Friday, June 11, 2010

A visit to Diocese of Alaska

IT and BP have been exploring again. As is our wont, we get a taste of local communities by visiting church, which gives us an opportunity to meet locals outside of shops and restaurants. On Sunday May 31, we were in Ketchikan, AK. It's a small town, about 13,000 people, hugging a narrow strip of land between forest and sea along the Inland Passage of Alaska's Southeast, and marks the southern entry point into that region. Ketchikian lives on fishing and summer tourism, feeding off the 10-story cruise ships and their smaller brethren that dock alongside in the morning, swelling the tourist shops and the false-fronted frontier downtown, and who depart in the evening, leaving a brighter, quieter community behind (one of the biggest arts communities in Alaska).

As we wandered the town, we walked past a small, clapboard church typical of the structures of this wet climate. BP was pleased to note that St John's, the oldest church building in Ketchikan, is Episcopal, and even more delighted to realize it was possible to attend the morning's service.

So there we were, in a cozy, wood-paneled church just steps from the dock, with a small but cordial congregation. A number of other visitors were there as well (though ironically they were all Roman Catholic!). The sermon, by the retired rector, was very scholarly. It's the kind of community where passing the peace takes some time because everyone has to wander around the church saying hello to everyone else. The Announcements slipped into a parish council meeting as there was a spirited discussion of the timing of the service for the 4th of July Sunday, relative to the town's parade. And then the retired rector, Fr Kotrc, asked an important favor of the visitors. St John's is looking for a new rector, and seeks our help to find one. We informed him that we have a great conduit on the internet tubes into the larger TEC community, and I will tell you more in a separate post so you can help get the word out. We then went out into the surprisingly sunny Alaska day.

Off we trekked further into a northern adventure, blessed by sunny weather and great vistas, orcas, otters and whales before us, mountains around us, and always the restless surge of the sea beneath.

A week later, June 6th, we were afoot in Sitka, the heart of Russian America. The skyline (such as it is, in a town of 8,800) is dominated by the spire of the rebuilt Russian Orthodox Cathedral, clad in the familiar clapboard, and with a bearded priest in the long robes and squared hat of the orthodox running up the steps. Further along the shoreline we found St Peter's-by-the-sea, the oldest original church building in Sitka, in a rather different style of wood and stone, built by its first rector. It's an enthusiastic TEC community that supports three (count them) services each Sunday, the extra one being a "family service" between the early morning and the more traditional later morning service.

Again, a small congregation at the service we attended, again, the church-wide exchange of the peace. This community is vigorous, outgoing, and joyful. They have a fabulous website, and a very personable rector, Fr Dave, who insisted the visitors stand and introduce themselves, and then handed each one a small cross lapel pin and an enthusiastic welcome. (The other visitor this time was a grizzled fisherman, not a tourist, which was a delight). Sitka, which is also a fishing town, differs from Ketchikan in that the cruise ships have to anchor in the bay and tender their passengers ashore. Thus, there aren't as many, and the town is not dominated by docks and 10-foot looming floating hotels that block the sun.

I commented to BP that I expect the sung Eucharist at our home Cathedral to take a long time, with 300 people in the pews and a full music program. What's surprising is that even with 30 people in the pew at these smaller churches, it takes just as long! Still, we enjoyed meeting everyone, and they were all kind and solicitous of the travelers, full of advice and good will and great love for their communities.

Nice church y'all got out there. You ought to advertise it more. ;-)

Photo: Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America--over 6 miles wide. This photo taken from several miles away.

1 comment:

David G. said...

Nice pictures.
The buildings remind of the churches in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, especially St Johns interior.
My brother was stationed in Ketchikan when he was in the Coast Guard.