. My heart ached for his pain. He glared a lot in subsequent years.

As the day wore on, I was under terrific pressure to stay and “bury the dead” in the traditional fashion of the village. Quickly! I was faced with an important decision: should I provide this pastoral service and risk losing the opportunity to go to China? I thought very hard about this and decided that the lay pastor Winfred Matuklook could provide this service just as well as I could. Most of the pressure to stay was coming from him. So I decided to go to China, if and when the next plane left for Nome.

As the night wore on, we learned that the Nome airport was “socked” in. After midnight, I was informed that we would prepare to return to Nome. Two other passengers were with me, the state trooper who rescued so many people and the young man who was not injured. The medical team had flown on to Anchorage in the larger plane.

I returned to Nome at 4 a.m. I slept until worship time, then crept into the balcony to hear my substitute, Rex Okakok, take care of the service. He did a wonderful job. Then I prepared to fly to Anchorage. Because I was gong in a day early for the flight to China, I had an extra day to visit the injured in the hospital.

When I arrived at the “native hospital”, where eighteen of the victims were being treated, I was welcomed with open arms by the staff. I was a bit surprised at how I was received and then I learned why. They had not informed any of the victims about the deaths of next of kin. So it became my sad duty, not only to have prayers for healing, but also to inform a young man (Isaac Kiyuklook, age 22), through an interpreter, that he no longer had a mother and a nephew. His mother Abigail (Daisy) Kiyuklook and her grandson, Franklin, Jr. had died. I also had to inform others of the loss of relatives.

My finest work that day was with the magistrate, Abner Gologergen. He had several broken bones. As I went into his room, he looked up at me with his arms and legs in traction and asked me this question: “What happened?” I took a deep breath and said, “Abner, you need to focus on your own healing. There will be time enough later to learn what happened. I do not want to share negative things. Now, do you really want to know what happened?” He thought a bit and said, “No, I will wait awhile”. He waited and he focused on healing and he was healed, thanks to modern medicine and rods inserted into his body.  He was a wonderful man, both before and after his accident.

So I was gifted with the opportunity to minister directly to eighteen people twice in a period of eight hours as I did “the rounds” in that hospital. It was a profound experience for me. It was one of the most exhausting and stimulating and memorable experiences of my ministry. Then I went to China.

[Here are the names of some of those involved that were at the hospital (apologies for the spelling that may be incorrect): Isaac Kiyuklook (22 years of age); Merlys Oozeva (age 18); Abner Gologergen (broken leg and hip); Estelle Oozevasuk; Jerry Kanooka (age 8), Lena Malewootkuk (age 8), Laura Malewootkuk (older than Lena), Woodrow Malewootkuk (age 43), Gerald Kanooka (age 35), Harry Koozaata, Evelyn Koozaata (age 46), Bryan Koozaata (age 8), Karen Booshu (teenager), Esther Slwooko (age 17, Kenny James (young adult) and Ennis Apatiki (age 20)]

The woman who prayed, Estelle Oozavasuk, also eventually healed of her broken bones and when she worshipped with us at the Nome Presbyterian Church in route back to Gambell, it was a real day of celebration. She sat in a chair and moved to some dancing music that we were sharing that evening. she couldn’t walk, but she could move her limbs and she could praise God.

Eventually the entire village of Gambell was recognized for the skill and care they gave to the injured people. Trooper Gilbert Pelowook was recognized as a hero.

And I have struggled with the theology of death and dying ever since. When I read a newspaper article that God takes people away from us in accidents, I remember Sharon Campbell’s father glaring at me and I understand why people think like they do. Does what gives some people comfort cause others pain? God did not cause that plane to hit that mountain, but many believe it to be so. If I believed that God operated that way, I might have joined the father in some creative glaring.

One of Charles and Amy’s adult daughter looked at the mountain and said: “God is sending us a message. If we don’t get right with God, more tragedies will happen to this village.” I tried to challenge that theology. I was unable to change that theology. Should I have worked harder to change it?

God didn’t send the plane into the hill above Gambell, Alaska. Good things come from such tragedies and we can be grateful for that reality, but let’s not give God the credit or the blame for the tragedies. We can be grateful for the way in which many of the villagers and the trooper responded to the tragedy. And with improvements in air safety, it has not happened again. May it never happen again.



I have estimated that I preached about 3,372 sermons in my career. I took lots of preaching courses in seminary and grade-wise I did as well there as in any of the other disciplines taught in seminary. Many of those sermons were forgettable. I know because that has been the testimony of lay persons (they don’t remember them) and there are many (most) that I don’t remember.  Unanimous opinion!

I was licensed to preach on May 4, 1957, and the license was given to me at a special service on June 10, 1957.

The process started in 1956, with approval of the Ludlow Quarterly Conference on April 15, 1956. The District Committee approved me on May 19, 1956. I completed the studies on April 23, 1957. I was ordained as a Deacon in 1960 and as an Elder in 1962.

If I were completely honest and this is the place and time for honesty, I have only heard one great preacher in my career. His name was Harrell Beck. He broke lots of the modern rules, but he held his audiences spell-bound.  He could talk for an hour and you would not want him to stop. He might come to some great stopping points, but he would go on and wow his listeners some more. But his techniques could not be taught or caught. He was unique. One of a kind. He was the Old Testament professor at Boston School of Theology. He taught Old Testament to Martin Luther King Jr. and to several bishops in The United Methodist Church and last of all, to me. I discovered him or he discovered me at the summer school at Vancouver School of Theology. Once discovered I kept going back for more.

When he was working, he spent every weekend preaching somewhere. When he retired, he and his wife were going to China for some teaching and enjoying that culture. However, he went into a doctor’s office and died. His wife was very angry. She had given him to the church for many years and now that he was retired, it was going to be her turn. It was not to be.

Oh, I have heard some good sermons, but Harrell Beck was consistent. His lectures were like his sermons. Or should I say his lectures were sermons.  Hour after hour, I never tired of listening to him preach the Word. I shed tears when I learned that he had died. More tears than when I learned of my father’s death.

Donald Hartman was very good at first person sermons. He would assume the role of a biblical character and present the sermon in that way. I never mastered that technique. Robert Moon was very good at getting to the heart of the matter on social issues. I did that occasionally. Usually I lost members every time I tackled tough issues. Sometimes they didn’t want to think about such issues in worship. Often they disagreed with what I said.

It got so bad at East Anchorage that one astute lay person asked for a public hearing of the membership to discuss my sermon on the death penalty. (I was and am against it). Apathy reigns in most churches, so only about a dozen people showed up to hear her protest. Even her husband (who probably was more angry than she) did not show up. Every other person present disagreed with her, but she felt heard, so she didn’t leave the church. What was interesting is that one 80 year old woman, who also disagreed with my position, affirmed the fact that she wanted me to tackle tough subjects. The woman requesting the hearing wrote a touching tribute when I was honored at a later occasion.

Usually when I experimented with new techniques in preaching, I would get push back from a portion of the congregation. That didn’t feel good and it is one aspect of ministry that I did not and do not appreciate. Many people like routine. So change is threatening.

I was a fan of dialogue sermons. Many were uncomfortable because they were not comfortable with interaction, with others or with the preacher. Such sermons are harder to prepare than traditional sermons..

Now that there are television screens and computers available for worship, one hears the mumbling from those who do not like it.  Such tools can be very useful for communication.  I was saving film clips for years, but never got to use them because the technology was not available in the worship setting..

Example: a clip from The Elephant Man where he proclaims : “I am not an elephant. I am not an animal. I am a human being. I…AM..A..MAN,” would add visual power to any preaching about accepting people as Christ accepted people. I never got to use it. My bad.

I took a course in Preaching Contemporary Literature in seminary. Even got an “A”. I practiced what I was taught.

Occasionally I had sermons that even I could remember.  I loved biographical sermons.  I have sermons on Naude’ Beyers (South Africa), Corrie ten Boom, Gandhi “Is Gandhi in Hell?”, Kahlil Gibran, Nikos Kazantzakis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth, Ed King of Mississippi (we even had him preach at Stanwood), Anna Howard Shaw, Bartolome de Las Casas, Fanny Crosby, the story of LeChambon, France, and Andre’ Trocme, Elizabeth Peratrovich (Alaska), and Michael Servetus, . It may have been more effective to use these persons as illustrative material, rather than spend a whole sermon on each person.  Who knows? I bored a few people, but I was not bored. That should count for something.

Ideas must be considered dangerous. Nikos Kazantzakis was treated badly by the Greek government. Who is Nikos Kazantzakis? He is best known for writing “Zorba the Greek”. But he also wrote “The Last Temptation of Christ” and “The Greek Passion”. I saw the movie “The Greek Passion” in the 1960’s.  It was a formative religious experience for me. I made sure lots of people saw it and no one was affected by it in the same way I was. That should be a cautionary fact as we engage in “spiritual formation”.  When Nikos died the government wanted to bring his body back to Greek soil, but his widow would not allow it to happen. Good for her. Kahlil Gibran was excommunicated, but when he died and his body was returned to Lebanon, the roads were literally lined with people to pay respect as his body passed by on its way to burial. Michael Servetus was condemned as a heretic by both Protestants and Catholics. This may not be true of all heretics, but when some one upsets the establishment this badly, I think we need to learn more about what he or she was writing and saying and doing. And so I have done that.

Books and/or movies occasionally inspired sermons:  Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Babette’s Feast, Chocolat and the Harry Potter Movies would be examples. Sometimes the titles were better than the sermons: “My Dog, the Methodist” and “Thank God for Fleas”. When I saw the movie “Chariots of Fire”, I dug a little deeper and learned the wonderful story of Eric Liddell, missionary to China and martyr for the faith.

So I think Dr. Merrill Abbey might have been proud of this preaching pupil. At least I let one course affect my preaching from time to time. Biblical truths can be communicated through contemporary literature and movies.

In my retirement years, I find myself telling personal stories. Barbara (my spouse) may tell me if I get too carried away.



So many stories and so little time.  There are four camps I have used in Alaska:  Birchwood Camp in Anchorage, Southeast Camp at Juneau, Salmon Lake Camp at Nome and Hope Retreat Center at Hope. I have already written about Hope, so I shall not repeat much here.  However, I have added our experience of hiking two trails in Alaska:  Chilkoot Trail near Skagway and Resurrection Trail between Hope and Cooper Landing. They certainly qualified as “camping” experiences.


During my summer at Moose Pass in 1961, I was ordered to be a counselor for one week at Birchwood Camp. Years later I either learned or was reminded that I worked in the first camp to be held in this camp.  Cabins were large army tents set on a platform. The dining hall was an even larger Army Tent. I don’t remember who was in charge, but the second week of camping I was in charge. Unfortunately, another pastor who had a doctoral degree from Boston School of Theology was a counselor during the second week and he was insulted to have to work with a Dean who was so inferior to him.  He criticized me right in front of the campers. It was one of the few times in my life that I came close to slugging some one, but deep down I knew that would not be a very cool thing to do. Camping in those days was run according to a strict plan and I did make a mistake and he was gracious enough to point it out to everyone in the camp. I went for a walk and Mary Ann Harlan talked me down from my anger. I took some satisfaction in the fact that his people skills were not good and from a distance I learned of some of his exploits in ministry. At one point in my later career he was interim superintendent of the Alaska Missionary Conference for a few months and I wondered if I could pass that time without any interaction with him and I succeeded. Not my greatest accomplishment, but interesting to me.

(A footnote to my anger is that I carried that anger with me back to seminary. Eventually I was sharing this anger with one of my professors and as he observed my physical reaction to the memory, he asked me:  “Where is this preacher who is making you so angry?”  I told him that he was in Portland, Oregon.  Then the professor asked me:  “How many miles away from you is he?”  And I guessed 2,000 miles.  Then the professor gently pointed out the power I was giving this individual. He could make me angry from a distance of 2,000 miles. “What a powerful person he is!” For some reason that helped me and the physical reaction to the memory immediately became less. I didn’t even have a physical reaction when he was given the task of being my interim superintendent for three months.)

When I returned to Alaska full-time, I served at Kenai and Chugiak, so camping at Birchwood continued to be part of my summer responsibilities. I remember one lad from Seward who had been physically abused. If his story was true, he had run away from some one in Kansas and ended up in Alaska. I did observe scars on his back. He had an attitude. Some older children teased him and he picked up a piece of firewood and hit one of them over the head. Fortunately, it did no permanent damage, but the older children were ready to teach him a lesson and he ran away from camp. By God’s grace I was able to find him and bring him back to camp. I had stern words with the aggrieved parties and no one was killed on my watch.

When assigned to Chugiak, I was expected to manage the camp. No salary. So I insisted on a title: I became the Superintendent of Birchwood Camp. Lots of adventures. When it came time to purchase a new vehicle, I wanted a four-wheel drive Chevrolet. Roger Thompson, pastor at First United Methodist in Anchorage wanted to save some money and buy a regular truck. Finally I looked Roger in the eye and said: “If you prevail in this discussion, the first time I get stuck, I will wait until midnight and call you for help.” He was convinced and he supported my request. And when I got stuck with the four-wheel drive vehicle, I didn’t call him.

A  new lodge was built and Alaska Methodist University gave us some old equipment. Barbara designed and helped us install the kitchen. That design has stood the test of time. I was inspired to harvest lots of salmon for summer camp food. I purchased a set net and hired some native Alaskan men to do the work on a 50/50 deal. The first summer my share was stolen and the second summer the power went off and all the fish in the camp freezer were spoiled. I gave up. It was during these years of cutting firewood in the winter time that I learned I was allergic to birch wood. Ironic, to say the least.

Because of vandalism, we moved to having resident managers (Loren and Julia Rodebush) and that has been the case even to today. I recommended to my successor at Chugiak that he avoid being the camp superintendent and he was pleased to make that arrangement.

Remembering James Kirsch: he worked for the Alaska railroad and part of his task was burying things the railroad no longer used. Occasionally, I would get a message from some one that if I went to the railroad tracks, there might be something I could use. It was a miracle. But one acquisition was special: steel I-Beams for a bridge. That required some special equipment to move them into place, but a new bridge across a tiny stream lasted for many years.

Some of my stories are difficult to date, but after serving in Juneau and Nome, I came back to Anchorage and found myself as a counselor in a high school camp. There were at least five students whose fathers were clergy and they treated the dean very badly. I knew we were in for trouble when one camper arrived with a pickup truck full of furniture and sound equipment. For some reason we allowed him to stay, but bear in mind I was not in charge. The disrespectful treatment of the dean got so bad that I intervened and a truce was arranged. I can’t remember how that was accomplished, but it was not a pleasant experience.

The next year there was a new camp planned for 2nd graders and I volunteered. It was a wonderful experience. This was approximately 1983. One child, also a preacher’s kid, was asked to help set the table and his response blew me away. He was thrilled to be asked. I knew that I would be working with early elementary children as long as possible.

We returned for the 50th anniversary of the camp and Walter Hays Jr graciously arranged for me to share the spotlight of sharing memories. It turned out that I was a counselor in the first camp held there in 1961. For the second camp, I was Dean. Promotion came fast in Alaska.

SOUTHEAST ALASKA CAMP – John Argetsinger Campus

I was a leader in this camp for five years. It took a great deal of energy for two weeks of camping. I came up with the brilliant idea of selling the camp to the Juneau School District for Environment Education classes, with the understanding we could use it in the summer time for two weeks.  That deal went through and they upgraded the kitchen and then gave it back to us.  The School Board cancelled its two best programs as a power play with the voters. I don’t know how that turned out, but some of the founders of the camp were not happy with me. I was never thanked for getting the camp a new kitchen.

One of the activities was hiking five miles to either Eagle Glacier or Herbert Glacier. I carried my 30-06 with me and the wisdom of that was confirmed when I came upon bear scat that was still steaming. With noisy children, we never saw a bear and for that, I am grateful.

On one of those trips I found an orange mushroom known as “chicken” mushroom.  I harvested it and cooked it and it was well named, as it tasted like chicken.  One brave camper wanted to join me in my feast, but I was too nervous about the liability, so I said “no” to his pleas.

Over the years, lots of dedicated lay persons have kept the camp going. Now there is a resident manager, so the pastors of the Juneau churches do not have to provide the main leadership.

As a footnote, the following was inspired by some camper or group of campers in 1973 to share at “Stunt Night”.  They also messed up my sleeping bag at that camp.  They lovingly called me “Super Dean”.

“Super Dean. We love you.  Why don’t you care for Cabin 2.  We slave for you night and day. Trying our hardest to keep you warm.  We light your fire, we sweep your floor, We cologne your cabin from door to door.  We serve you food on the floor.  Why can’t you love us a little more.”

Then there was this song from Jesus Christ, Superstar, I think.

Day by day, Day by day                                                                                                                Super Dean  3 things we pray                                                                                                          Love us more dearly                                                                                                                      Treat us more fairly                                                                                                                         Understand us more clearly                                                                                                           Day by day, Day by day.

At the time, it was fun, but with the passing of time, it was unique and very creative.


This camp was owned and operated by the Lutherans, but they were very generous in sharing the camp with others, including the Methodists. It was in a beautiful valley about 50 miles from Nome. My best story came when I took a group of women to the camp for an activity. One mile from the camp a bear stood in the road and looked at us and then went into the tundra away from the camp. The women announced that they wanted to go home. I didn’t think that was necessary, so I delivered them to the camp. Then I drove home. They got home to Nome before I did. I never figured out how that happened. Native Alaskans in the Nome area do not like bears. Bears were used in the same way my brothers used the boogie man to scare me as a child. However, I never saw a boogie man and we all saw the bear.


Having been the pastor in Hope in 1961, I took youth groups there every chance I got, both when I was the pastor in the Kenai Parish and when I was the pastor at Chugiak and much later, when I was the pastor at East Anchorage. I have written about Hope in another blog. (see January 2015)



Chilkoot Trail from Skagway/Dyea to Lake Bennett was done in 1973 with Jim Fellers of Ketchikan and Don/Alma Hartman of Sitka.  We took a few youth with us, trying to determine if the experience should become an official activity of the SE Camping Program.  It should be noted that Jim Fellers and the Hartman’s did it a second time.

However, I determined that I didn’t want to do it again, either personally or in an official capacity. But this is getting ahead of the story.

We traveled to Skagway by ferry.  I don’t recall how we got to Dyea at the trailhead. We got there before it was highly organized by the National system of supervision. We did the trail in four days, as I recall.  There were cabins available on the first night, but it was very crowded.  The trail is 33 miles long and designated as an U.S. National Historic Landmark.  All went well until we got to the top of the summit where we faced strong winds and heavy rain.  The ground was too wet to set up camp, but as walked in the rain, I noticed that one of the girls from Sitka dropped one of her gloves and she had no motivation to retrieve it.  I realized that we were in dire straits.  I did not know the word “hypothermia”, but a sixth sense kicked in and we force marched everyone at least a mile or two to higher ground where water was not standing.  We set up tents and asked everyone to get into their sleeping bags to warm up.  Jim Fellers and I fixed dinner and waiting on everyone.  End result: we were warmer than anyone. Bottom line – we didn’t lose anyone.  A very scary experience.  Not one I wanted to repeat.  Don/Alma Hartman and Jim Fellers did it again and had perfect weather at the summit.  I was not motivated to go back in order to see the beautiful mountains at the top.

One of the unique features of the journey is seeing the refuse left by the gold miners who went over the pass in 1898. There were leather harnesses along the trail and remnants of equipment used to aid the miners on their “trip to the top”.  Each miner had to have 2,000 pounds of goods when they entered Canada, so some had to make lots of trips before gaining permission to enter Canada.

At the end of the trail, in those days, there was a dinner at a railroad depot at Lake Bennett.  The food was very good, especially the pie.  We came back to Skagway on the train.

There is an abandoned church at Lake Bennett.  History books disagree on whether or not it was ever used.  Based on my exhaustive research, it was built during the gold rush and used for a brief period of time.  It looks like it was not completed because so much lumber has been removed for other purposes. But my research convinced me that it was built and used.  It would have related to the Presbyterian Church, I think.

RESURRECTION PASS TRAIL from Hope to Cooper Landing

The Resurrection Pass Trail is 38 miles long. I did this trip with Leo C. Cramer and Walter Hays plus some laypersons in the time period of 1966-1968.  Again, we were “checking it out”.  We did it before it was well marked and we did get lost on the first day.  One high light was seeing a melting snowbank that was the beginning of two rivers:  Juneau and Resurrection.  When we got to Juneau Lake, having been on the trail for 3-4 days, it was time for a bath.  Walter Hays was determined to take photographs after I was in the water.  It didn’t take very long for me to convince him that if he didn’t put the camera away, he would no longer have a camera that worked.  All sightings of bears were far, far away.

Both of these experiences were highlights for me, but not ones that I wished to repeat. It was a test of endurance in both cases. Part of the problem was the weight of our backpacks. In both cases, we were pioneers, long before the trails were well marked and/or monitored.












PASTOR IN CHIEF – National Prayer Breakfast 2015

National Prayer Breakfast 2015

The national press covered the reaction of right-wing Christians to President Obama’s remarks about the Crusades. I have studied the issue enough to know that many Islamic believers regard the atrocities as having happened “yesterday”. Many Christians do not understand this. One act of the Crusaders was to kill everyone in a village that just happened to be a Christian village. So they were killed for being Arabs, not for being of the Islamic faith. The memory lingers.

Now a newspaper clipping in the Skagit Valley Herald (Feb. 14, 2015) informs me of the sharp contrast in the two speakers on the program: NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip (I had never heard of him) and President Barack Obama.

Bear in mind that Waltrip and Obama made their remarks in front of the Dalai Lama.

Quoting Waltrip: “If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you don’t have a relationship, if he’s not the master of your life, if you’ve never gotten on your knees and asked him to forgive you of your sins, if you are just a pretty good guy or a pretty good gal, you’re going to go to hell.”

Let’s use the word “poppycock” today. The Dalai Lama has more spirituality in his little toe than do some individuals who hold Waltrip’s current viewpoint and you can quote me on that. Is Gandhi in hell? Not a chance.

President Obama, on the other hand, said (and I quote)  “Beware, because faith can be twisted and distorted, used as a wedge or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it….

“Lest we get on our high horse (he could have said low horse) and think, this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, People committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.

“We have to speak up against those who would misuse his name to justify oppression, or violence or hatred with that fierce certainty.”


Makes me wish that I did believe in the traditional hell. I have some candidates and some of them are self-professed “super” Christians. For those who don’t know, one of my favorite quotes is: “There is a hell and it is empty”. So there would be room for lots of souls.


Garrett Biblical Institute

Garrett Biblical Institute is now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. When I graduated I received a B.Div. (Bachelor of Divinity), but years later (for a small sum of money) this was elevated to a M. Div. (Master of Divinity).  Seemed only fair for three more years of academic work.

At some point in my time there, I ran for President of the student body. There were three candidates. One was attacking the administration heavily, I was supportive of the administration and a third candidate was African-American or Black. In the course of the campaign, it was obvious I would not win, so I withdrew and threw my support to the Black candidate.  He won! I don’t remember all of the issues involved, but the President had been rather hard on some students who left their wives at home in the parish all week and were very friendly with some of the single women on campus. The President had shined some light on that practice by having a talk with the husbands. I was on the side of the wives at home.

When Barbara came to Garrett, she got the support of the President in receiving a scholarship from her home church in Birmingham, Michigan. That church gave scholarship help to persons going into full-time Christian service and her pastor refused to authorize such help for her. The President, Dr. Dwight A.  Loder (who later became a bishop) write a letter to the pastor and Barbara got her scholarship. When she left school to marry me and go to Alaska, the pastor asked for a refund. Dr. Loder wrote another letter and life went on. After all, she was a commissioned missionary.  That counted for something.

One of the fun things at Garrett was playing basketball in the tower.  I remember playing with the Cone brothers.  James Cone went on to become a prominent theologian.  When he applied for the doctoral program, a possible racist on the faculty (from the south) refused to vote positively on his application.  His name was Dr. Henry Kolbe.  Dr. William Hordern, a Lutheran on the faculty, announced that if James Cone was not allowed into the program, he would resign from the faculty and state his reason. Dr. Cone was admitted and the rest is history. He was on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York for many years until his death at age 79 on April 29 in 2018.

Dr. Kolbe was the ethics teacher and for some reason he loved to say that it could tell if a term paper was written at the last minute and he would give such a paper a very bad grade. I don’t know that I deliberately tested that opinion, but I wrote one paper on Ministerial Ethics at the last minute (I was a very good typist then) and I got an A minus on the paper. Part of me wanted to tell him and part of me wisely kept my mouth shut. I ended with a B.  Much better than a F.

Dr. Hordern was a very nervous lecturer and he also lectured with a pointer in his hand.  One time I hid the pointer and he literally could not begin his lecture until it appeared. Fortunately, he also had a good sense of humor and I didn’t flunk that course. In fact I got a B.  He became President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Canada.

Dr. Samuel Laeuchli was a teacher of history and he insisted on memorization. I hit the point where I resisted that stance and as a result I got my first “D” in my academic career in History of Early and Medieval History.  That was at the beginning of my second year.  When my last quarter of work came, I was in a course that didn’t require any homework (Clinical Training at Cook County Hospital for 8 credits), so each evening I would say goodnight to Barbara at 10 p.m., return to my dorm and play pinochle until 1 or 2 a.m.  Probably one of my more helpful learnings in seminary – how to pay pinochle. It is skill (?) that is still with me today. When Bishop Everett Palmer frowned on our playing at Pastor’s School in Alaska, we played on.

Comprehensive exams was an ordeal for all students. Each student spent one hour with 3 professors who could ask any questions they wished to ask. After the hour they would either approve the student for graduation or success remedial work in areas of weakness. I took this oral exam on Friday, October 13, 1961.  When I got up that morning, being very nervous,  I flirted with a student at breakfast named Barbara Dadd. I was smitten.

I had spent the summer in Alaska and some of my hour was taken up with questions about my experience. They asked some question completely out of my academic work, but I was able to answer the questions from my experience as a Sunday School teacher at my home church in Ludlow, Illinois.  Especially questions related to Wesleyan theology. One of the professor noted that my Christology was a bit weak. If he only knew! I didn’t learn universalist theology at Garrett, but I was leaning in that direction.  Actually my Christology is very strong – Jesus Christ saved everyone!  I started articulating that belief system in the 1980’s, helped by some dialogue with some United Church of Canada pastors at Vancouver School of Theology summer school.  If you really want to understand my belief system, read “If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.  I don’t need to write a book – they have done it for me.

To this day, I enjoy reading about what happened to the Christian faith in the first 500 years when the faith was changed in a way that Jesus would not have recognized or desired, in my opinion.  Books titled:  “When did Jesus become Christ?” are recommended by me. Check out the first five centuries. I was born at the right time. No one kills me for what I believe. They may stop coming to listen to me. They may stop paying my salary. But they do not kill me. Thank you, God.


We were married on June 16, 1962, in the Garrett Chapel by Dr. John Irwin, who taught preaching.  In the 1980’s a church family wanted a grandfather to officiate at their daughter’s wedding.  I did the counseling and then sat in the back, as grandpa did his thing.  I really liked the liturgy he used and asked for a copy.  I was shocked and excited to see that the liturgy had been written by Dr. John Irwin.  I have no clue if these words were used at our wedding, as I remember nothing about liturgy from that day.  Dr. Irwin also established a tradition that I followed for several years.  When I paid him for his services, he immediately gave his fee to my bride.  If I had known he was going to do that, I could have impressed my bride with my generosity.  A lost opportunity.

One New Testament professor was Dr. Ed Blair.  Flash forward to the end of my career in Stanwood and I was his pastor for eight years. He was kind. He retired in 1971. The late 1960’s were not kind to him, as he was open to dialogue and some of the students were into something else. Woe to any professor who said the wrong “word” in a lecture. Some of the conservatives at Stanwood could not accept my preaching, but I talked about Jesus enough to satisfy Dr. Blair. I officiated at Vivien’s memorial service, but I had retired by the time Dr. Blair died. He was a wonderful person who was cherished by the Stanwood congregation.  In addition, they got the benefit of his wisdom for many years.  Just for the record, he was the writer and editor of the Abingdon Bible Handbook.

Dr. Wise, the pastoral counseling professor at Garrett, was challenged by a student once and it was interested to see him handle the situation, shall we say “wisely”? We also sang with gusto the song: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” whenever he preached.

I took LOTS of preaching courses: seven to be exact.

One class took us to New York and Washington D.C.: Travel Seminar in Public Affairs. Met Eleanor Roosevelt. One of my few “A’s”.  In fact, I got 4 “A’s”. In addition to the Travel Seminar, Sermon Workshop, Preaching & Contemporary Literature and Educational Ministry to Children. Completing this review, I got 26 B’s and 7 C’s and 1 D. Sometimes I claim that I wish I had majored in history in college, but I got 2 C’s and a D in history in Seminary. I still like historical novels. History with sugar coating?

I am shocked at how little I know about history.  There are those in our midst who do not know about the holocaust during World War II and some seem to relish “denying it”, which gives us a clue about human depravity. God’s grace is more generous than my own, for which the human race can be grateful.

In 2019 my wife and I visited Nova Scotia in Canada and we learned about The Great Halifax Explosion in 1917. It was the largest man-made explosion prior to the Atomic Bombs in Japan.  I had never heard of it. Now I have. Travel does tend to expand my knowledge and curiosity. My preaching opportunities are more limited, but this information will be worked into a sermon on “The Will of God” that I am preparing for the Guemes Island Congregational Church here in Washington. Last Sunday (11-10-19) I shared the story of Anna Howard Shaw with the Federal Way UMC. She was ordained as a Methodist pastor in 1880 and along with many other women, such as Susan B. Anthony, helped pass the 19th Amendment to allow women the right to vote in the United States of America. I share this to demonstrate that I am still learning things, fifty-seven years after graduating from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.



John was born in his home in Ludlow, Illinois. It has been torn down. When he first saw that, he realized that he should no longer aspire to being the President. He often told people he was born in Illinois in a log cabin (not true), relating to the legend about Abraham Lincoln and his birth place.

Barbara was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her high school home was in Birmingham, Michigan. We returned there recently and she got permission to step inside by the current occupant, the widow of an Episcopalian priest.

After marriage, we started our life together in one of the newest homes in Kenai. That was actually a barrier for ministry.  Today, it is no longer the newest or nicest house in town. It had been built on the cheap. One time we took the molding off of a picture window in the living room and we could see daylight. That explained some heating issues at 30 below zero. Some insulation was inserted and things got better. For church income, the daylight basement was rented to the school for a classroom. Didn’t need an alarm clock during school days.

Then we went to Chugiak and enjoyed (?) a log home for four years. One night (again at 30 below) I shut the damper prematurely and the house filled with smoke. We credit the saving of our lives to a cat that stood at our ears and mewed loudly. When I awoke, the smoke was within inches of our heads. An earlier resident, when the hearth caught fire, called the superintendent, asking what she should do. He suggested calling the fire department. We didn’t call anyone, but I opened the damper and the doors to get rid of the smoke.  Close call.

In Juneau, we lived on the flats in a Dutch Colonial home. There was no garage for our car. A carport was added while we were there. It was within walking distance of the church and that walk took me right by the governor’s mansion. When I was also appointed to Douglas, pressure was exerted every year for us to move to their parsonage. We did rent it to families. One Coast Guard family complained to me that there was no heat in the upstairs bedrooms. Their children had to sleep in the living room on cold nights. Being an excellent administrator, I took the complaint to the trustees and came away feeling that they were calling the renter and me liars. They had never had any complaints from former pastors. So I did some research and found that yes, indeed, the children of former pastors had to sleep in the living room on cold nights.  But did they ever tell anyone?  No they had not done so. They wanted to avoid the wrath of the trustees, I suppose. That problem may have been fixed.

Then we went to Nome where a fire in an earlier parsonage had caused the system to build the parsonage connected to the church. The buildings were on pilings, frozen into the permafrost to avoid buckling of the building. It worked for all but one and cracks appeared regularly in one bathroom. Not being the smartest fellow, I had it fixed twice and then we came up with a design where the repair would move with the building. No more problem.

One time we noticed water coming from the bottom of the building. My father-in-law and I diagnosed the problem and removed some sheets of plywood from the bottom of the house. Vile stuff came onto my body, including my head. Two showers later, I could live with myself. The drain from the kitchen sink had broken years before and all items of food flushed from the sink was inbetween two boards. My predecessor just thought the summer smell was inherent to living on the tundra of Nome.  As did we.  That got fixed. The smell went away.

If the power went off at 30 below, the building was one hour from freezing, so we put anti-freeze into the system. We were on auto-fill and one night we ran out of fuel. We actually had to brow-beat an employee to get him to come and fill our tank.  Only in Nome.

When we moved to Anchorage, we had a lovely home and a lovely garden. Zucchini is hard to give away.

A layperson encouraged us to buy our own home in order to build up some equity.  That didn’t end well. It was three stories high and Barbara had some surgery that required her to stay home awhile.  Not fun. She lived in the living room.

Then we moved to Sitka in a very large home without a view.  A neighbor allowed us to cut some tree branches and we got a peek-a-boo view of Mt. Edgecumbe.  Not being very smart, I planted some salmonberry cuttings in the yard. The yard was completely natural. When Bishop Dew came we insisted he stay in the parsonage and when he stepped on the back porch, I thought it would collapse. We had it reinforced, but I didn’t have the guts to put up a plaque “The Bill Dew Porch”.  The roof had not been attached properly and it started to blow off in a windstorm. With the help of a layperson, I got over my fear of heights that day.

When we moved to Spokane, we lived in a split level home with water issues.

At Stanwood, we were also in a two level home.  On the flats in a flood zone. With no view. I tried to sell the home , but could not get any interest at the price we were asking.  The trustees had upgraded the house and drained the property with a pumping system, so we had a great garden and few problems.  One of the reasons for selling it is that it is an area zoned commercial, so a family with children would feel isolated.  No problem for us, but some day a family with children may be appointed to Stanwood.

When we retired, we got a ranch style home above the flats with a knock-out view of the Olympics.  Our first home with a view. And soon we will go to a retirement facility, without a knock-out view.  Such is life.

Barbara found the potential home for us, but when we went to see it, it was being sold. We asked if we could see it and were allowed to do so. As we left, I told the agent that if the deal fell through, to please call us. The deal did fall through and he called us and we purchased the house.



Pre-Christmas Letter memories

1955   Mother and I left home to visit two universities:  Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and Olivet (Nazarene) in Kankadee.  I was content with IWU, so we never visited the second school.  It was 50 miles from home, but it felt much farther.  One year I had three jobs and a scholarship and found myself making money and flunking German.  I made some adjustments.

1957   Participated in the Students in Industry Seminar in Detroit, Michigan. We met with many officials in both labor and management positions, including Walter Reuther’s brother. We attended one union meeting, but we were asked to leave when they realized we were not full members. Goons walked the aisles to threaten anyone who objected to what the leadership was doing. Democracy at its worst.

Worked briefly for Verner’s Ginger Ale and for the Ford Motor Company, making radiators and engine blocks. Verner’s allowed employees free drinks. I drank about six cans the first day and none there after.

When working on the radiators, I attempted to make production rates and was clearly warned that new employees do not make production. I was so green that I didn’t realize I was being threatened with bodily harm if I didn’t slow down. Other employees protected me and a co-worker helped me reach my goal several hours ahead of time and then we took the rest of the daily shift “off”. When working on an assembly line, my task was placing paper cups on the engine block.  I worked frantically to keep up, but my co-workers were relaxed.  Great experience.

We lived in a church that was massive.  Even had a bowling alley.  But only about 20 participants because it was a white church in a changing neighborhood. One man was hired to keep the neighborhood kids out of the building. Eventually the church was made into a retirement home.


Jerry Stewardship and I drove to Canada to participate in an Intercollegiate School of Alcohol Studies at Waterloo College in Ontario August 23-28. En route we stopped at Stratford to enjoy some Shakespeare plays, including King Henry IV, Part I. One vivid memory is that we had spent big bucks (for us) on tickets and we suddenly realized that the time had changed on us and we were going to be late. I drove my car very fast and got away with it with no speeding ticket. We got there on time. This school ceased operations in 1976 – a sign of the times. I was deeply impressed by R. D. “Buddy” McGee.

(In spite of the debate about personal letters, John started using a letter to send Christmas greetings in 1959.)

1959 – Illinois Wesleyan, Wapella, St. James, Danville and Garrett

This has been one of the most wonderful years of my life. Life keeps getting more interesting the more I become involved in living. There have been joyous times (when I realized that I was going to make it into 1960 in my present state of bachelorhood)and sad times (when it has looked like this might be a permanent situation). But my “friendly” personality (some call it flirting) keeps getting me in dangerous situations.  Enough of that. I just wanted you all to know that I am still single!

I started the year as the pastor of the Wapella Methodist Church. At conference time in June I accepted the charge for three months when I would then quit and go to seminary. Arrangements for a successor were made by August lst, but by this time I had accepted the job of Minister of Youth at St. James Methodist Church in Danville, Illinois. Danville and seminary at Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois, has kept me very busy this fall.

Back to last summer – I served the Dewitt church for the month of July, as I became a circuit rider. They became one charge when I left. For that month I gave Dewitt the “Best of Shaffer” and Wapella got some “unique deliveries” which could only have been preached there. (In fact it could be argued that they should not have been preached.) The basis of my best sermon was II Timothy 2:14-18, 23-26, but I forgot to apply verse 25 to myself. (Revised Standard Version) It was the most effective sermon I have ever preached, to say the most (we will not bother with the least).

I helped in two camping sessions last summer. During the second camp my cabin was near the top of “the” hill and by Thursday they (my 7th and 8th graders) had worn me out and I rested most of the day.

Speaking of health, I have only missed one day of school is the last 11 years. I feel very grateful for this. I do not know how the teachers felt about it.

I graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a B.A. degree in philosophy June 7th. I was elected to Phi Kappa Phi honorary scholastic fraternity.

I attended the National Convocation of Methodist Youth at Purdue University in August. This was an experience of spiritual growth for me. With this and my seminary experiences I feel that I have grown in many ways this year in my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. I disagree with the notion that one becomes a Christian once and for all time and then that is all there is to it. Growth must continually take place.

By the end of the year I will have preached at St. James 3 times since coming here. The membership is close to 3,000. I have not preached to near that many, but it has been a wonderful experience. One of my chuckles was on the bulletin board announcing my second sermon: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” JOHN SHAFFER. I did take it personally.

Two ordained ministers are on the staff here. Dr. Paul Curry is the Directing Minister and Rev. Leonard Sutton is Minister of Membership. They are both dedicated men and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with them and learn from them. The first Sunday I was here Dr. Curry was out of town and Rev. Sutton was in an accident, so I took over the role of head minister for a day. I got to deliver the rosebuds to new born babies, which I enjoyed very much, and I got to help count the morning offering.

I could write a book (a short one perhaps) on my experiences with the youth here. The potential is overwhelming. I work primarily with the evening groups on Sunday, so far. I recently recruited 14 sets of parents willing to assist me with the intermediates, so coordinating this help will be a test of my abilities as a leader. 30 to 40 intermediates attend the meetings out of an 80 potential. Two college students have been helping me. In the Senior Dept., I have around 150 potential. 30 in the evening is good for them. 60-70 come on Sunday morning and there are 50 in the choir. It has grown in the past three months but I find it hard to become satisfied with the remainder elsewhere.

My family is in good health. Dad can still outwork any of us boys (4 of us) but he should not. Mother is taking care of my grandmother. This limits their activities. I was on radio in August with a sermon and I was pleased that they were able to listen. Wayne and Esther increased the family by one with a baby boy on June lst with the fine name of Eric John. That makes 8 nieces and nephews for me. 3 girls and 5 boys. (ended with 5 girls and 6 boys)

I ride the train to school every week. I stay at Shaffer Hall (Dorm 700) at Garrett on Lake Michigan. Garrett is part of Northwestern University. The lake is beautiful and always different. I spend part of each day on its shores.

One thing that I hope I am learning is to accept people for what they are instead of trying to make them be what I want them to be. I saw the first glimpse of this for myself when I worked in Detroit in 1957 and spent some time on Skid Row. The mistakes I have made in my ministry so far can often be traced to my inability to do this. Sometimes it is very hard to do. In my ministry, I associate with drunks, the indifferent, the self-righteous and the ignorant or stupid-type people. But Christ has reached through this and much more to bring persons to Him. I pray that I may be accepting and understanding of others.


I have gone to school all year for the first time (and the last, I hope) in my life. Summer school on the shore of Lake Michigan was enjoyable, although I did not spend as much time on the beach as I would have liked. I was there (on the beach) long enough to pick up a good burn. I have attended Garrett now for five quarters. I am hoping (that is the wrong word) to take comprehensive exams in the fall of 1961. For those who do not know, comps are defined as three professors asking me questions for one hour about the material that I am suppose to have mastered. They seek to discover areas of weakness, in order to guide me in future study.

I started out the year last January by going to the hospital in Evanston to have seven stitches added to my head after I fell out of bed in the morning. No explanation, please!

During spring vacation I went to Washington, D.C. and New York with a class from Garrett. Highlighted by visits to Congress (where two men were carrying on a discussion on the Senate floor which sounded very political and unprofound – they were the only ones there), tours of many of the historical spots (do not walk down the Washington Monument), a trip to Greenwich Village (unofficial), a night at Radio City Music Hall (the Rockettes have good rhythm), and interviews with officials too numerous to mention, except for one: Eleanor Roosevelt. We did not get to see Ike, Jack or Dick.

I assisted Dr. Curry in my first wedding last August. The youth work has occupied most of my time. We had a fairly good planning retreat last fall with the Seniors in spite of fire crackers, initiations and other ingenius ideas. I still love them all, although some of them might argue this point. This next spring twelve of us are going to Chicago on a M.Y.F. (Methodist Youth Fellowship) Work Camp in the intercity.

I became a Deacon in the Methodist Church last June. I have preached seven times here at St. James this year. The one we will remember (not really) was the time the youth minister put on a red choir robe and preached on the subject “If I Were the Devil!” as he outlines his plan to destroy the church. I preached or spoke within the Danville area a total of twelve times. I slept with the Boy Scouts one night at the State Park. I recalled what it is like to speak to small groups when I preached to twelve persons at a small country church. Wapella still holds the record at five though. I like to preach, so the size does not concern me anymore. I am feeling more at ease in the pulpit here at St. James now. (The first time I preached there I was so nervous that my moving feet unplugged the P.A. system.)

My parents are in fine health. They have been over to Danville to visit twice this fall and I make it over to Ludlow occasionally. I went roller skating three times last summer, so I have a new sport now. I also took up golfing. Anything for laughs, just ask my ex-partners. I broke 100 on nine holes. I am on our church basketball team this winter – undefeated in three games. I am not as young as I used to be.

1961  Danville and Alaska

There is no record of a Christmas letter, but this was an important year for me.

The leadership in Alaska arranged for me to be the Summer Furlough Replacement on the Moose Pass Circuit for the summer months. I lived at Moose Pass, preaching there on Sunday, at Girdwood on Monday, at Cooper Landing on Tuesday and Hope on Wednesday.  I spent two weeks at Birchwood Camp. The first week I was a counselor and the second week I was a dean.

On October 13th, I met Barbara Dadd Shaffer at breakfast and later in the day I passed my comprehensives. On our first date, I showed  her slides of my experience in Alaska.

1962  Danville and Kenai, Alaska

Barbara and I were engaged in February and married on June 16th in the chapel at Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois. During one short period of time, I was ordained as an elder, Barbara was ordained as a deacon, I graduated from seminary, we were married and both of us were commissioned as home missionaries and departed for Alaska. The Mission Board had us pick up a new car in Wisconsin (Rambler) and we drove it to Seattle. In a sense, the Mission Board paid for our honeymoon. Thank you very much. They would not let us drive it up the Alcan Highway, thinking it would be too rough on the car. We complied.


Christmas Letters (Spokane and Stanwood and Auburn)

1995  (Spokane, Washington)

John is enjoying preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ at Manito UMC. After 4 months, John knew over 200 of the 445 members by name, which essentially means he knows most of the participants. Morale is high because of the decision made prior to our arrival to spruce up both the church and the parsonage at a cost of nearly $80,000.00. The salary compensation is lower than Alaska, but we feel good about things. What is that worth?

In moving, we knew that Barbara could continue her contribution to the national church for awhile. She also moved from being President of the Alaska Missionary Conference United Methodist Women to being Secretary of the Pacific Northwest Conference UMW. She continues as a trustee at Alaska Pacific University, as long as we can afford the airfare cost of trips to Anchorage.

Barbara has also spent a great deal of time on family matters, highlighted by emptying her parent’s home in Cleveland when they moved to a retirement home in Indiana. Without making any great theological conclusions, this happened the same year we needed to furnish a parsonage in Spokane, so a significant amount of furniture was driven cross country by John’s brother in late July and we are enjoying lots of wonderful antiques, as well as some other household items. The beautiful Meissen China purchased after World War II has become the centerpiece of our entertainment efforts.

1996  Spokane, Washington

We are slowly recovering from Ice Storm 1996. Power was off at our home for five days. Because our basement floods when a sump pump stops functioning, John purchased what he calls his “retirement generator” and kept the basement dry. Some of our church members were out of power for eleven days. Many assume that such difficulties were common experiences in Alaska. There was the earthquake of 1964 (power out for four hours) and the Nome Flood of 1974 (power out for two days), but this was the longest power outage we have experienced.

We have had nearly 150 persons in our home for an evening meal which has helped us in our get acquainted efforts.

Barbara continues to serve the church by working in the area of church finance. She was elected to the Conference Council on Finance and Administration after serving eight years on the national General council. She serves as the secretary of the Conference United Methodist Women and has a new responsibility as Business Manager of the Pacific Regional School of Christian Mission. She also continues as a trustee at Alaska Pacific University. Barbara has been the guest speaker in several Spokane area churches.

1997  Spokane, Washington

This has been an eventful year, family-wise.

Barbara’s father, Melvin Dadd, died in January after a lengthy illness and we shared with other family members in a celebration of his life. The drive from Chicago to northeastern Indiana was not eventful, but it could have been, as it was in the midst of a blizzard. Instead of sleeping in the airport, we rented a car and dared to go where no one had gone before. Actually it brought back lots of memories of John’s childhood in central Illinois. Piece of cake!

Health-wise, we are nothing a bit of aging.

Barbara participated in the Global Gathering at Kansas city last spring. Her involvements with United Methodist Women and Schools of Mission will take her to Nashville and San Diego in coming months. The Manito UMW unit honored her recently with Life Membership Recognition.

John spent two months of the summer (July and August) serving as the Director of Ministries (Chaplain) at the 400 resident Rockwood Retirement Community. He found this challenging and satisfying, but was pleased to return to only one job when other United Methodist ministers expressed an interest in the position.

The most unusual SERVAS (international hospitality program) visitor this year was a young adult couple with a four year old child. They were biking from Vancouver B.C. to Argentina in a period of two years.

In late October, we drove nearly a thousand miles up into Canada (destination Lake Louise) for a bit of vacation and personal time. We drove in snow one day, but got our “mountain fix” as we enjoyed the Canadian Rockies.

A highlight was sharing with our congregation in the celebration of John’s 60th birthday on November 23rd. The party was a blast from the past, with a (very) few of the stories containing a kernel of truth.

1998  Spokane, Washington

Believe it or not, we returned to Alaska this year, but only for a short stay. We led a work team of twenty six persons to Nome, Alaska. While there, we conducted a Vacation Bible School, painted three buildings and soaked up as much understanding of life there as was possible in nine days.   Our cook (Louise Tower) and 3 fishermen provided salmon in more way than I thought possible. She saved us $600 in food costs, using those salmon.

Nome was bigger than when we lived there. Whether it is better or not, we will leave to others to decide.

Barbara attended the UMW Assembly in Orlando and was able to be present in Virginia for the wedding of her niece. She is deeply involved in Jurisdictional and Conference Schools of Christian Mission, as well as her regular volunteer work in the conference, in our community and in our local church.

In October we participated in a Billy Graham School of Evangelism at Lake Louise in Canada. We discovered this last year while on vacation and decided to would be a good thing to do this year. Between that and the internet message board, John is getting lots of exposure to people who think differently than himself.  (Every time we drive that direction, we enjoy a hot spring experience some where.)

As many of you know, ministers are actually judged by little things, like how well the parsonage yard looks, so we did well there. We let a weed known as sweet clover grow in the backyard and it grew to be ten feet high and twelve feet wide.

1969   Spokane, Washington

We focused our summer vacation on a very remote island in Alaska. St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs nearly 700 miles west of Anchorage and 200 miles north of Unalaska. This experience was at the top of our list of “things undone” during our 33 years in Alaska. We were able to see 23 species of birds, including both tufted and horned puffins. In addition, we saw thousands of fur seals in various rookeries. Their social customs are fascinating. Being a 600 pound bull and not being able to eat or sleep for several weeks protecting one’s territory didn’t look or sound very appealing.

Circumstances of life have forced John to take some public positions on human and civil rights for homosexual persons, both in Spokane and in the United Methodist Church. To be silent is to side with some views that are unkind, unbiblical, un(United)Methodist and unchristian.

Barbara  has finished her four years as Secretary of the Pacific Northwest Conference United Methodist women and she has been nominated for other positions in the UMW organization. After serving this year as the Assistant Dean, she is Dean of the 2000 Cooperative Schools of Christian Mission for our conference.

Barbara was excited when a Disciple Bible study class of fourteen was formed last September, utilizing videos with closed caption and our Sign Language interpreter. Four persons with hearing disabilities are in the class.

Barbara has done some traveling with her various volunteer positions: Nashville, San Diego and Anchorage were among her destinations. Last December John went with her to Anchorage and shared in a church anniversary party in a former parish. We experienced a heavy snow storm that had us wondering if we were going to “get out” of Homer. It was all John could do to get turned around after we got there. Barbara requested a turn around several miles before John agreed. As many of you know, it is tough when the “spouse” is right. (For several years we owned property in Homer as a potential retirement spot.) This experience had us rethinking that plan.

2000   Spokane and Stanwood, Washington)

We moved this past summer. After hanging over 200 pictures and baskets on the walls, the new house feels more like home.

(We moved because I changed my mind about retiring in 2002 and let the cabinet know I was open to moving in 2000 or 2001, as long as the church was the same size or bigger. I wanted one more good experience.  They announced my move in two weeks, then failed to find a replacement for me at Manito.  Very bad form. Some power plays backfired and my congregation suffered. Shame on whoever was responsible. The process is secret, so I will never know.)

The churches are surprisingly similar, except we have had to learn names all over again. Both churches have lots of people who appreciate John’s sense of humor, so the transition has been easy for John. The population of the greater Stanwood area, which includes Camano island, is about 20,000. The area was originally populated by Norwegians. We have been told that our church was established in 1877 as an alternative to the Lutheran and Catholic churches.

The congregation upgraded the parsonage and property. John planted some squash the first week of July. The growing season was so unusual that one plant grew to a wing span of over thirty feet and produced seven large ‘sweet meat’ squash. Farmer John has returned.

Barbara now serves as president of the Council on Finance and Administration of the Pacific Northwest Conference. For orientation she went to Savannah, Georgia. She serves on the Core Planning Unit for the Western Jurisdiction  of United Methodist Women. She goes to Nashville for training for that position.  You Go Girl!

2001   Stanwood, Washington

We traveled to London, then to Brighton for the World Methodist Conference.

After the conference we did a train tour of England visiting major Wesley sites: Epworth, York, Bristol, Oxford and London. Then we attended four theatre productions in London in three days, including “My Fair Lady” and “The Lion King”. Getting tickets was double the fun.

This may have been the year I discovered how to grow dahlias. We also had cherry tomatoes and strawberries.

John made a friend of a hernia this  year and spent a portion of November recovering from the same.

Barbara is deeply involved as a volunteer. Two for the price of one was expected when we entered the ministry in Alaska and now, after nearly 40 years together, it is freely given and offered to the church.

2002  Stanwood, Washington

We have been to Lake Louise in Canada, Michigan, Indiana and Nashville. Last May we visit Mt. St. Helen’s, plus enjoyed some days of relaxation on Long Beach in Southwest Washington. Fried oysters for breakfast.  Yum Yum.

Our parsonage soil grows giants. We planted a Jerusalem artichoke in the center of the garden and we had a twelve-foot giant by the end of the summer. It produced fifteen pounds of tubers when a wind blew it over on the 26th of September. Potatoes and tomatoes are equally productive. Dahlias have been so numerous with blooms that John has enjoyed sharing flowers at the retirement home where he works part time, as well as with friends at church.

We spoke of John’s friend, the hernia, last year. A twin appeared this year, so he did it again. Left side last year, right side this year. The 2nd time, John didn’t preach the following Sunday, at the request of many members.

Barbara got even more deeply involved with the Stanwood Senior Center this year, chairing a committee planning for a 44-apartment addition with 2.7 million dollars from HUD. She has spent many hours pouring over plans with the architects and others.

One of the program ideas we developed at our church is “5th Thursday” trips. So we do it four times a year. Using our 15 passenger church van, we participate in some activity that both of us enjoy, but we share it with several others. Last January we had “lunch” in Anacortes. In May, we added additional transportation and 22 of us enjoyed a two-day field trip to Vancouver BC and saw a play, “A Wrinkle in Time”. In august we went to orcas island (one of the San Juan islands) for lunch on Mt. Constitution and in October we enjoyed the fall colors on the North Cascade Highway (Route 20). So much to do and so little time.  (Footnote: this program outlived us and still continues in 2015 under lay leadership.)

2003  Stanwood, Washington

We had some unique vacation ideas this year. In August we decided to avoid the forest fires of Canada, so we stayed home. One of the greatest ideas for a vacation we have ever had.  Each day we did something special, but close enough to home so that we could enjoy our own bed at night. Think of the money we saved. (The name for this is Staycation.”

In November John had a vacation in Las Vegas while Barbara worked in a meeting. Having spent a great deal of emotional energy opposing gambling in Alaska, John did not succumb to the temptation and he is happy to report he didn’t lose a dime in Las Vegas. But we did enjoy a trip down memory lane by attending a show by the Smothers Brothers. As they happily reported, “We are still here!”

The new housing at the Stanwood Senior Center is being built this year, which brings some satisfaction to Barbara as President of the Board responsible for the project. We also do other volunteer work with them, washing dishes on Mondays and helping in a food booth at the Stanwood-Camano Fair in August. John got first price on seven entries from his dahlias at the fair.

Barbara was elected as a lay delegate to the Western Jurisdictional Conference so this next year she will participate in the election of another bishop. She also did that in 1980 and 1984, so she can see what has changed in the process. She also expects to be elected as the President of the Western Jurisdiction United Methodist Women Core Planning Group in March, so lots of travel and responsibilities will be part of her life for another four years.

Church van trips included lunch at White Rock, BC (just over the border in Canada), a three day trip to Victoria, B.C. and two Seattle outings (International District and the Aquarium-Pike Street Market).

2004   Stanwood, Washington


Fifth Thursday outings with church van

January – lunch at Lynden at a Dutch restaurant

May – Buddhist temple and Islamic Mosque in Richmond, British Columbia

July – tea at LaConner Flats

September – Seattle excusion to Ride the Duck (amphibious vehicle)

December – lunch in Snohomish and a tour of the Antique Mall

2004 Vacation Trips (together)

July – Hope and Seward, Alaska with 10 other persons to watch the Mt. Marathon race on the Fourth of July.

August – stayed home and gardened and worked on new house, now rented

Barbara Trips to:

Oakland – Jurisdiction UOMW meeting (elected President of Core Planning Group)

Pittsburgh – visitor to General Conference

San Jose – delegate to Western Jurisdictional Conference (elected two bishops)

Nashville – training

New York – Women’s Division

Portland-Core Planning


-Finished the Lincoln School Senior Apartments (44 units) for low-income Senior Housing.

-Started a four-year term as president of the UMW Core Planning Group for the Western Jurisdiction, which also places her on the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries.

John and Barbara

-Purchased a house in Stanwood, which gives us another option for retirement. Knock out view.

-Decided not to retire…just now.  Mandatory retirement is in 2008.  Until then, John endures this often-asked question: “Aren’t you retired yet?” The United Methodist Church could exist without him, but it won’t be the same.

-John is happy with the acquisition of a new car. 1984 Lincoln TownCar. It fits in the garage. Barely.

(Story. The owner shared with me that he was waiting for direction for God about what to do with his car.  I told him that if God told him to give it to me, I would accept it.  A few days later it was mine.)

ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS LETTER IN 2004 written the view point of my red truck. (Unique, to say the least.)

Dear Dudes:

Mr. John thinks they have received some unique Christmas letters, with some being written from the point of view of a new baby or a dog or a cat. But have you ever gotten the view of the past year from a truck? Prepare yourself.

Of course, if I am telling the story, it may not just fit one year. John drives me so little that I can’t brag about the miles on my odometer. Some years I don’t get to feel the breeze in my face for 5,000 miles. They seem to prefer the “other” vehicle in their life, just because she doesn’t drink as much gasoline as I do.

But when the Master wants some tough work done, he calls on me. For a long time, I thought he pampered me, but when he put a load of horse manure in my back end last year, I knew the honeymoon was over. They didn’t call those buckets in Nome honey buckets for nothing. Did I smell for awhile! but then John was given a powerful odor eater and I was able to face downwind once more.

Life is a breeze here in the North Puget Sound area. Very little snow. Nothing like the time I pulled a dozen vehicles out of the Manito parking lot in Spokane after church one Sunday. John was so proud of me. My tires didn’t even spin during that workout. Twice now he has utilized  my power to pull out little bushes. Wore out a rope on one of them. Power is my middle name.

Speaking of names, why haven’t John and Barbara given me a name. For awhile I thought I wasn’t loved, but John assures me that he loves me very much. But what surprises me is that when John was thinking of selling me one time, it was Barbara who objected. It turns out that she likes me best of all. I try to forgive John his weakness, but I think I am here to stay for awhile. When push comes to shove (except on long trips) Barbara likes to make me out best. that means I am often in the Senior Center parking lot, where the new Lincoln School Senior Apartments opened in April with 44 low-income apartments.

John takes me on some special projects from time to time and I have been very handy for some of the helping projects, like gleaning potatoes. Oh, it got me dirty, but it is good dirt. But the ultimate insult was when he did some clearing of scotch broom that was loaded with snails. I may still have snails under my protective shell. Yuk!

Last year he had the opportunity to get some “free” dahlias and my bed was completely full in no time. Then John got the joy of sharing the wealth with others. Without me, he couldn’t do those things.

Too bad he doesn’t like to ski, as I could take him into the Cascades with no trouble at all. He rarely uses my full potential. Four-wheel drive is not there just to look at. Why doesn’t he use me more often? But then I don’t want to look like other toys in town, covered from head to toe in mud.

I do like a master who takes care of me. while he doesn’t shine me a lot, preferring to let the youth group do it, he doesn’t get me terribly dirty very often. I think I will stay around a bit longer.

And no, John isn’t retired yet. There are a few folk who think he should be, particularly at his age, but whenever he retires, I would be there to help ease the moving problems, as well as ease the pain. When General Conference refused to remove the age limitation, John realizes the end is in sight, but all the more reason for me to stick around to learn “the rest of the story”.

(Update 2015 – John loved me so much that when I died, he arranged for me to get a new heart/motor.  I have now passed the 100,000 mile marker, but it took nearly 23 years. I have forgiven him for another manure episode (pit washed cow manure for his garden), but my mechanic never will.)

(Update 2016 – We were looking forward to using “the truck” to move from Stanwood to Wesley: Lea Hill in Auburn, when our mechanic said it was time to stop spending money on it. Talk about an honest mechanic. I gave the truck to a friend (Robert Crow Sr.) who thought he could coax a few more miles out of the motor with the help of his son. I do not know the rest of the story as Robert died shortly thereafter, but he did seem to enjoy “my” truck for a few months. A friend loaned us a van for the moving process and it held more than the truck would have held.  We made over 30 trips with “stuff” from Stanwood to Auburn, with good trips taking 1 1/2 hours and bad trips taking 3 hours.)

Signed: the unnamed truck

2005  Stanwood, Washington

Barbara’s big ‘mission project’ for this year was the equipping of a team of nine women for an UM Volunteer in Mission trip to the Dr Congo.

Her biggest ‘job’ in the church is as president of the Western Jurisdiction for United Methodist women, which also puts her on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Division. Quite a few trips to the East and quite a few more in the West. We’re conducting spiritual growth retreats in the eight conferences of the jurisdiction and planning the big quadrennial meeting in 2008 in Honolulu.

In October we spent a week at UMCOR’s Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana for a Primetimers event, which could be described as a combination service project and learning experience. We learned a lot about “Cajun” country and came away with a deep respect for the work done through the Depot through their connections for relief work in 100 countries.

The annual give-away of jams and jellies is about to begin. John picks all sorts of fruits during the summer and fall. It’s frozen then and made into jam and jelly during November. Nearly two hundred jars are on the table at church.

This was also the “year of the roses”.  That story is told under the topic of ROSES in another blog.

2006   Stanwood, Washington

A very stimulating experience for Barbara this year was traveling with twenty-one women to Cambodia in Southeast Asia. Called ‘Ubuntu eXplorers’, a program of the Women’s Division, the team related to the burgeoning Cambodia Methodist Women. We led a three-day seminar, visited numerous projects of the Methodist Church and generally gave encouragement and moral support. The Cambodian church is growing so fast that it is difficult to train pastors and construct buildings fast enough.

In the local church, Barbara has led two adult classes every Monday and Tuesday for several years. One class is studying Islam and the Qur’an. More than thirty people in the group. The primary teaching is done by a Muslim man whose mission in life is to interpret Islam to non-Muslims. There is a palpable excitement in the classroom. The second class, after working through two books by Marcus Borg, is now reading a book by Bishop John Shelby Spong. The covenant among us is that we do not have to agree with him but we will grapple with his ideas. The reading for both classes is substantial but the students are doing it, which tells something about their interest in and commitment to learning new and potentially difficult material.

John is responsible for three gardens. There will be four gardens in 2007. My biggest discovery was the usefulness of a large picka for removing weeds and stirring up soil. No more hoe for me.  (Update: that was probably a mistake, as rotator cuff surgery was in my future.)

This year I was able to visit Hawaii and Anaheim and Reno, following Barbara on three of her trips.

On an even happier note, my local church received forty new members this year and attendance has increased. This will also be remembered as the “Year of Stained Glass”. Seven panels were commissioned and completed. They add much to the beauty of our building. I am becoming an expert on getting a church painted without conflict. The major decision about the color was made while I was in Hawaii! (One wag wanted to send me a telegram that would say: “The vote was a tie. You decide.”)

2007   Stanwood, Washington

We’re now into the second year on the study of Islam. There’s been some coverage in the local press, which has generated quite a response. Plenty of affirmation but also a couple ‘shouty’ phone calls and letters to the editor accusing us of all sorts of things.

I’ve been to Anchorage four times to work on the estate of a 99 year-old woman who died in September. It’s been quite an experience and those involved have learned several valuable lessons from her.

The Pacific Northwest Conference laity once again honored Barbara by electing her as a delegate to Jurisdictional Conference where bishops are elected. I will also be attending General Conference in Fort Worth.

As John approaches retirement, Barbara’s life will radically change. We will make ourselves scarce in the Stanwood church for a year or more until the congregation bonds with the new pastor. We purchased a house in Stanwood several years ago in which we will move in mid-June. It’s a great old house (built in 1958) with a stunning westward view.

John is coming to grips (without excess griping) that retirement is going to be a reality in his life soon, with an effective date of July 1, 2008.  He doesn’t know why it is called “effective”. It would seem more appropriate to call it the ineffective date. Losing three gardens means cutting back on the dahlia hobby.

My last year of ministry appears to be a very pleasant year, as I am not yet being treated as a lame duck. Church programming proceeds forward on a steady beat and people are very kind and affirming. A great way to end one’s ministry. Barbara urged me not to spend most of this year saying goodbye and I am trying to be good, but it does slip out from time to time.

I did spend one week at the UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, LA, while Barbara attended a meeting. The coming year will provide even more travel opportunities as I join her for a regional United Methodist Women’s gathering in Honolulu, Hawaii. I promised some years ago to carry her bags.

The list of “things to do” in retirement is very long and we will see how many of them become a reality. For those who want to know, my main activity will be seeking to be a driver for persons needing to make medical appointments. There are programs that even pay a person for that service. Since we now own a 1998 Cadillac, money would be nice, but at least the patients will ride in style.

2008    Stanwood, WA   Retirement year

The biggest news for this year is John’s retirement on June 30. We also moved to a new house across town in Stanwood.

A great team of women led the quadrennial meeting of the Western Jurisdiction United Methodist Women in Honolulu, Hawaii, in April. Barbara was the President.

Most of her major responsibilities have come to an end. All her responsibilities with the United Methodist Women ended mid-summer. She was given “emeritus” status after 31 years of service as a trustee at Alaska Pacific University.

John’s clergy colleagues did approve him for retirement after 50 years of service under appointment. So my first year as a student pastor doesn’t count, except for my own self. The vote for retirement was not very emotional but I did get emotional when my name was NOT read for an appointment. Perhaps that is when reality sank in. I actually avoided preaching for nearly two month, though I regularly write sermons, just in case they are needed somewhere! However, it is easier to use the same one over and over again and that it is the case for me.

The congregation outdid itself for our retirement celebration. It was a celebration in every sense of the word. In recognition of my encouragement for lots of new stained glass in the church, we now have significant stained glass in our home. Would you believe a puffin window? That may be my reward for not imposing a puffin window on the church (they got a heron and snow geese and an eagle).  Such restraint!  We are grateful to all who participated in this event, as well as for those who have affirmed our ministries over the years.

The last year of my ministry went well. I actually worked most of the year, until it came time to move to our new home and then I REALLY worked. I spent special energy in preparing the way for my successor at Stanwood. Not everyone buys into my take on theology, but at least most know where I stand.

Barbara was nominated for the Bishop’s Award and accepted it from Bishop Ed Paup at our Annual Conference in June. She was almost speechless. I proved that I can keep a secret, as they consulted with me as to the content of the bishop’s remarks. It was a nice recognition of the many things she does for church and community.

Travels together: United Methodist Women gathering in Honolulu; General Conference in Fort Worth.


2008   Stanwood

Barbara is missing her involvement in adult education. We were able to sponsor several progressive study groups in our local church and we both enjoyed being involved in those groups.

In late August, Barbara traveled with three friends to Southern Congo, seeking to establish some relationships there as she begins a term as co-chair of the Bishop’s Task Force on Hope for the Children of Africa in the Pacific Northwest Conference. We are in the process of raising $225,000 to construct a boy’s orphanage there in Lubumbashi.

Both of us enjoy good theatre, so we are signing up for as many as we can handle from Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA.

The biggest news for John is that he didn’t have to cut back on the dahlia hobby. A gentleman farmer (actually a doctor) gave him a garden plot on his farm, so he was able to save his favorite dahlias for another year.

Most of my retirement is spent killing weeds. It is easier than herding cats. Many people have remarked on how “relaxed” I look. It may be true. The pressure of being “available” 100% of the time may have been wearing on me more than I realized. Whatever! I am still keeping busy. I volunteer to read the local newspaper on audio tape, helpful to some who have sight issues. Driving a van for trips sponsored by the Senior and Community Center gets me out and about some. A backlog of reading is also enjoyable.

It is expected that we absent ourselves from the Stanwood church for a year or so. We are taking advantage of our situation to visit many other churches and that has been enlightening. Barbara misses the regular involvement in a local church.  (Added later: we visited 45 churches during that year and never had a bad experience, sermon wise.  Barbara shared that fact with some clergy in a meeting and they scoffed. That told me more about them than they may have intended. I am glad to be retired.

We will continue to be involved. I accepted election as the Conference Secretary for the PNW Conference for the next four years. Barbara is co-chair of the Bishop’s Task Force for the Hope for the Children of Africa. She will keep busy, even if she already has the Bishop’s Award.

Travels together: Jurisdictional Conference in Portland, OR; Dadd family reunion in Huntington, Indiana; officiating at a wedding in Henderson, Nevada; two Older Adult camps; and a Primetimers Event in Georgia.

2009   Stanwood

It’s now been more than a year since John retired. We’ve visited more with friends, not set the alarm most mornings, read more of the newspaper both on paper and on-line, entertained more, worked on the house and yard (some), traveled and mostly set our own schedule.

Travel: To Turkey in May with two scholars: Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. Had the fun experience of meeting Barbara’s siblings in Istanbul under the spires of the Blue Mosque. Taking advantage of the slow economy, we took our first cruise. It will not be our last, though John cannot talk Barbara into an Alaskan cruise for some reason. We “did” the Panama Canal. A much shorter trip took us to North Vancouver Island in Canada. We also explored Southern Arizona and returned to Alaska to celebrate 50 years of Alaska Pacific University.

Barbara finally got the bedroom walls covered with many of our 180+ baskets collected from all over the world. They have come from places we have visited or from places where friends have selected one for us.

When possible, we attend the Stanwood UMC. During our year of hiatus we attended 45 different churches, including four churches named “Trinity” in Vancouver BC; Ballard, WA; Huntington, IN and Savannah, GA. Heard good preaching and experienced good liturgy.

With lots of help, Barbara was successful in raising more than $225,000 for the new boy’s orphanage building in the Congo. That put a smile on her face. Actually, when she computed the figure that took them over the goal, she let out a loud whoop that sent John scrambling to check on her welfare.  Funds were forwarded to Africa and the building is under construction. She continues as co-chair of the Bishop’s Task Force on Hope for the Children of Africa, the group working on the partnership with the UMC in the Congo, especially the orphanages and women’s centers.

She led an adult education experience at Stanwood UMC this Fall.

John’s brother Lee died this past year in July and we celebrated his life in November at the OK Corral in Apache Junction, Arizona, where he worked for many years until his health declined.  (At the close of the service, a cowboy took his ashes on a horse and they rode away while we sang “Happy Trail to You”.  It seemed to fit. His ashes are on Superstition Mountain.

John raised a total of 300 dahlia plants.  Entered a sunflower in the local far on a whim and got the “Best of Show” award. So much for the dahlia expert.

John is doing some volunteer work in our community and preaching a wee bit when asked. Wonderful to be able to use the same sermon more than once. Some people are wondering why John is smiling so much, but retirement is agreeing with John.

2010   Stanwood

Travel: Trips to Copper Canyon in Mexico and to Costa Rica. John finally talked Barbara into a short cruise to Alaska (we lived there for 33 years). We had the opportunity to see Misty Fjords near Ketchikan and Tracy Arm near Juneau, both on our wish list. We also went to Anchorage for Alaska Pacific University events in September. (We were recognized for our financial support of the University.)

When invited to share in the centennial celebration of (United) Methodism in southern Congo, Barbara led a small delegation. While there, they shared in the dedication of the Boy’s Orphanage (Jamaa Letu) that has taken a great deal of her energy in recent years. The Bishop even named the buildings in honor of Barbara and Mama Francine Tshishola, the director of the orphanages.  It is called BART.

Barbara continues her involvement in adult education at Stanwood UMC and Rotary also gets some of her volunteer energy.

John’s activities include gardening, transportation services to medical appointments, reading, good theatre and a wee bit of preaching.

He succeeded at cutting back on dahlias and experimenting with plants that produce food. The most exciting accomplishment was two heads of broccoli the size of a soccer ball.

Aging is also an issue.  High blood pressure and the organ that gives men lots of fits.  I started doing Santa Claus at Christmas time.

2011  Stanwood

We went to Machu Picchu (Peru) and Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) in March with a side trip to the Amazon River. In August, we traveled the coast of Norway with side trips to Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. We spent two weeks in Hawaii in February and another week in May. There were also trips to San Francisco and Phoenix for Barbara’s church involvements. We both attended Barbara’s 50th class reunion at Albion College in Michigan and the 50th anniversary of Birchwood Camp in anchorage, Alaska. We also visited ten national parks, monuments and other sites in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. All together we sent 90 days away from home this year.

We didn’t mention in last year’s letter that we spent one week in December in Salt Lake City as volunteers at the UMCOR Depot West. John traveled all the way to Seattle (50 miles) for the International Lion’s Convention, helping promote PETS (Personal Energy Transportation Hand Bike).  $250 provides one for some one.  Check it out at

Barbara continues to spend time and energy on helping the United Methodist orphanages in the Congo. We are excited that the new boy’s orphanage buildings are now being used. Over 75 children and teens are in care.

We are also using the blessings we have received from work and family to support some good causes: an endowed scholarship in Barbara’s name at Alaska Pacific University and another endowed scholarship in our names to support a university student in the Congo, which now requires $2,500 per year including everything. Education is important to us, so this is one way for us to say so.

Garden space increase by 125 per cent. So forget any comment I may have made about cutting back on dahlias.  I am also growing miniature pumpkins.

Spending time as Santa’s helper has been very interesting. I subbed at Lights of Christmas one night last year and related to 325 children and youth in five hours. This year it was only 292. When we were in Salt Lake City a year ago, a beautiful child decided I was the “man” and she pushed her parents into following me until she could inform me about what she wanted for Christmas. Her parents were thrilled that I would take the time to talk to her. We felt pretty good about it ourselves.  How did she know???  Must be the beard.

2012   Stanwood

A major event of the year was the celebration of our 50th wedding anniversary in June. We hosted a celebration at our church and family came from afar.

Less travel this year: 50 days for John and 80 for Barbara. We celebrated John’s 75th birthday in Hana, Maui, Hawaii.

Barbara visited in the Congo in May for a Roundtable planned by the mission board with both local and international partners. the goal was greater communication and cooperation.

Some church trips gave John more than enough travel experience: Tampa, Portland and San Diego.  His family lost two members this year, both sisters-in-law: Barbara in Paxton, Illinois and Shirley in Mesa, Arizona. We made a quick trip to share in a graveside service for Barbara in Fisher, Illinois.

Barbara was a delegate to the United Methodist Western Jurisdictional Conference in San Diego with major responsibilities as chair of the Program and Arrangements Committee. This concluded all her positions in the general church.

Barbara and Barbara’s sister enjoyed a trip to Scotland in August, without John, though he was invited.

Gardening dominated John’s year with 445 dahlia plants, but who is counting? Lots of beautiful blooms. We calculated that we spent 30 hours digging and cleaning them in October, must of it in the rain. Similar amount of time was spent dividing and storing them.

Promoting PETS is John’s main passion in life.

He continues to be Santa’s helper, but with a fake beard. After some 30 years with a beard, I am trying a new look. My new best friend says that I look twenty years younger. The best story came from a woman to whom I regularly take an item. She looked at it, then at me and said: “Usually John Shaffer gives this to me”.

2013  Stanwood, Washington

We both went to Germany and New England. After attending the International Lion’s Convention in Hamburg, we traveled on the Elbe River into Martin Luther land. John was disappointed to learn that Luther actually didn’t hammer a nail in the church door when he posted his protests.

We went to Harrison Hot Springs in Canada en route to a lecture at Vancouver school of Theology that was cancelled just hours prior to our arrival. After the hot springs, John was so mellow that he didn’t even mind.

Barbara serves on the board of our Rotary Club and is the treasurer of the AAUW branch.

Barbara’s sister and Barbara enjoyed a trip to Ireland in August, without John, though he was invited. (repeatedly)

John has discovered that at age 76, I am getting older.  Doing physical therapy and trying to avoid shoulder surgery.

John continues to be Santa’s helper, but with a real beard this year. Going without a beard was an interesting experience, as many people who know me with it, looked right past me or through me.

2014  Stanwood, Washington

John had rotator cuff surgery in January.

We took a trip to China in May, repeating some of the same things John did in 1975 and Barbara did in 1979. It was interesting to see the contrast with 2014. The highlight for John was a day at the Terra Cotta Warriors display near Xian. Worth the whole trip for him. Barbara marched up 125 steps to both the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower in Beijing, all on the same day.  (Three women took care of me on that trip.  We privately referred to ourselves as the three cucumbers and the general – you would have had to be there to understand.)

Then in October, we went to Africa, beginning with the Democratic Republic of Congo. This was Barbara’s fourth trip to the Jamaa Letu Orphanages (JLO) and John’s first. After a week there, we joined a commercial tour of game reserves in Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. We visited Johannesburg and Victoria Falls in 1971, but everything else was new. the game sightings in Botswana did not happen; because of Ebola concerns, health officials refused us admission due to our time in the Congo. We enjoyed game reserves in Zimbabwe for 3 extra days, and then rejoined our tour group in Zambia. We saw all the big game animals plus lots of smaller ones. Elephants and more elephants which are really impressive, plenty of giraffes, a couple of lions, lots of antelope of several different species, both black and white rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, even a group of army ants on the move. We were moved by the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and a visit to Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for too many years. Barbara’s sister Midge traveled with us.

A personal highlight turned out okay. Well, not exactly a highlight. Lightening hit our house, brought in by branches from a 90 foot sequoia tree that was a major feature of our property. It was located twenty feet from our house. Planted 50 years ago, it was 17 feet around at the base and 6 1/2 feet wide. The lighting split the tree for 40 feet and cracked it the entire length. John knew it had been hit when he found twenty gallons of mature and green cones lying on the ground the next morning. Professionals took it down in three days. Destroyed our modem, router and printer, too, but nothing more.

We are wondering about lightning. The plane we were to fly home on from Africa was hit by lightning as it landed in Johannesburg. We got home a day later than we planned.

John is giving up his “U Pick dahlia garden”, turning it over to someone else. It was fun sharing the beauty of this flower with others. While he is no longer in constant pain from his shoulder injury (fixed on January 15th), aches and pains are sending messages that it is time to slow down a little. He will keep the vegetable garden to supply miniature pumpkins for Barbara and a few other items for us to eat. There will still be dahlias in our yard.

Barbara continues to spend a lot of time and energy raising financial support for the two Jamaa Letu orphanages which was the reason we included the Congo in the Africa trip. Nearly eighty kids in care. There are never quite enough funds. And the kids are growing up so some are going to University for which funds are also needed. Ten students this year.  Want to sponsor an orphan for $493 per year?

The Task Force has accepted the challenge of funding the older students with their post-secondary education or training. The budget is $3,000 per year, all-inclusive of all costs per student. This fulfills the meaning of the words ‘Jamaa Letu’ which translates as ‘Our Family’ in Swahili.  (It was a joy to see the young woman who graduates in 2015 with a degree in Public Health. She gave us a sincere invitation to her graduation ceremony.  We will not make it.)

Each of us leads a small group which we call ConneXion groups. Weekly meetings in modules of twelve weeks so we get to know each other quite well. Barbara leads the Tuesday Bible study group in our local church, now in its fifteenth year. The class tackles some serious study materials together. A highlight of the week for her.

In the larger United Methodist Church, Barbara serves on the board for two foundations with substantial assets, one for the Pacific Northwest Conference and one a national foundation which funds postsecondary education for UM Students at UM-related schools.



(For several years we communicated via newsletters and special communications.  These will be covered separately in other blogs.)

1974  Nome, Alaska  (We used word pictures only)

-Barbara enjoying the lavish table spread by her Vietnamese hostess, as she tours the Orient with Church Women United in February.

-John in his new pulpit in Nome (Barbara packing in Juneau or John unpacking or Barbara trying to find things).

-John watching his mother-in-law and Barbara paint, all summer and fall.

-John admiring a walrus killed by villagers on a July visit to Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. (Both have bears, but John is the one without tusks.

-Barbara hard at work at her desk administering 3 programs, 7 buildings and  9 employees, for the Nome Community since July.

-John and father-in-law carrying whale skull up the Cape of Nome to add to the “collection” at home.

-Barbara reading the paper after a hard day’s work at the office, while John is washing the clothes, cooking the dinner and vacuuming the carpet, once in a while.

-John watching his father-in-law fix the dripping faucet in the kitchen (not to mention the furnace cleaning and window replacing) in July and August.  Not mentioned in the Christmas letter was the discovery that all food waste from the kitchen sink was lodged between a joist under the floor, bringing unique odors to our lives during the warm summer months. We repaired this problem with a car radiator hose. When I opened the flooring from the crawl space under the house, which sets on piling, the mess covered my head.  It took several showers to feel clean again. Unfit subject for a Christmas letter. That problem had existed for years. I was the one lucky enough to notice the drips. My father-in-law knew how to fix it.

-A November storm did $16 million in damage on November 11-12, but we were safe. One of my favorite stories: when the power went off, I decided to fix dinner. No power. So I decided to watch television. No power. In disgust, I decided to go to bed and turn on the electric blanket to keep warm. It was about then that I realized that we had “no electrical power”. Slow learner. Later warm food was available at the elementary school, which we appreciated.

1975  Nome, Alaska

Time for the annual report or the annual brag sheet, whatever you prefer to call it.

John loves to tell about harvesting two reindeer with one shot this fall, although he is slower to talk about the moose he missed at close range last winter.  (Sighting in a riffle does make a difference in accuracy.)

The big news in 1975 was Barbara’s appointment as Special Assistant to the Governor of the State of Alaska. Jay Hammond was elected governor by 287 votes, so it wasn’t exactly a landslide. This past week he visited Nome for the first time since the election. Barbara flew with the governor’s party to Kotzebue, which is one of the 38 villages in her area. As he went from interview to interview, it was exciting to see him maintain his principles on the issues, even in the face of negative feedback from some special interests.

One example of his personal integrity is his appointments to various positions throughout the state. His stance (which he made clear before the election) is that positions are to be filled by competent persons, rather than on the basis of party politics. Several Democrats have positions of importance in his administration. When confronted by politicians who ask him how he feels about the possibility of not getting re-elected in 1978, the Governor has stated clearly that his decisions are based on what is best for the state and not what is best for his political future. This is the kind of witness that makes us proud to share in the political system deeply with one part of our life for awhile.

(Footnote in 2015 – political hacks in Nome were very upset when Barbara was appointed to her position. I did some checking to see how this might affect my local church and found that active members were proud of her. The complaints came from those who wanted the position for themselves.  Sadly, some of those were related to the church.)

Barbara does as much traveling as she can to the 38 villages where she tries to help with municipal government or individual citizen problems with the red tape of big government. While John slowly shares a bit more of the “homework”, Barbara could still ‘fix’ a dinner for seven last week, which included the governor.  Then both of us were off for our evening commitments. (We have less here than in any other parish we have served.) However, on that evening, Barbara went to two briefings with native corporations and then to the P.T.A., while John picked up and met with the Session of the newly formed Nome Presbyterian Church (John is the acting pastor) for 1 1/2 hours, then dropped by to help the United Methodist Women’s Nominating Committee finish its work.

The highlight of the year for John was a trip to the People’s Republic of China. Now he tries to appear cool (not hard in Nome at minus 22 last week) when people ask questions about President Ford’s experience this month in Peking. At least John knows what it is like for the guest of honor to have the privilege of eating the head of the Peking Duck. (Others got the honor in Peking, but John tried a pigeon in Hong Kong, brains and all.) John found that China has made great strides in the past twenty-six years, but he knows nothing of what the future holds. He will join other “China-watchers” in finding out. Typical salary there is $300 (U.S.) per year, but with no personal taxes, subsidized housing, inexpensive food and no inflation, the people find it better than the days of hunger in the earlier part of this century.

(Sending out a report on my trip, one pastor came unglued and forced his mission committee to stop sending money to some one who had a good word to say about China. Sad reaction.)

In the local church, giving is up a bit, service to others has increased through a day-care center and an emergency housing program (which related to more than 200 persons this year), and the budget balances on paper at least, with the help of nearly $20,000 in non-local church support or utility donations.

While our statistics here say success to some, the real measure of success continues to be as difficult to assess in Nome, as it might be any place persons are seriously trying to understand the deepest meanings of life and existence. We hope all of you are excitingly involved in the search in your own life.

1976  Nome, Alaska

We got creative and sent out a letter with a Christmas tree and ornaments, with these words written in some of the circles:

-John was a page at General Conference in Portland, Oregon.

-Barbara enjoyed a week at Maui, Hawaii, in October at a cabin owned by Lowell and Tay Thomas, Jr.

-Our church has recruited four youth workers in the Larger Parish. (all volunteers) An added dimension to our life.

-Barbara was elected President of the Missionary Conference Council on Finance and Administration.

-Church housing provides many unique persons and experiences. (about 200 persons)

-Attendance in church is growing, pledges up $3,000. God for morale.

-John appointed to state-wide Board that serves as an advocate for Rural Alaska.

-Barbara still enjoys serving through her political job.

Nome has no trees! but it was a great blueberry year! We have learned how to pick two greens that Eskimo friends pick from the tundra in the spring. Great salad, but John uses Thousand island instead of seal oil.

1977   Nome, Alaska

Humanity is at its best and at its worse in Northwest Alaska. It makes it an interesting place to live and serve.

Barbara serves as Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Nome Receiving Home – an emergency shelter from babes to age 18.

John and Barbara serve on the Board of Directors for the Nome Child Care Inc., an institution which provides daycare for children from 3 months to 6 years.

One of the needs we found in Nome was the need for a more open “press”. John helped organize a second newspaper. Barbara does some volunteer work as an office manager and John helps “put-it-out” one night each week. Known as THE BERING STRAIGHTS, it will soon be two years old.

Barbara has been a strong supporter for Alaska Methodist University within the Alaska Missionary Conference and she was recently elected to the Board of Trustees.

Although political issues have long been a ‘special interest’ for John, Barbara continues to get involved in the public eye. Her employment as Special Assistant for the Governor for N.W. Alaska ended in early June, after 2 1/2 years of very enjoyable experiences. Leaving interpretation up to wiser minds, Barbara then ran for the Nome Common Council in October and was the top vote receiver. Very interesting. We had a few who thought that minister’s wives had other purposes in life, but we don’t mind continuing to attempt some education on the subject of personhood, etc.

John is finding the dynamics of his fourth year as the pastor here in Nome to be fascinating and somewhat challenging. Our immediate family has included an average of three volunteers during the past year. They work with our children and youth in the church. Volunteer carpenters increased our table to 10 or more during part of the summer. Our social welfare work is frustrating on the adult level, so we grow in our appreciation for the work of our volunteers.

In our humanness, we continue to be grateful for the ‘spark of divinity’ that came into our lives through a little child so long ago.

1978  Nome, Alaska   No letter found.

1979  Nome, Alaska

Barbara’s travel highlight was a trip to the People’s Republic of China with a group of Trustees from Alaska Pacific University, seeking to establish some long-range relationship with that country in meeting some of its educational needs. In the process, she duplicated some of the experiences that John had in 1975, but gained insights into some of the changes that have developed since the death of Mao and the crushing of the “Gang of Four”.

At Thanksgiving, she helped coordinate the visit to Anchorage for Bishop K. H. Ting of Nanking, which involved several days of planning in Anchorage. This, plus a personal interview with him while in China, has established a relationship of some meaning for us.

We will be attending General Conference in Indianapolis April 15-15. John was honored by being elected clergy delegate from Alaska, doubly so because this is the first time that the Alaska Missionary Conference has been granted the right to vote. Barbara will participate as an observer and maybe as a reporter.

Barbara was elected as the lay delegate to Jurisdictional Conference, so we will both be voting at Palo alto, California, in July. (For our non-United Methodist friends, this Conference meets every four years and elects bishops.)

(Footnote: I didn’t have the nerve to vote for myself and Barbara refused to vote for me, so I lost my opportunity to get a vote for the office of Bishop.  It took 44 ballots to elect one of the bishops and John played a role in that process.)

In February, John was elected President of the Alaska Christian Conference, the cooperative ecumenical agency for Alaska, composed of ten denominations. That involves some administrative work, but the budget does not allow for much travel.

Barbara is getting more involved in city politics, surviving crisis after crisis. There are days when she would not mind having a single focus for her energy, but her volunteer work does make a difference for several groups. We both feel good about the opportunities that have been available for service and personal growth.

John and three others obtained a moose about 70 miles out of Nome. (his 2nd in 5 years), so there is moose meat in the freezer. The blueberry crop was a disaster, but John was able to pick seven quarts of cranberries, so Barbara pleases the palate with cranberry bread. A newly purchased canoe has opened the door for some river floats.

1980   Nome, Alaska

John was the General conference clergy delegate. John was pleased to be able to affect legislation pertaining to the Alaska Missionary Conference and the status of local pastors. It was a honor to be the first voting clergy delegate to the conference in the history of our work in Alaska as United Methodists.

Normally, Jurisdictional Conference Would not be a busy time for an individual, but the smallness of our delegation enabled all of us from Alaska to be intimately involved in the process. Barbara served as chair of the Nominating Committee, and John served on the Episcopacy Committee. One bishop was elected on the 2nd ballot (Mel Talbert) and another bishop was elected on a record breaking 47th ballot.

(Two individuals were running hard to be elected:  Jamison Jones of Iliff School of Theology and Dick Cain of Claremont School of Theology.  There was no way either of them could get elected, but it took a long time to convince them of this.  Dick Cain spoke to me in a hallway, indicated that he had been told that I said such and such about him.  I denied it (and resented a breach of confidence) and told him that the statement had been made by others in my presence … and then I ended our friendship by saying that I agreed with what the individual said.  But, again, I did not say it myself.

I played some role in getting the four delegates from Alaska to vote as a block and  those votes started a trend more than once and eventually we were successful in getting Calvin McConnell elected on the 47th ballot.  Irony or ironies, he was the campaign manager for Jamison Jones.)

Since that time, both of us have started serving on a national board of the United Methodist Church: Barbara on the General Board of Global Ministries and John on the General Board of Church and Society. No longer can we claim to be part of the grassroots of the church – for a period of time we will be the leaders.

Barbara just experienced defeat in her re-election bid to the Nome City Council by a vote of 264-214, as we continue to pay a price for John’s volatile involvement in the problem of alcohol abuse. At the same time, we continue to see some positive results of a deepening community resolve to deal with the problem, so we have achieved some of the goals set by us in 1978.

A program highlight was the hosting of an effective work team from First United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. They did major repairs on our property, adding a new bathroom for the housing program we sponsor and painting the entire exterior of the building.

We continue to have helpful volunteer youth workers on our staff, currently Jeff Gargano of Holland, Michigan, and Janice Stamper of Morris Forks, Kentucky. They are involved in four youth groups, plus some musical groups led by Janice. We were able to send one youth (Marilyn Irrigoo) to a national youth meeting in Indiana last summer. Evidence of maturing faith and growing abilities makes the efforts of this aspect of our life here very worthwhile.

Actions on the part of the City of Nome to tax several of the churches that are deeply involved in community service has been a light headache. Strong support from the General Board of Global Ministries has made it a decision of the legal system and not something we have to deal with locally.

Being the local supply agent for caskets is getting close to routine as we come to the end of our 7th year here in Nome – the 2nd longest tenure in the 80 year history of the work here.

1981  (Nome and Anchorage, Alaska)

In February, I went to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a meeting of the Alaska Christian Conference of Churches. We had a new Bishop and a new Superintendent. I was informed that “based on what the bishop had heard about me, I was unappointable in Alaska”. That information made me very angry and I provided some information to the bishop and he changed his mind. I told the bishop that, based on what I had done in Nome, I deserved the best appointment available.  I asked if he heard me (he had) and I ended the conversation.  I got another appointment, perhaps the only one available in Alaska.

In March we served as the Minister of the Month at Hana, Hawaii, for five Sundays. When Barbara visited there a few years ago, we learned about this program. I signed up and they told me it would be several years.  No problem. Then there was an opening and it provided us with the opportunity for a change of pace as we came to the end of our ministry in Nome.  We were appointed to East Anchorage in Anchorage, Alaska. When I went to the introductory interview, some one asked me:  “What happened in Nome?” I told them and the committee applauded.  That was a first and a last in my ministerial career.

In saying farewell to Nome after seven years, which we learn is the longest appointment of an ordained United Methodist minister (since broken by another pastor), we were involved in turning loose several social service responsibilities.

East Anchorage United Methodist Church has proven to be a dynamic and vital congregation for us. We appreciate the contribution of four choirs to our worship life. with several persons also appreciating my preaching, we just feel that a lot of appreciating is going on. And I certainly do appreciate that! (Barbara says ‘groan…’)

Since coming to Anchorage Barbara’s big project was been “Mission to the 80’s”, an evangelistic effort led by Sir Alan Walker of Australia. As Director, she coordinated the efforts of nearly 200 persons in making the project happen.

She is now a student once again, taking courses in accounting at Alaska Pacific University. One course finished and two to go. She has been unsuccessful in finding employment, but still manages to keep very busy with the volunteer work that has kept life stimulating in past years. She has been to Jamaica, New York and Minneapolis this past year, while I have only been to Louisville and New York. This travel helps both of us keep closer contact with family, so that is a positive bonus.

A personal highlight of the year was going to Hana, Maui, Hawaii, for the month of March, when I was selected as ‘minister of the month’ by the Wananalua Congregational Church. For me, the experience was very valuable in achieving some personal freedom in preaching style, with one person indicating appreciation “for being included in the church again”, as I interpreted the meaning of ‘pluralism’ in the midst of a very pluralistic people. “Grist for the sermonic mill” came in floods when one Christian (?) leader proclaimed last year that ‘God does not listen to the prayers of a Jew’. It is that type of thinking that turn many from a serious consideration of that Jew whom we call Lord and Savior. We human being love to build barriers, when part of the Good News is that God knocks barriers down. On my good days, I’m willing to be part of the battering ram. However, after seven years in Nome, it has been nice to live quietly for a few months.

1982   Anchorage, Alaska

-Parsonage rented to Hope Cottages, A government funded program for retarded persons.  We are living in a condominium, part of a 10 unit project.  We could see nesting mallards, red-necked grebes, loons and moose on a near by lake, plus a view of the Chugach Mountains hovering over Anchorage.

-Both of us did a nine mile hike from Hope to Gull Rock, with 3rd-6th graders.

-John climbed a butte in the Matanuska Valley with 2nd graders. Such fun. He knew the milk cows were not dangerous bulls, but the children didn’t.

-Barbara started (January 1, 1983) as the Administrative Director for the Center for Children and Parents ( a program of the Anchorage Child Abuse Board).

1983  Anchorage, Alaska

-Summarized some of our “bird” experiences in Alaska.  Shared that my brother Wayne visited us. We drove the Alcan Highway together from Calgary to Anchorage.  John started collecting Puffin art.

1984  Anchorage, Alaska

-Barbara’s started her musk ox art collection.

-Barbara was the lay delegate to General Conference in Baltimore in May. In deference to Barbara’s continued recovery from double knee surgery in November of 1983, we stayed in a hotel close to the convention.

-John supervised a few Boy Scouts doing volunteer work at removing brush on the Palmer Creek road: 4 days of perfect sunshine and warmth.

-Barbara’s parents came for the fourth time in our twenty two years in Alaska.

1985  Anchorage, Alaska

Barbara did two ten-day cooking stints at Birchwood Camp.

Three trips: February to Hilo, Hawaii to visit Barbara’s parents; Midwest for our furlough and in September, we spent one weekend in the Seattle Area, taking advantage of a price war among the airlines..

1986  Anchorage, Alaska

Last year, on the Palmer Hay Flats, we observed 50 to 100 thousand Lesser Canadian Geese. It is impossible to convey the awe of hearing them, and seeing them coming through the Knik Valley, circling and landing in flight patterns that would make veteran pilots proud.

John’s mother died on April 12th at the age of 89 years from pancreatic cancer. Five weeks passed from the time of our awareness of her illness until her death. John was able to spend a portion of one of those weeks with her, thanks to the generosity of church friends.

1986 was a travel year for both of us: Kenya, Africa, in July to attend the World Methodist Conference and to visit the site of the Silungai Church that we have had some role in establishing. It was a thrill to worship with the people ‘under the tree’.

In October we traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to share with the Dadd family in the 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Melvin and Marian Dadd.

Barbara has been deeply involved as a volunteer on the Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education.  Because she was elected chair of the Commission, she has made several trips to Juneau and find the position to be stimulating. The Commission administers the student loan program (75 million per year) in the State of Alaska, has 60 employees, and authorizes all institutions related to training and education beyond the high schools.

1987  Anchorage, Alaska

John’s father died in June at the age of 90.

Barbara was appointed as a member of the General Council on Ministries of the United Methodist Church for two years, meeting in Dayton, Ohio.

One of our annual adventures has centered around a trip to China Poot Bay south of Homer, Alaska. We join about 150 people on a short trip across Kachemak Bay. This spring outing is sponsored by the Homer Society of Natural History, as well as by the China Poot Bay Society. China Poot Bay Society is attempting to preserve an area for educational purposes. We go on a low tide in May, which enables us to see a wide variety of life in the tidal pools. Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, a luxury resort, is opened to us for that day. Otherwise, visitors are limited to a Center for Coastal Studies, located in a donated building in another part of the area. The highlight in terms of archaeological sites is sitting in the middle of an ancient barabara, the housing system of an ancient native people who lived in this area. John get some thrill (as does Barbara) in passing Gull Island going and coming, with its thousands of sea birds, including a scattering of puffins. Barbara also was able to go on a boat trip out of Seward in July, seeing some spectacular scenery.

Speaking of puffins, you need to be aware that we took advantage of the change in tax laws and donated our puffin collection to the Seward Library and our muskox collection to the Musk Oxen Development Corporation. It was sad parting with them, but they have a good home and will remain in Alaska.

We continue our love affair with Hope, Alaska, but spend very little time there. Whenever we can sponsor some kind of activity there, we do, such as picnics for various groups.

1988   Anchorage and Sitka

We send our Christmas greetings from a new location. Our move to Sitka in August happened very suddenly, due to an emergency in Sitka, not one at East Anchorage.

Because of our large amount of possessions, we chose to move ourselves by U-Haul truck, the 24 foot variety. We climbed the hills of the Alcan Highway at 5 MPH, and the memory of backing onto the ferry at Haines is getting dimmer and dimmer, but my shirt was soaked with sweat before the deed was done.

Sitka is a historic location and very scenic. There are 25 miles of road; all access is by air or by ferry. Even in the rain (96 inches a year), we find a tranquil beauty. In October, the rainiest month we are told, water came from the sky 28 of 31 days, but who is counting?

Sitka was settled by the Russians in 1799 and 1804. Why two times? The local residents killed most of the first settlers, so they had to try again with more caution. Russian America extended into northern California, with Sitka as the capital. When the United States purchased the territory in 1867, Sitka continued as the first capital until 1912. Back then, the fur of the sea otter fueled the economy, until most were killed. Today, we deal in timber, fishing and fish processing, tourism, education and the Coast Guard installation. There are two excellent libraries, including the one at Sheldon Jackson College.

The church has a beautiful new sanctuary that the congregation quite literally built themselves. Membership is 140; attendance at worship is 80 to 90, Sunday school is 50-60.

In late April/early May, Barbara assisted in the sponsorship of a hospitality suite for Alaska Pacific University at General Conference in St. Louis. Barbara was selected to serve on the General Council on Finance and Administration for the church, one of 42 persons on the Council.

Barbara planned one trip for a church-related group that wanted to experience Alaska and learn more about missions.

1989   Sitka, Alaska

Barbara took an art class, John taught “World Religion” at Sheldon Jackson College and both went to Harvard Divinity School where John was a Merrill Fellow.  (that experiences is covered in another blog)

A rebuilt bridge enabled John to move quickly from home to office through the woods.

1990  Sitka, Alaska

We started the year with a vacation to Hawaii, where we treated ourselves to a helicopter ride over the lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii. Seeing the lava hit the ocean water and create new land was beyond spectacular.

In April we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the United Methodist Church of Sitka.  We commissioned an art print of the building and welcomed Bishop Bill and Mitzie Dew.  We saw 90 eagles the morning they arrived.

Barbara made a quick trip to Europe in July for the Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany. In route she got glimpses of London, Amsterdam, Geneva and Paris. John attended summer school at Vancouver, British Columbia, during the same period of time.

John has continued teaching “World Religions” at Sheldon Jackson College. He was nominated and elected to serve on AARP’s State Legislative Committee.  That stands for American Association of Retired Persons.  John also continues as the Conference Secretary.

Barbara has traveled a great deal in her involvement with the General Council on Finance and Administration: Denver, Nashville and San Diego. She continues her service as a Trustee for Alaska Pacific University.

We continue to finish some of the “undone” items on the new building, such as choir risers, finishing some sidewalk and guardrails behind the church and putting a final layer of tar on the roof.

1991   Sitka, Alaska

It has been the year of the Russians – or to be more exact, the year of the Soviet Union. We have learned a lot about Soviet geography, especially of the Soviet Far East. You are aware of the collapse of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and the turmoil which exists there.

But you may not be aware that this year was the 250th anniversary of the Bering/Cherikof expedition from Russia to Alaska. It was in 1741 that two small ships, the St. Paul and the St. Peter, crossed the Bering Sea from Russia to establish the Russian presence in Alaska and North America. This anniversary was the occasion of many commemorative events, both in the Soviet Union and in Alaska.

Barbara found herself providing much of the leadership for the Sitka events. As the chairperson of the local committee (due to her position as Administrator of the Sitka Historical Society), she coordinated the efforts and had a great deal of visibility. These involved hundreds of volunteers and many hundreds of participants. A group of five Soviet yachts (14 meter class sail boats) visited Sitka and two Soviet ships made brief visits. Because of Barbara’s involvement, it became a family joke when her name and/or picture was no longer a daily occurence on the front page of the Sitka Sentinel, our local newspaper.

The highlight for John was traveling out of the harbor on an escort sail boat when the five Soviet yachts left Sitka.  Due to circumstances I greeted one captain in Juneau and then I just happened to be in Ketchikan when they were there.  This was very rare for me.  As I left the boat in Ketchikan, the captain said:  “See you in Seattle”.  He didn’t.

Trip to attend Barbara’s father’s 80th birthday party. Her parents also visited us and we have pictures of the 35 pound King Salmon he caught. Church attendance is higher than last year (60 average last year; 70 this year and 93 in the month of November). Barbara is working hard at a course in the Russian language at the local university. John has accepted a position on the State Legislative Committee of the American Association of Retired Persons, which involves several trips each year to the state capitol in Juneau.

(The sketch on our Christmas card was done by Barbara, at John’s request, to give some feel for the sail boats that visited Sitka this summer.)

1992    Sitka, Alaska

-First trip to Molokai, Hawaii (after visiting the Dadd’s in Hilo)

-Barbara deals with 100,000 tourists at the museum. She attended General Conference and John traveled to San Diego and Seattle for AARP training experiences.

-Hosted 200 United Methodists from a cruise ship, including Bishop Calvin and Velma McConnell. (A conversation with Cal started the process of leaving Alaska and transferring from Central Illinois to the Pacific Northwest Conference.)

-John baked a cake for a children’s sermon with the help of John Liu, a Chinese exchange teacher.

1993  Sitka, Alaska

We took a furlough trip back to Illinois in June. John spoke at the Missionary Recognition Service at the Central Illinois Conference. We shared in the 125th anniversary at John’s home church, Ludlow United Methodist.  John was a speaker.

With the largest employer, the pulp mill closing in September, the entire town is in transition, including the church.

Barbara has been elected as Conference (state) President of United Methodist Women.

Barbara offered her volunteer services to the Bishop of Sitka and Alaska as he prepared to host the Patriarch of Moscow in September. When it was all over, Barbara found herself the recipient of the Order of St. Herman, the highest award given within the Diocese. It is rare for non-Orthodox persons to be so recognized, though there are now two in our own local church. Joe Ashby provided leadership in the reconstruction of St. Michael’s Cathedral in the 1960’s. It is rare to see Barbara flustered, but John can testify to at least one time.

Barbara provided coordination for two separate groups of Russian visitors who came by sailboat to Sitka. Gives her a chance to practice her new language skills. Now the harbormaster calls the mayor and Barbara when the boats slip into port.

We also have had an interest year as far as house guests are concerned: American Field Service Exchange Teacher John Liu from China, Volunteer in Mission Marsha Gehret from Pennsylvania, and a high school student from Metlakatla who we rescued from under a piece of visqueen out in the woods in early November of last year who stayed until graduation in May. We are also involved in an international hosting system called SERVAS, which bring interesting temporary visitors to our door.

We were visited by Jerry and Jo Jennings, the family who ‘loaned’ us their home for our honeymoon back in 1962.  He was still complaining about the rice in the bedroom. Hopefully he will not rank on too many people for the 150 pounds of fish we pulled from the ocean on our fishing day, including a 25 pound King Salmon.

1994   Sitka, Alaska

This may not be important to many individuals, but John must start this letter with an apology. You see, he has a sense of humor. Some have even called it strange. We ended last year’s letter with the sentence: “It has been a tough life, but someone has to do it!” This was supposed to be humorous, since living in Sitka has been exactly the opposite of tough. It has been wonderful and relatively easy. So John’s apologies to anyone who has spent any time feeling sorry for us.

One of our Sitka Christmas traditions has been the picking of a variety of berries by John (Salmonberry, Watermelon Berry, Domestic Red Currant, Blueberry and Red Huckleberry), which Barbara cooks into jam and jellies in dozens of jars. Then we share these with church members and others as the occasion arises. At first we did it just for officers and other leaders, but two years ago we decided to share with everyone and we probably are in a pattern fr the rest of our years here.

The closing of the pulp mill in 1993 continues to impact the life of our congregation and community, but with the sacrificial help of many, we are doing okay.

Barbara has enjoyed serving as Conference (state) President of United Methodist Women. The highlight was attending the Assembly in Cincinnati in April. John joined her for one trip in December to Phoenix (where several members of his family live) for the General Council on Finance and Administration. These positions mean travel for her. She also assists in the local church as the Director of Church & Community Ministries which includes two study groups and an assortment of administrative tasks.

Along with many volunteer activities, Barbara continues to provide the leadership for the Sitka Historical Society. The Society recently received a nice aware for excellence of which she is quite proud.

In January we were in Clevland to observe Barbara’s mother’s 80th birthday. She also drove to Cleveland for a few days before attending Assembly in Cincinnati.

Highlights of the year for John include the purchase of a four wheel drive truck (a ‘man thing’ according to Barbara and some others) and the landing of a 57 pound King Salmon in Sitka Sound on July 29th thanks to Captain Mike Hirai. This was not big by Kenai River standards, but big by Sitka standards. The derby winner was 52 pounds this year. John is ready to die happy now.

He donated the fish to a seafood dinner celebrating Alaska Days (purchase of Alaska from Russia) and was able to repeat his story 57 times when people asked “where did the fish come from?”  He also worked this into sermons.  There were no longer 10 commandments, but 57 commandments and Jesus didn’t have twelve disciples, he had 57 disciples. This joking came to a halt when he was informed that some members had been fishing for a big one all their lives and they were not happy that an occasional fisherperson got such a big fish.  I got the hint. Ruth Finsley kept coming to church.

1995  Sitka and Spokane, Washington

After 33 years of service in Alaska, we moved to Spokane, Washington.

Why did we leave Alaska? After years of exciting and stimulating activities, John was ready for a change. While part of him would have enjoyed staying in Sitka several more years, another part of him wanted a different experience prior to retirement. After surviving seven superintendents and seven bishop and 490 (7 times 70) National Division liaison officers in 33 years, it was time to move on.

Barbara also was ready for something different after five years as the Administrator of the Sitka Historical Society. Her resignation became official just hours prior to the phone call offering the appointment in Spokane. So much for a period of relaxation.

(Not mentioned at the time was the fact that Ketchikan officially wanted a young pastor and by this time, John was not viewed as being young anymore. They got a young pastor and it was a disaster. But the window of opportunity was closed. Also not mentioned was serious conflict with administrators, including both the bishop and the superintendents. Unlike earlier leaders, they were in no mood to do me any favors. The writing was on the wall.  As the Annual Conference celebrated our 33 years of service, the current superintendent allowed us to leave with dignity.  A good friend, Robert Bowers, was selected to make the farewell remarks at Annual Conference. It all turned out for the best. No regrets.)

For Barbara: No more

-Entertaining Russian visitors

-Publishing historical books (two in the past year)

-Dealing with city officials over budget matters.

-Taking three travel days to attend a one day meeting.

For John: No more

-Hiking 35 mile trails at Skagway and on the Kenai Peninsula

-Landing on the slopes of Denali (Mt. McKinley) at the top of Ruth Glacier

-Bear hunts on the Alaska peninsula or moose hunts at Yakutat

-Deep sea fishing expeditions on Sitka Sound

-Catching a 57 pound king salmon

-Exotic trips among glaciers and bird sanctuaries

-endurance of -50 degree temperatures on caribou hunts

-Dealing with constant snow shoveling (that remains to be seen)

-Seeing the quality of life go down in Alaska (we will do it in Washington)

After our experience of some intense community involvement in Nome, we have enjoyed two appointments with wonderful, affirming people. It was hard to leave each one. However, we have found the same affirmation here at Manito UMC on the South Hill of Spokane.  And later at Stanwood UMC in Stanwood and Camano Island.