Not Your Typical Holiness

By Pastor Emily Carroll

On Friday November 30th a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked southcentral Alaska.  And I mean rocked… It sent me diving under the table, grasping onto my husband, and frantically wishing for the earth to stop moving as dishes crashed to the ground all around us.  Since then, the number of times I’ve recounted my own earthquake story and heard others’ earthquake stories is rapidly approaching the number of aftershocks that continue to rattle us around (I think we are over 6000 now…).  Soon after the “Big One,” I spoke with a friend who told me that she immediately dove under her desk and started to pray, “Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, please save us!” I have to admit this story gave me pause… Because I’m a pastor… And the words out of my mouth during the earthquake were more along the lines of “Oh shoot, shoot, shoot!” except I didn’t say shoot…

I had a professor in seminary who on the first day of class pointed us all to Isaiah 6, where Isaiah has a vision of God in the temple and divine beings wait on God, singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!”  And this seminary professor went on to describe how this is the first time this phrase had ever been written or spoken, and how no one really knows what it means. He then continued by insinuating that the best translation for “Holy! Holy! Holy!” might actually be “Shit! Shit! Shit!” as the human Isaiah stood terrified in the mighty presence of God.  

If you had asked me what “holy” meant sometime before Monday, January 14th, I probably would have said something along the lines of reverent, set-apart, having-to-do-with-God, righteous, clean, awed…  My version of Holy was That Which Rises Above, God in High Heavens, with Us Obediently Bowing Down. But on Monday, I experienced a different kind of Holy moment, as I sat with an 89-year-old woman as she transitioned from this life to the next.  As her labored breathing slowed and her muscles contracted in a final push of life, my heart leapt in fear as I realized there was nothing I could do but hold her hand, watch, and beg God to come. Afterwards I couldn’t describe the moment, no word seemed adequate enough to convey both the terror and the grace of this transition of life as God claims us in our death.  

The next morning as I recounted the story to Pastor Andy, he said “these moments are holy.”  And I paused, again, as I recognized both my deep desire to call this moment Holy, and my resistance to it… Because my sterilized, whitewashed, Sunday School definition of Holy did nothing to approach the breadth of the moment.  Holy is when the earth shakes and dishes crash and there is nothing to do but hold on and trust that God is holding you. Holy is when a loved-one’s labored breaths cease and there is nothing to do but hold on and trust that God is holding you.  Holy is when the magnitude of the experience is larger than you ever could be, when you have no control, and yet God still stands firm amidst the shaking earth, when God still wraps the dead in a shroud of love even as grief begins. Holy is not the kneeling, palms-together-in-prayer, head tilted, eyes closed, halo of righteousness around you, pale-blue Precious Moments Figurines.  Holy is the raw, unfiltered, wide-eyed and terrified, humble and scared, gasping for breath realness of life and death on earth. It is the jolt that takes you out of yourself and into another as you trust that God is holding you, whether you have the words to ask God to, or not.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

The whole earth is full of his glory…”

May it be so.

A Special Message From Pastor David Hall to St. John

Rev. Andy and the St. John’s Congregation,

I pray this letter finds you well and in good spirits following the earthquake on November 30th and the many aftershocks we have experienced since then.  I was excited to see the generosity of St. John’s highlighted in reference to sheltering those displaced from Karluk Manor as a result of the damage sustained to the residence by the earthquake.  The love of the congregation of your church is found in the quote from Rev Andy in the article regarding the opening of your doors, “If the church does not exist for this, then why do we exist?”

To love.  To serve. To glorify God in all we do.  It sounds so simple, but can be so difficult because those actions make us look outside of ourselves and our own desires in order to be the hands and feet of the body of Christ.  Your willingness to give of time and self is inspiring and noticeable, not just as the people of St. John’s, but as the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God.

Last week, we had the opportunity to read a letter to our congregation penned by Rev. Andy stating the intent of your church to donate the entirety of your Christmas offering to Girdwood Chapel.  I wish the events of the weekend had not interrupted the planned delivery of that message from Von and Jan Cawvey at our service, so they could have seen the smiles and heard the gasps from our congregation.

The Spirit is moving in Girdwood and we are growing in our ability to provide services and outreach to the Girdwood community.  As this involvement grows, the need for a full time pastor becomes more readily apparent. There are many insertion points within the community for the pastor to have a relevant voice in planning and outreach, as well as, pastoral care.  Your generous gift and continued partnership will help Girdwood Chapel achieve this goal by helping to build a parsonage on the existing church property.

Although we do not know the timeline for the completion of this project and the realization of this goal, your generosity, and the heavy discernment you went through before deciding to act, has given us the affirmation that we are on the right track and are listening to the nudges of the Spirit in our own congregation.  Thank you for the gift of funding, but also, thank you for the gift of affirmation.
May God bless you and your families this Advent Season as we experience the yet, but not yet, presence of Christ.
Your brother in Christ,

Pastor David Hall
Girdwood Chapel UMC

The Big Quake

My dear St. John family,

This past Friday, after the shaking had stopped, and the assessment and cleanup had begun, I was so grateful to walk through the St. John building to find no real damage. Judith Goodrum, our preschool director was onsite during the quake, and spent some time cleaning up the bits that needed it.

Later that day, I received a phone call from one of our members, Cathie Clements. Cathie works for RURAL CAP and told me that one of their facilities, Karluk Manor had been without electricity, water, and heat for over 8 hours. Karluk Manor is a facility that works to help transition people from chronic homelessness and alcoholism into a more sustainable way of life.

She asked if St. John might be a safe place for these residents to spend the night. Of course, the answer was, “YES.”

In less than an hour, we had the building unlocked and ready for our guests. Robbie Brawner, our youth pastor, did a lot of organizing of volunteers, from cooks and servers, to musicians and entertainers, to Bingo callers and people just willing to visit with our guests.

Sal, from Sal’s New York Grill also came with his family, donating lots of food and time.

As I witnessed so many St. John members step forward to host our neighbors from Karluk Manor, I admit I was humbled. I was moved to tears. I was PROUD.

This weekend St. John, you proved that you are the church who you profess to be, loving neighbor as Jesus commanded. Never in my life have I felt more blessed to serve as a pastor. Never in my life have I felt such humility at your selfless actions and love.

From the bottom of my heart, St. John, I thank you, and I love you.

Your fellow disciple,

Pastor Andy

Christmas Eve Gift

Dear St John families and friends,

Each year our church council decides to whom we will give our Christmas eve offering. This year we will giving this offering to our sister church, Girdwood Chapel. 

Housing in Girdwood is extremely expensive, more so than many neighborhoods in Anchorage. In effort to sustainably support a full-time pastoral appointment, Girdwood is seeking to build a parsonage. By financially partnering with our sister church, we are helping them to move from a part-time pastoral appointment to the ability to support a full-time pastor in a community that has very few churches.

This Christmas eve financial gift will be the first step in our partnership with Girdwood Chapel as they undergo this building process. Please join me in lifting Girdwood Chapel in prayer, and please consider giving generously to this gift on Christmas eve.

All grace and Peace,

Pastor Andy on behalf of the St John Church Council

The Season of Advent

Dear St. John Family,

The Season of Advent is upon us. The word Advent has roots in the ancient Latin language, Adventus means “arrival", and advenire means “to come.” This is the season that we learn to wait for the arrival of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

Our Bishop, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, has encouraged us to consider using this Advent season as a kickoff to a year-long quest for spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation. We will be using a devotional by Brian McLaren entitled: WE MAKE THE ROAD BY WALKING.

The book is very easy to read, only 2-3 pages each week. This first Sunday in December, in Advent, we’ll begin with chapter 14, and read just one chapter each successive week through the new year, until we end with chapter 13 one year from now.

Bishop Elaine is inviting us to see 2019 as a CROSSOVER year, one in which we crossover into new life. St John is at a crossroads. Now that our debt is retired, what new and innovative ministry is God calling us to so that we can reach out to the next person with the love of Jesus Christ? Perhaps its not one of the roads before us at all. Perhaps God is inviting us to make a new path forward.

I want to invite you to join with me on this year-long quest for spiritual-formation, reorientation, and activation. You can purchase a copy of the book through your favorite book-seller. Our worship and sermons for Advent and Christmas will coincide with chapters 14-17a.  Throughout the coming year, there will be other opportunities to interact with one another about the material we are reading, and the grace we are experiencing together.

So please join me on this quest, entering this year of crossover, as together, we make the road by walking.

Pastors Andy & Emily