30 Year in Paradise was published in the Central Illinois Historical Messenger, dated July-September, 1992.
Time to reflect on 30 years of missionary service in Alaska: 1962-1995. There have been more highs than lows, though the vast majority of time and energy has been spent on the basic routines of general ministry: preaching, teaching, pastoral care and administration.
I have been fortunate, as far as variety of experiences in Alaska, to be able to live in several different geographic area.
We started on the Kenai Peninsula, serving fishermen (mostly), but also being there as oil development impacted the area economically.
Then we were at Chugiak (building the sanctuary there), serving civil service workers from nearby military bases. I also managed our largest camping program while serving as the pastor. I also ran for the State House of Representatives, motivated primarily by concern about the impact and influence of the John Birch Society. I did not pass the primary.
Shortly after that experience, I was transferred to the state capitol of Juneau and became involved as a volunteer lobbyist. My success convinced me that I am a better lobbyist than politician. I focused on issues affecting people who do not have spokespersons working for them: prisoners, children, women, and alcoholics.
While at Juneau, I participated in the merger of two congregations (United Methodist and Presbyterian) into Northern Light United Church. I was also the pastor of a nearby congregation known as Douglas Community for four of my five years there.
When I went to Nome in 1974, there was more need for pastoral care, so I did not focus on social issues for a period of four years. By then, I was convinced that someone needed to say a negative word about the lifestyle of that community and Barbara agreed to pay the price (with me) for some sort of witness there about alcohol abuse. That is a story in itself.
For three years, I experienced some of the most intensive kind of social witness of my career. Through the use of an initiative petition, we focused on alcohol abuse. 95 percent of the business community was against me, but the town itself was split more like 50-50. The local newspaper editor attacked me editorially by name at least 15 times during the course of my career there. One time the city council spend an evening debating a resolution requesting that I leave town. The motion was defeated.
The unique thing about that was that Barbara was one of those serving on the Nome Common Council. She also voted against the motion. Talk about a conflict of interest? Barbara also served for nearly 3 years as a special assistant for the governor of the State of Alaska (1974-77). She ran for the Nome Common Council shortly after leaving that position and she served for three years.
Having demonstrated that I could fight city hall, it eventually became clear that I was paying a heavy price for my involvement and it was with little sorrow that I received a calmer assignment in 1981 in Anchorage. It was with humor that some of my friends still thought I was living in Nome after I had been in Anchorage for nearly four years. Not close friends, obviously, but it shows how one can blend into a city of 250,000 much more easily than in a village of 2,850. I focused on more positive issues in my community involvement and did not get named in any editorials, though I got close a couple of times.
Eventually there was a special need for a pastor at Sitka and I was picked for the assignment. After several years of a ministry of healing, the church has started to grow again (20 percent increase last year) and we are enjoying our service here.
Because of my earlier ‘reputation’ as a lobbyist, I was tapped to serve on the State Legislative Committee of AARP (American Association of Retired Persons). I am currently enjoying that area of service, enjoying the fact that AARP believes in intergenerational issues, so I am not just focused on senior citizens issues. One of the special areas of my work has been a mental health issue, which affects all ages and people in the State of Alaska.
My local church in Sitka expects their pastor to be involved in community issues, so I am more comfortable here with these involvements than I have ever been in any other local church in Alaska. That is not to say that it has been a problem, but some had trouble dealing with my running for political office in 1968. And others would have wished their pastor was less in the limelight over the alcohol abuse issues when I was in Nome.