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Called to Alaska: Pastor Jenny Smith

 

In Alaska, the days are short and the winters long. The isolation gets to some people, but Jenny Smith feels right at home. This young United Methodist pastor says the quiet solitude is a great place for people to find God.

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(Locator: Anchorage, Alaska)

The Rev. Jenny Smith, Saint John United Methodist Church: “Alaska can be a really difficult place to live. In the middle of winter at some points, there’s three or four hours of daylight. You go to work in the dark. You come home and the sun has already set. And it can be isolating. It can be depressing for many. And there’s naturally something about isolation that causes you to choose something to depend on. And so for many that ends up becoming God.

I’m Pastor Jenny Smith, currently serving as Associate Pastor at St. John United Methodist Church in Anchorage, Alaska.

We are physically far from the rest of the United States. For me, being here since I was nine, it doesn’t feel as remote. There’s a gift in the isolation.

Twenty-percent of our state moves in and out every year. So it’s a very transient population. And something really neat happens in that when it comes to a faith community, people that have some kind of church background are looking for that connection. And others that maybe haven’t had it in the past, get up here and the church is able to step into that gap.

My first job was serving as our church pianist when I was in seventh and eighth grade. And I quickly fell in love with worship and putting together those moments for people.

When I was 16, my family moved up to Anchorage and my dad became a pastor here at St. John United Methodist Church for the next 10 years. I was invited to serve as our youth council president. And I started to get a glimpse of what it might look like to be a leader in the church. I was given lots of concrete opportunities to figure out how to love my peers and help point them to God. And some real light bulbs started to go off. Some of the biggest moments happened for me when I went to Exploration in 2000 in Dallas, Texas. These wonderful weekends where the whole kinda Methodist Church comes together to encourage young people to just think about ministry. And it was in that closing worship service where I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was work God had for me in my life.

I graduated seminary in the fall of 2010 from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.   And a month or two later moved with my husband back to Anchorage, Alaska and began a two-year appointment as an associate pastor at two small churches, Anchor Park United Methodist Church and East Anchorage United Methodist Church here in Anchorage. And the main thing that I’ve learned in moving to a larger church system and community is how to empower and to not do ministry for people, but to help others be in ministry. At the smaller churches I was doing a lot of the work myself. And I was finding joy in that. But how much work and opportunity was I taking away from others that might have been really excited to serve? So I’ve learned a lot about giving ministry away, and finding great joy in that.

I have two primary hopes for The United Methodist Church. The first one: that we would not split apart at the seams, that we would find a way forward together. I have no idea what that looks like. But I want to believe that it is possible. My second hope for the United Methodist Church is that God would give us some visions for how to communicate this Wesleyan theology. I’ve seen over and over with young adults and people of all ages, there is something compelling about being United Methodist. But we have to communicate it in some new ways. And if we can continue to experiment and be willing to fail, and be willing to risk with that, then I think we have a future.”

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Pastor Jenny Smith is an ordained elder from the Pacific Northwest Conference. Jenny has been the associate pastor at Saint John United Methodist Church in Anchorage since July of 2012.

This video was first published on November 6, 2014.  In July, 2015, Smith moved to Marysville United Methodist Church in Washington. 
News media contact: Fran Walsh at 615-742-5458.