November is American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month. Nome's Charley Brower has a special connection to the community he serves. Brower is an Alaska Native pastoring a Native congregation. Brower explains how he went from sitting in the pews on Sunday to pastoring a church.
Charley Brower: "God is everywhere. This is his creation. It is our role to protect it, to keep it sacred. I'm from the Iñupiaq, which is the people from the northern part of Alaska. The people in my community are whalers. You catch a whale, it'll feed you for many, many months. Whaling is almost a spiritual thing. It's also very satisfying even if we don't catch a whale, to be in fellowship with the family that's there. We spend several days, weeks together. It's the time of renewal of family ties. Spiritually for me it's also being out in God's creation, to wonder and see how the greatness of the world is there."
Charley Brower is in a unique position as an Alaska native pastor serving in Alaska.
(Locator: Nome, Alaska)
Brower serves Community United Methodist in Nome, a town accessible only by air and best known as the finish line for the annual 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail dog sled race. Of Nome's 3600 residents, about half are Native Alaskans.
(Photo of Iditarod courtesy: Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA)
(Charley speaks to children at church) "Did you hear the story this morning about Jacob and the fabulous coat he had?"
Charley Brower: "Nome for a United Methodist is really a small community as far as the church is concerned. On an average Sunday we might have 35-40 people at church. But the work that I do is more for the Native community beyond The United Methodist Church.
I have people from other churches call, want a home visit because I'm a Native pastor. They would rather not have a non-Native pastor come visit their house because it might not be clean enough, or they might have trouble communicating. Today we have 100 communities throughout Alaska that don't have a regular church service on Sundays because their missionary's not there. The church building might be there. And in order to address that issue I thought maybe working on young folks, asking them if they would consider doing it. And the way to do that is to go to lay pastor school. But none of the young folks stepped up. So I was left kinda holding the bag. What am I gonna do with all this training I've gone through? So that's how I got to be where I'm at. One of the things that United Methodists do here in Alaska we have something called 'giving voice.' It's a gathering of Native pastors, ordained, lay leaders where we gather once a year under the guidance of The United Methodist Church. We talk about what's going in the communities and our lives. And we discuss how best to approach the shortcomings of our communities spiritually. We'll get into the things that bother us the most. Why are there no more church leaders coming out of the ranks of the young folks? How can we be the leaders and making sure that the Sunday morning televangelists are not the only church service people in communities in rural Alaska are attending? There is no community in sitting in front of a TV. So it's United Methodist money and United Methodist people who are making sure these things are addressed by our Native leaders and our Native pastors from several different denominations.
God is everywhere. God is in our daily lives. God is in the least of us. God is there."
Most of the beautiful images in this video were taken by Charley Brower.
He is a past board member of the Native American Comprehensive Plan (NACP) for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship.
Learn more about the Special Sunday offering for Native American ministries.