January 2023

January 22, 2023
On January 22, my first stop in 2023, #29, was Congregational Church in the Valley in Chandler, Arizona. During an omelet buffet breakfast before worship, I met several community leaders, many of whom are members. The church is involved in a Chandler Sister Cities relationship with Tullamore, Ireland. Pastor Victor and Cynthia Hardy, along with other members who serve on the board, were enthusiastic about the Arizona International Film Festival taking place that weekend. The church opens its doors to several local groups, including a Korean congregation who worships there on Sundays and holds Bible studies during the week.

That afternoon, I enjoyed a meal with Rev. Brian and Heather Anderson and Randy and Nancy Asendorf and look forward to worshipping with them at the Congregational Church of Sun City on a future visit. I spent Monday morning with the Rev. Rock Fremont, VP for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the International Council of Community Churches.

February 2023

Sunday, February 26, 2023
Sunday, February 26, was a snowy morning in Spokane. The server in the restaurant at the Centennial Hotel cautioned me to avoid secondary roads. For nearly an hour, with gratitude for four-wheel drive, I maneuvered on the highway, noting how few cars were negotiating the roadways. I pulled off at a rest stop to check a weather app. My destination, Warden, appeared clear, so I continued my journey and encountered clear skies and pavement ten minutes later. 

Warden Community Church (#31) was abuzz with preparations for the potluck that would follow worship. I was introduced to children who clearly love and are loved by their church, including Pastor Ed and Jami Backell’s granddaughter. 

The church is busily preparing for hosting the 2024 annual meeting, which Pastor Ed described in his sermon as a “national potluck.” Perhaps in Spokane, you’ll have the chance to hear him sing “bring the best of what you have” to depict our Association. 

At the moderator’s suggestion, I joined her and Ed in the narthex, shaking hands with each congregation member before we shared the fantastic feast in the fellowship hall. 

From Warden, I made my way to Ingle Chapel in Milton-Freewater (#32), just south of the Washington-Oregon border in a region ideal for growing grapes – wine country. Over cookies and coffee, I learned of the church’s extensive ministry to the community, working with other congregations and a local foundation associated with the local power supply company. They are well-known in town for their annual turkey dinner. Recalling their founding in 1886, the members spoke of endurance that has sustained their church. Noting that “God called Moses at 80,” they have hopes for the future.  

Monday, February 27, 2023
My next scheduled stop, Enterprise Oregon, warranted a phone consultation about weather conditions before the 2 ½ hour journey from Walla Walla, Washington. When I called weeks earlier to make plans, the church clerk advised me to rent a car with four-wheel drive, advice that had already served me well when leaving Spokane. We compared personal comfort levels and weather apps. I confessed to being wimpier than the seasoned Wisconsinite the congregation in Enterprise had thought me to be. Even taking into account cautions from my new friends in Milton-Freewater and another guest at the hotel, I decided to venture over the Tollgate Pass (5000′ above sea level), with its own weather systems. The ride proved to be 40 miles of unforgettable snow-covered beauty. I surrendered to the road, trusted my vehicle, focused on my route, and believed that the God who had created the wonder before me was my companion. The scarcity of cars on the two-lane road mitigated the risk. After leaving the mountain, getting into cell range took me a while. Still, I connected with my host by text, arriving only three minutes later than expected. 

I spent the afternoon touring Enterprise and nearby Joseph, cradled in the stunning Wallowa Mountains. This setting delivered a distinctive learning of the listening tour — where a church is located informs how the people live. My trip over Tollgate Pass, a marvelous adventure for me, is the route to the orthodontist for families in Enterprise.  

Tea with a couple of Rotary Club members at the Bookloft, an independent bookstore that also sells the work of local artists, provided for impromptu conversation. That evening, the church treated me to a delicious chili potluck made with local bison. Enterprise Community Congregational Church (#33) is excited to welcome other Pacific Northwestern Congregationalists in May for the first in-person Association meeting since the pandemic. Like Warden, they are gearing up for 2024 in Spokane.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Proud of myself for my ambitious trek on Monday, Tuesday’s route involved more momentous terrain – through Rattlesnake Canyon. My four-hour trip to Cheney propelled me through snow and pavement, peaks and canyons, touches of black ice, and curving vistas with guard rails appearing as fragile toothpicks amid the hilly expanses. Although I’d heard rich stories and wisdom from the residents of Enterprise, I was unprepared for the indescribable beauty and variety as their prayers carried me north.  

When I arrived in Cheney, the wood frame structure called Cheney Congregational Church (#34) radiates the love of the members who built it. When giving me a tour, the minister, Rev. Matt Goodale, emphasized that the fellowship hour holds high importance in the congregation’s life. The sizeable inviting space oozes hospitality, a bookend to the equally inviting sanctuary. The congregation accommodated Covid precautions by worshiping outdoors in a park. Compelling messages and kind people drew new attendees to worship when they returned indoors. Members of the congregation generously shared hopes and concerns for their church. They posed thoughtful questions about the NACCC as they joined our fold only recently, in 2018. As the closest church to Spokane, they are well-positioned for an immersion course at the “national potluck” next June. 

March 2023

March 1 – 5, 2023
Following an evening flight to Anchorage, our Association Secretary, Kate O’Dell, greeted me at the airport just after midnight.  

Starting with three heavy snowfalls in December, this winter was one of the snowiest in living memory. In Anchorage, people take snow in stride but worry about flooding during “break-up” in spring. Fur Rendezvous, a festival in the days leading up to the famed Iditarod sled dog race, delivers fun all over the city. Members of the First Congregational Church of Anchorage (#35) graciously carried me to events, beginning with the ice sculpture competition. At a melodrama about Alaska, I laughed and got showered with popcorn, which I also threw. At a native arts market, I purchased an Eskimo yoyo from. The woman from Quinhaguk, who crafted the yoyo filled with beans, demonstrate how to play with it.  

On a spontaneous trip to Alyeska, I was awed amid snow-covered mountains. Members who work and study at the University of Anchorage, near the church, gave me a tour. An unexpected treat was watching native dancers perform at a sobriety celebration.  

Lingonberries, currants, and rhubarb from edible landscape on the church property showed up in recipes at the Alaskan-themed potluck on Saturday night. I also sampled moose meatballs and reindeer sausage.  

The Sunday morning worship service was made extra special, with a liturgy installing the Rev. Johnathan Jones as the interim senior minister. The bell choir heightened the joyful occasion.  

As I flew home on a red-eye, I was impressed by how the local in “local church” holds power and authenticity in the Inland Northwest and Alaska. The environments that surround Congregationalists inform who they are and how they dwell in God’s created world.  

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