Yesterday, I heard that the Pastor in the Copper Center Community Church resigned. He resigned because the church could not afford to support him and his family. This is a problem throughout rural Alaska. There is a huge need for the Gospel, but the traditional model of a congregation supporting a pastor on local resources is a difficult thing to sustain.
Yesterday afternoon I spoke with David Sternbeck. David is planning to come to Alaska through Lutheran Indian Ministries in partnership with the Northwest District, Zion Lutheran Church in Fairbanks, Denali Lutheran Church, and Alaska Mission for Christ. David's goal is to discover native men that can be trained for Word and Sacrament Ministry in Alaska. He believes there are many Native men that are interested in becoming Lutheran pastors. The problem is how do we support these new pastors once they have been trained. Rural Alaska does not have the financial resources to support full time pastors.
Before I came to Alaska, I spent 12 years in rural Philippines. The issues there are similar. We have approached it in various ways. First, we did not expect Pastors to be full time pastors. Every pastor has a farm or other income that supports his ministry. Secondly, we taught stewardship. God's people can support ministry among themselves when they understand that God desires them to support this ministry joyfully and generously. Thirdly, we looked for ways to help increase the income of the community through Agricultural development.
I think a similar approach is needed in Alaska. We should not expect to have full time paid clergy. Second, we should encourage the local community to be involved in stewardship. Thirdly, we should seek ways to help the community of faith to grow in their economic capacity.
Doing those things is not easy, but we are not called to do easy ministry. We are called to serve a God who is all powerful and can do what seem impossible.