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2008 Alaska Missionary Conference

May 30-June 1, 2008, Anchorage, Alaska

Twenty-eight United Methodist churches are spread out over the "last frontier," with ministries to several outlying areas in the Alaska Missionary Conference. When members gather as a conference, it is a family affair. Members know each other and understand their various struggles and triumphs. They love praising God together in the few times they are able to come together during the course of the year.

The "Top 10" accomplishments of the 2008 session are:

  • Changed its name from the Alaska Missionary Conference to the Alaska United Methodist Conference (AUMC). While remaining a missionary conference in The United Methodist Church, the change reflects that the conference is learning how to do mission in the 21st century in its unique setting. The conference learned from Native sisters and brothers that the word "missionary" can be offensive because of the sometimes disturbing history of Christian missionary activity in Alaska. Out of deference to its Native friends, the conference changed its name, but its official status remains the same;
  • Began by singing "And Are We Yet Alive." (That's how we United Methodists, even those of us up here, know we've begun!);
  • Increased membership on its program and administrative committees to reflect an increase in clergy in the conference (from clergy couples) and a desire for more lay participation;
  • Conducted "Hoopla" for Nothing But Nets, netting more than $600 for the anti-malaria campaign;
  • Celebrated "Good Gnus Money," a program for grants up to $2,000 to use as seed money for new ministry projects. The conference wants to encourage local churches and members to dream of potential new ministries in their settings. And, yes, the program material has several "gnus" on it;
  • Said goodbye to Bishop Ed Paup who will become chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries after 12 years with the conference. Members also said goodbye to the Rev. Rachel Lieder Simeon, conference superintendent, who will become associate general secretary for administration of UMCOR after 15 years in Alaska;
  • Conducted "holy conferencing." A unique feature of the Alaska United Methodist Conference is that its small size allows people to spend a lot of time togetherat meals, worship, small groups and just being together. If God is moving in a particular way, the conference has the freedom to move right along with God. And conference leadership has been attentive to that during the conference gatherings;
  • Shared a report from the 2008 General Conference lifting up the denominational meeting's high points, holy points and points of disagreement. Members shared that the Alaska Conference is challenged to make its distinctive voice heard in the larger church. While the state is large in size, the church is small in numbers. Changes will make it more difficult to express the conference's missional needs, particularly on churchwide boards and agencies. Nevertheless, the conference believes it has something to say to the larger church;
  • Adopted as its 2008-2009 missional priority "Native Ministry in Alaska" to identify Native communities (some of which are very isolated) and their needs for expanding mission and to raise up lay leaders and ministerial leaders in these communities;
  • Received the 2007 mission offering taken by the Virginia Annual Conference which will help fun "Giving Voice," an ecumenical gathering of Native elders representing several regions and tribes. While this started as a gathering to give a place at a table for elders to share concerns and religious experiences, it has grown into discussions on addressing and exploring solutions for common problems. By being part of this process, the conference is learning how best to address the needs of Native communities, some of which it has never worked with before.

Membership stands at 3,928, down 142 from the previous year. Worship attendance stands at 2,415, down 153. Church school attendance stands at 964, down 28.

Jim Doepken