Local church groups reach out to the community
Angel ornaments decorate the giving tree at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River. The church donates gifts to the local Crisis Pregnancy Center, as well as local refugee families in need of gifts and clothing during the holiday season.
STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH
At a local church, a Christmas tree sits bedecked, not with flashy ornaments, but with paper ornaments representing donations from the congregation for pregnant women and mothers in need.
At Christmas time, many congregations say they are taking time to reflect on the example of Christ in caring for the poor and vulnerable.
“Christ said, ‘What you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me,’” said Deb Marino, director of faith formation at St. Andrew Catholic Church, which hosts the giving tree for the local Crisis Pregnancy Center.
The church also gives Christmas gifts and clothing to refugee families it has adopted, and prepares the Christmas dinner meal for the Brother Francis Shelter.
“We’re doing it for Christ,” Marino said. “It’s a core part of our beliefs.”
Pastor Keith Bergstom at Community Covenant Church agreed.
“The Bible says He came to serve not to be served,” Bergstrom said. “And so in following his example, we want to be here to serve our community.”
Community Covenant Church was Eagle River’s host site for the annual Neighborhood Gift event on Dec. 19 and 20, where local families in need could go to pick up food and gifts for Christmas. The program is a partnership between the Salvation Army, Food Bank of Alaska, Toys for Tots, area churches and others.
The church also donates winter outerwear and funds to renovate a transitional living home for prisoners at Hiland Mountain Women’s Correctional Facility, funds for students from Western Alaska at Alaska Christian College, funds for the national organization Operation Christmas Child, and a number of other charities.
Bergstrom said the church congregants’ donations go toward helping a mix of people in the church, locals who are not church members and national organizations.
“You need to have a conscious effort to reach out beyond the walls of the building,” Bergstrom said.
He added, “We want to express the love of Christ to our community, and they’ll take it from there. If they want to come here or go to another good church, there’s a lot of good churches. But we’re going to serve with no strings attached.”
Deidre Henry, the church Secretary for Skyline Family Fellowship, said giving to those in need is a way of showing others the love of Jesus.
“People will be more drawn to the lord if you’re showing them the love of the lord and doing loving acts,” she said. Maybe it will draw someone in to inspire them to come to fellowship, and not necessarily at our church but somewhere they could draw in and connect to a body and be supported.”
Henry said her church also donates to Crisis Pregnancy Center, as well as to premature infants through a ministry called Newborns in Need. The church has a ministry to women prisoners at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center, and this year members of the church will hand-deliver Christmas care packages to the families of the women served by the ministry.
“We show the love of God through that,” she said. “It’s hard to be away from family during the holidays, especially when it’s prison.”
At Eagle River Grace, sharing a little light through song has become a popular Christmas tradition. For 20 years, congregants have participated in the annual Christmas caroling at Alaska Native Medical Center. The Sunday before Christmas, carolers go through the wards of the hospital singing for the patients there.
“My husband’s a physician there, and every year starting in October they start asking if we’re doing it again this year,” said Mary Trimble, whose husband, Brian Trimble, is on the Elder Board at Eagle River Grace.
“We have a lot of people who show up,” she said. “We’ve had up to 70, and we’ve had to split into two groups because we won’t even fit into the halls.”
Henry said giving at Christmas time is one way Christians can share the love of God with others.
“You can tell someone until they’re blue in the face that the lord loves them,” Henry said. “But when you show them it speaks volumes.”