Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Anchorage is Not Alaska

One of my biggest learnings so far in this new role is this: "Anchorage is not Alaska." Its part of it, but its not the whole of it. The more I travel to our different ministry settings around the state, the more my eyes are opened to the reality that there is more to life and ministry in Alaska than my experience of it as pastor of a bedroom community of Anchorage has given me.

There are different ministry contexts with unique opportunities and challenges. When I visited Southeast Alaska a couple of months ago, my mind was opened to the realities of air travel in that part of the state. I became acquainted with terms such as "fly over" and "milk run". A "fly over" happens when it is too stormy, or too windy, or too foggy for an airplane to land and so it flies over and goes on to the next destination in the "milk run" which is a chain of airport stops a airline flight needs to make to pick-up and unload passengers and cargo before it reaches its final destination.

When I was in Ketchikan, the flight I was going to be on was a milk run flight that went from Seattle to Ketchikan to Sitka to Juneau to Anchorage. I was going to Juneau and had scheduled a meeting an hour and a half after my plane was scheduled to land and yet another meeting after that. "I have enough time," I thought to myself. But it was stormy and visibility was less than a mile. The plane tried to land three times (we could hear it approaching only to pull back up at the last minute). After the third attempt it flew over and went on to Sitka. Needless to say, I had to rebook and catch the later flight and reschedule all my meetings. What was I thinking! I was scheduling meetings like I was in Anchorage. Anchorage is not Alaska. Its part of it, but its not all of it.

It is easy to get myopic about our ministry settings, thinking that the only way of doing things is the way we do it, that the only great things that are happening in ministry are the stuff that's happening in our own backyards, that there is no greater ministry challenge than that of our own. But the reality is, no ministry context, even a mega church, can claim a monopoly of ministry processes, successes and challenges. Every context is unique and has a story to tell. Every context is different and deserves to be celebrated. Every context has its set of challenges and has to be supported.

On a personal level, it is also easy to get myopic about ourselves and our concerns, as if the world and life itself revolved around us. But it doesn't. Life is not all about us. We are part of a greater whole, a bigger fabric called humanity. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us of this, warning us against believing that we alone are the whole body and encouraging us to consider others who are also part of the same body.

The Alaska United Methodist Conference is a beautiful tapestry of different ministry contexts with their own unique ways of doing ministry. I invite us to an openness to know what is happening in our other settings and a willingness to be in partnership with each other. I invite us to find ways of celebrating each others successes and supporting each other in our challenges and times of failure.

Your fellow disciple,

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