Rural Chaplains Meet in Chugiak, Alaska*
by Harold McSwain
They came from across the US—22 states—and one person from Canada, a total of 68 people gathered at Chugiak, near Anchorage, Alaska, for the 18th annual meeting and focus event of the Rural Chaplains Association. The agenda included a field trip to the North Star Church in Nikiski, at “the end of the road” on the Kenai Peninsula—three and a half hours one way from Chugiak –and learning sessions with leaders of the Alaska Missionary Conference.
The Rev. Rachel Lieder Simeon, conference superintendent and a director of the General Board of Global Ministries gave an overview of United Methodist ministries in Alaska the rural chaplains meeting in midi-September. The conference has 28 churches, of which seven are reachable only by air or water. Work with indigenous people is increasing.
Rev. Ray Buckley, himself a Native American, is Director of Alaska Conference’s Connectional Ministry. Attired in the dress of his people, he spoke about Alaskan cultures, ministries sponsored by the Conference, and issues presently facing Native Americans in Alaska. The Rev. Steve Lambert, pastor of the Chugiak Church, spoke on the impact of the oil industry and military activities on the state. Scott Rayburn dealt with fishing, forestry, habitats and logging issues. Harold McSwain led a session which “built a sermon” around Rural Chaplains’ responses to their responsibilities in rural places.
Rural Chaplains are men and women who, sensing a call from God, work as volunteers in small town and rural ministry. They continue regular jobs but are certified following a process of study and review. Clergy are also Rural Chaplains. Most but not all Rural Chaplains are United Methodists. The association has historic links to the Office of Town and Country Ministries of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.
A shorter field trip than the one to Nikiski took the group to Willow where Pastor Steve Eldred and Fran Lynch, a Global Ministries Church and Community Worker, were hosts. The route passed by The Mountain, known to the natives as Denali and to others as Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. In addition to her duties in Willow, Ms. Lynch works with the children and youth at Anvik and Grayling, two Athabaskan Indian villages 400 miles west on the Yukon River. Fran described how the Athabaskan elders invited her into their territory a few years ago after another denomination abandoned work there. The rural chaplains made a “love offering” for the Athabaskan villages at a service of worship.
Rev. Simeon preached at the Certification Service, during which Harold McSwain presented five Rural Chaplain probationers for Certification. The five were: Valerian J. Ahles, Iowa; Clifford S. Curry, West Virginia; Lynette Haiflich, Illinois; Tim Reeves, Ohio; and Jack C. Washington, South Carolina.
Association president Stevan Haiflich of Chicago, Illinois provided leadership throughout the event. A report on national Town and Country concerns, including the Comprehensive Plan for Town and Rural Ministries, was given by Dale Fooshee, a director of the General Board of Global Ministries from Kansas.
*Adapted from a report by Harold McSwain.
Date posted: Nov 03, 2006