Strategic Ministry Plan affirms CCC’s calling to provide hope, healing and wholeness

Vitality PathwayBy Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Community Covenant’s new mission focus and Strategic Ministry Plan were shared for the first time at the Sept 11 worship services.

“Our mission is to bring Christ’s hope, healing and wholeness to our community and to our world,” said Lead Pastor Todd Michero with excitement, adding God has provided the vision for Community Covenant’s faith community to be one that embodies that same hope, healing and wholeness as well.

Developing the SMP was a labor of love for the members of the Strategic Ministry Planning Team, who Todd said met almost weekly over the course of nine months to discern how the Holy Spirit would shape the church based on the information gathered by the Vitality Pathway’s Internal and External assessment teams and PULSE assessment.

“This is a Holy Spirit-guided process,” Todd said of developing the Strategic Ministry Plan. “That team was tasked with taking all of the information and prayerfully discerning what God would have us do with it.”

It’s been almost a two-year journey along the Vitality Pathway since the church featured the Veritas workshop as the first step toward becoming a healthy missional church to the unpacking of the Strategic Ministry Plan, which has helped shape the mission, vision and values of CCC’s next steps along the pathway.

“We put together some words and we wrestled with them,” said SMPT member David Wille, who said it took some time to discern what the Holy Spirit was communicating about the plan to the team. “It’s kind of like a sculpture to keep buffing it and polishing the words.”

Todd said the Holy Spirit did indeed respond to the team’s prayers for guidance over the months, helping them understand how the 10 Healthy Missional Markers would serve as the building blocks for Community Covenant’s values, which include:

  1. We believe in the centrality of the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16)
  2. We pursue a life-transforming walk with Jesus. (Galatians 5:22-23)
  3. We practice intentional evangelism. (Matthew 28:18-20)
  4. We transform communities through compassion, mercy and justice. (Micah 6:8)
  5. We encourage global engagement and perspectives. (Acts 1:18)
  6. We cultivate compelling Christian community. (Acts 2:42-47)
  7. We express heartfelt worship. (Psalm 138:1a)
  8. We engage in sacrificial and generous living and giving. (Romans 12:1-13, 18)
  9. We promote a culture of Godly leadership. (Hebrews 13:7)
  10. We develop fruitful organizational structures. (Exodus 18:13-26)

“This is how we’re going to go about living into the mission God gave us,” Todd said. “These have moved from markers to values that we’re going to own.”

Todd explained the Strategic Ministry Plan is just a starting point for Community Covenant and that intentional steps are being taken to bring the visions of hope, healing and wholeness into all of the church’s ministries and to people of all ages.

Everything from the Prayer Ministry to home groups to youth ministries will seek to be infused with hope as they build a sense of community, connect people and establish new partnerships within the community, he said.

Healing will be central to CCC’s ministries as well, Todd said, explaining the church seeks to develop a culture in which prayer is commonplace and a shared practice for people by increasing participation in prayer ministries, to include healing prayer, intercessory prayer and use of the prayer wall.

Equipping people through discipleship to be confident and capable followers of Jesus by implementing spiritual formation offerings and spiritual gift assessments is central to helping people realize wholeness in God as well, he said.

Although the church does have a Spirit-led design for the future, Todd stressed the Strategic Ministry Plan is serving a springboard for the church’s immediate next steps toward Congregational Vitality and that God will continue to shape Community Covenant as it continues along the Vitality Pathway.

“We’re starting here, but a year from now, this may look very different,” Todd said, explaining the PULSE assessment will be taken every two years and will help CCC further discern how God would have the church take future steps toward becoming a healthy missional church.

Regardless of where God may take CCC in the future, though, Todd said the congregation can look forward to how the Strategic Ministry Plan will unfold to impact the church, the local community and the world in the weeks and months ahead.

“I really think this is sitting into a good, sweet spot for us,” David said of the plan. “The best days are ahead of us, and I look forward to what God has in store for us.”

Community Covenant Church would like to express its heartfelt thanks to the members of the Strategic Ministry Planning Team, which included Pastor Todd Michero, Kevin Halvorsen, David Wille, Denise Smith, Stephanie Eklund Stockhouse, Cary Moore and former Pastor Erika Whittington.

Live, learn by participating in Home or Vitality groups

The Books of the Bible

Many Home Groups will be exploring “The Books of the Bible,” which is designed to return God’s Word to the format in which it was originally presented.

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Signups for Home and Vitality groups will begin in Community Covenant’s lobby following both services Sept. 11, creating opportunities for participants to share life together with Christ in the center.

The Vitality Groups will be featured as part of Souper Wednesdays, the first of which will be Sept. 21 from 6-8 p.m.

Souper Wednesdays will offer sustenance for both body and soul, starting with a meal of homemade soup and warm bread from 6-6:45 p.m., said Lead Pastor Todd Michero. Studies for adults on a variety of topics and programming for children will be featured from 6:45-7:45 p.m. to allow families and individuals to participate.

According to Todd, childcare will be offered for children 3 and younger; a reading circle will be featured for 4 year olds through second graders; and a Homework Club will be provided for third through fifth graders.

Jeanne South is co-leading a women’s Vitality Group with Sandy Gold on “He Speaks to Me: Preparing to Hear from God.” She said she was motivated to participate in Souper Wednesdays to help contribute to developing a sense of community at CCC.

“I want to have community and build relationship,” Jeanne said. “I think doing so in the church in another venue besides Sunday morning church is a great way to do that.”

She added Souper Wednesdays are intended to help take the stress out of trying to grab a bite to eat amidst participants’ sometimes hectic schedules so they can carve out time to plug into the Community Covenant family as part of their weekly routines.

“When you sit down to eat, you can get to know people,” Jeanne said. “We really want people to come and get to know each other and Jesus.”

Those seeking community outside of CCC are encouraged to explore participating in Home Groups, which will begin the week of Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.

Home Groups will be offered on a variety days and will help participants to worship, grow, serve and have fun together, said Pastor Tyler Shaw.

“Let’s rediscover what it means to share life together with Jesus in the center,” Tyler said, adding the groups are intended to be an integral and intentional part of individual’s lives.

Central to that is the Word of God, Tyler said, adding many Home Groups will be exploring “The Books of the Bible” as part of the Covenant Community Bible Experience.

“The Books of the Bible” is the NIV version of the New Testament, Tyler said, which is designed to return God’s Word to the format in which it was originally presented prior to the introduction of centuries of artificial formatting that changed the order of the books and added chapters, columns, verses, notes and commentary.

“It’s not a study,” Tyler said. “What we’re encouraging people not to do is come to the Bible like it’s a textbook, but as a book.”

Simple questions will be discussed by the Home Groups weekly, such as what participants noticed for the first time, to help create a natural and casual learning environment.

“It’s more like an open discussion,” Tyler said. “What we’re trying to do is see it as a story we can see ourselves in, rather than a study.”

Groups will be encouraged to read “The Books of the Bible” for 15 minutes daily through Christmas, Tyler said, adding Home Group participants will gain the opportunity to have a greater understanding of who Christ is together.

“We want to connect people to the life of Jesus,” Tyler said. “It shows us something when we have a vision of who Jesus is.”

Copies of “The Books of the Bible” will be offered for $5 each, and information on available Home and Vitality groups will be featured following both worship services Sept. 11-25. Any associated costs for specific Vitality Groups will be offered at that time as well.

Email tyler@communitycovenant.net for more information on hosting, facilitating or participating in a Home Group.

Additional information on Vitality Groups and Souper Wednesdays can be obtained by calling 696-5229.

Seeking God’s hope, healing and wholeness during a Week of Fasting and Prayer

A Call to PrayerBy Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Individuals, families and groups are invited to come together for a Week of Fasting and Prayer from Sept. 4-11 to consecrate themselves and the congregation as Community Covenant prepares to receive its new mission focus and the Strategic Ministry Plan.

The week of intentional prayer and fasting will serve as a means of offering praise and glorifying God, as well as asking for wisdom and guidance as people of all ages come together as a faith family to ask God to equip the church’s leaders, create a culture where prayer is common practice and to develop discipleship to become capable followers of Christ.

“We want to be the people He’s called us to be, but we have no hope of doing that if we don’t pray,” said Lead Pastor Todd Michero, explaining that CCC has been called to be a community of hope, healing and wholeness.

Although the Strategic Ministry Plan has developed over the course of almost two years as Community Covenant has made its way along the Vitality Pathway, Todd said the church’s Prayer Ministry has grown to become a vital and thriving part of its daily life.

Sandy Gold has partnered with Heather Smith and Susan Teel in support of the Prayer Ministry, and shared that she understands some people may be hesitant to participate in a corporate prayer event, because they’re unsure if there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to pray.

“When I first started praying with others, I was really afraid. I overcame that fear by praying with people who I felt safe with and who I could learn from. I learned tons by praying with other people,” Sandy said. “I quickly learned prayer was not about me, but about God. Even if I made a mistake, He was the healer and would do amazing things. That lesson took off a lot of pressure to perform. God is always the best teacher, we just need to engage with Him.”

Creating the right atmosphere for prayer can be a significant factor when entering into a conversation with God as well, Sandy said.

“I find it best to remove myself from the million things I could be doing and just be quiet with God for a time,” she said. “Just like you would put away distractions when a friend comes over to visit, I need to remove distractions when I talk with God.”

Fasting will also be a significant part of seeking out God’s wisdom and direction during the Week of Fasting and Prayer.

According to “What the Bible Says about Fasting” by Rose Publishing, “fasting is a period of time during which a person abstains from something central to daily life for spiritual purposes. In fasting, we’re reminded of God’s sustaining power and our humble position before Him.”

The guide explains there are four forms and extremes of fasting, which include abstaining from all food and beverages; not consuming just food; avoiding tasty food and beverages; and fasting from non-food items, such as smartphones or television.

“The purpose of fasting is to help us experience deeper intimacy with our Sustainer and to know His character more fully,” the guide explains. “In our modern age of immediate gratification and constant distraction, removing devices that answer our questions so quickly and keep us from being fully present in our conversations can help us refocus on what’s important.”

Regardless of the type of fasting people pursue, it should always be done responsibly and for the right reasons.

“Whenever you fast, it’s important to make sure your heart is in the right place,” the guide notes, explaining that fasting facilitates a deeper sense of intimacy with God; forces us to rely on Him as our weaknesses are revealed; is a way of worshipping God; and is a means for asking God to move powerfully in our lives and world.

To that end, prayer and fasting guides can be picked up in Community Covenant’s lobby, and the congregation is invited to help seek God’s hope, healing and wholeness at the following corporate prayer events during the Week of Fasting and Prayer:

  • Prayer walk through Community Covenant’s building and grounds on Sept 4. at 12:45 p.m. The walk will begin in the Sanctuary.
  • A scripture-led discussion on preparing for and participating in a time of prayer and fasting on Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. in the upstairs Prayer Room.
  • Congregational prayer on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. in the upstairs Prayer Room.
  • Corporate prayer on Sept. 6 at 9 a.m. in the Family Room.
  • Prayer and fasting for CCC’s staff on Sept. 7 at 11:30 a.m. in the upstairs Prayer Room.
  • Congregational prayer, fasting and communion for the Leadership Team on Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the Library.
  • Prayer Shawl Ministry on Sept. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at Jitters.
  • Evening of prayer, worship and testimonies on Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the Sanctuary.

For more information on upcoming prayer and fasting week events and activities, call 696-5229.

Players soak up the sun, life lessons at Solstice Lineman Camp

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Anchorage School District football players of all abilities put their heads together, literally and figuratively, at the second annual Solstice Lineman Camp Tuesday through Thursday at Eagle River High School.

Eleven players from East, Chugiak and Eagle River high schools participated in the camp, which was sponsored by ERHS, Community Covenant Church, Element Agency and various families and coaches from throughout the area, said Mike Alverts, Community Covenant’s High School and Young Adult Ministry director.

Richard Cundiff of San Antonio coaches East High School senior John Tauanuu at the Solstice Lineman Camp Tuesday at Eagle River High School. Cundiff has more than 43 years of football coaching experience, 30 of which are at the college level. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Richard Cundiff of San Antonio coaches East High School senior John Tauanuu at the Solstice Lineman Camp Tuesday at Eagle River High School. Cundiff has more than 43 years of football coaching experience, 30 of which are at the college level. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Richard Cundiff, a football coach from Warren High School in San Antonio, has coached the sport for more than 43 years and brought his expertise to the event to mentor the teens alongside East High School football coaches Duncan Shackelford and Don Powell.

Richard said the defensive line is where his heart is when it comes to football, but he strives to be a teacher and a mentor to players.

“If I can get a kid to listen and to get a little better or to at least have some information that might lead to him getting a little better at anything, then I feel like, as a teacher as a coach, I’ve done something positive,” Richard said. “If they’ll listen, and if they aren’t afraid to move their body, and their feet, and their eyes and their hands, then that’s going to have carryover value, because they’re going to do that again in a couple of months.”

Mike said the camp theme of “First. Grit. Finish.” was designed to help players develop the follow through they need to be part of an effective line.

Jay-R Hootch, a senior from East High School, practices blocking Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the camp has been offered for players from schools throughout the Anchorage School District. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Jay-R Hootch, a senior from East High School, practices blocking Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the camp has been offered for players from schools throughout the Anchorage School District. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

“The first task is get to your assignment first. If you know what you’re doing, and then you get there first, you’re setup for success,” Mike said. “If you’re there second, you’re just fighting a losing battle.”

Grit speaks to a player’s tenacity, he said.

“You can get beat on a play, but you want to come back fighting on the next one,” Mike explained. “It’s kind of the attitude of not quitting, fighting back, giving it all you have and reaching down deep.”

He said, learning how to finish a play may be the skill that truly defines a good lineman, though.

“Finishing is what most linemen don’t do—a lot of players don’t do. You’ll start a play pretty well at 80 percent and just kind of watch,” Mike said. “The linemen who finish plays are exceptional. They go all the way to the whistle, no matter what side of the ball they’re on.”

According to Mike, lessons learned through “First. Grit. Finish.” training are ones that may apply to the players off the field as well.

East High School Coach Duncan Shackelford demonstrates how to follow through with a play to “pancake” an opponent Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the longtime football coach as mentored ASD students by volunteering his time in support of the camp. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

East High School Coach Duncan Shackelford demonstrates how to follow through with a play to “pancake” an opponent Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. This is the second year the longtime football coach as mentored ASD students by volunteering his time in support of the camp. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

The idea of ‘First’ is there’re just times in life when you need to know when to show up,” he said. “It could be in a family, it could be in a friendship, it could be a job, and you’ve got to show up with your strengths. There’re times when we don’t recognize that, and you get there second, and all of a sudden things are falling apart.”

Grit is a trait many may feel youth in particular could benefit from developing, Mike said.

“People say it’s a little bit absent, maybe due to electronics and all that stuff,” he said. “It’s a valuable life skill of just keeping going. You don’t win everything, you don’t win every play, but you come back and give your strengths.”

Finishing also means bringing your best effort to your personal game, Mike said.

“There’re a lot of things where we set our emotional finish line before we’re done with something,” he said. “Family wise, I could be done with work, but I’m not done for the day. I have to come home and show up.”

Fifteen-year-old Ryan Binniker of Chugiak High School prepares to “finish” a play Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. The sophomore will be using the skills he learned at the camp in hopes of making the Mustangs’ team next season. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Fifteen-year-old Ryan Binniker of Chugiak High School prepares to “finish” a play Tuesday at the Solstice Lineman Camp at Eagle River High School. The sophomore will be using the skills he learned at the camp in hopes of making the Mustangs’ team next season. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

Chugiak High School sophomore Ryan Binniker wasn’t on the Mustangs’ football team last year, but hopes the life and game lessons he’s learning at the camp will help him make the team next year.

“I’m just trying to train as hard as I can to be good for next season,” Ryan said during a brief training break before heading back to the field.

East High School’s Casimir Levao is going into his senior year and said he attended the camp to help him take his team to a championship win next season.

“This is my first and last year,” Casimir said with a laugh, remaining optimistic about what he could contribute to the team, despite his lack of previous experience on the field.

According to Mike, bringing new and seasoned players from schools that would normally compete against one another to train alongside each other at the camp can only help improve ASD football as a whole.

“Different coaches in the area bring a lot of different strengths, and then you get that rubbing off on different teams,” Mike said. “In general, if everyone’s better, football’s better.”

He noted that Alaska’s reputation for being the “biggest little town” in the nation also helps set the tone for the interactions between players and coaches alike.

“Any friend you make in Alaska, it’s highly likely that you’ll see them again. Ultimately in life, we’re on the same team, or we should be,” Mike said. “So, building connections for kids is great, because once high school is done, you’re kind of back in the mixing bowl again.”

Boys & Girls Club partners with Community Covenant Church

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Worship Arts Pastor Tyler Shaw will be teaching ukulele lessons at the Boys & Girls Club of Eagle River this summer. Tyler is one of several volunteers from CCC who’ll be volunteering in support of the club and its youth.

Worship Arts Pastor Tyler Shaw will be teaching ukulele lessons at the Boys & Girls Club of Eagle River this summer. Tyler is one of several volunteers from CCC who’ll be volunteering in support of the club and its youth.

School’s out, and the Boys & Girls Club of Eagle River is turning to members of the local community to help offset the club’s volunteer needs and to keep youth engaged throughout the summer.

The club is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and provides a wide variety of programming for those ages 7 to 18, said Tracey Hupe, the Eagle River Boys & Girls Club manager. Featured programs include art, photography, reading and science, as well as active and educational field trips to locations throughout the Anchorage Bowl.

Packing the summer with so many events and activities isn’t effortless, though, and Tracey said the club relies on area volunteers to come alongside the staff to ensure they can offer the best-possible experience for the 80-90 young people who frequent the club daily.

“Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to run a quality program that the youth will learn from and enjoy,” Tracey said. “Many times, paid staff is pulled away for so many reasons—phone calls, to answer questions and to settle disputes with the youth.”

Tracey said the club is open to entering into relationships with local partners, such as Community Covenant Church, to create an environment in which the youth and the volunteer pool will continue to develop.

“This is the time to create a solid foundation for our youth and to build an understanding that without compassion, understanding, the ability to forgive and love…we can’t have a positive influence on others and society,” she said. “This is the perfect time to lead by example. The Boys & Girls Club isn’t perfect, but we are trying to make a difference that benefits everyone. We need our community partners to help.”

Tyler Shaw, Community Covenant’s worship arts pastor, will be teaching ukulele classes at the club and is one of several members of the church’s congregation who’ve made the decision to invest in area youth through volunteerism.

“It could be an ongoing thing. I’m just taking it one step at a time, and I have a couple of people who have expressed interest in helping me,” Tyler said, explaining that some of CCC’s teens have offered to assist him with the classes. “It’s a cool way to bring some of our youth in to help participate too.”

Community Covenant has helped with a variety of projects at the club in the past, to include serving a Thanksgiving meal to its youth and parents, but Tyler said routine support of ongoing programming may have a more meaningful influence on the community.

“Part of the impact we want to have really requires a long-term relationship. Otherwise, when you start something and you just do it for one season, really all you’ve been able to do is initiate relationship,” he said. “As we continue to do a program, we’ll have those long-term relationships with some of the kids that we’ll continue to see, even if they’re not continuing to do what we’re [offering].”

Routine support of the club will also prevent volunteers from having to continually work to reestablish connections with the club’s youth and employees, Tyler said.

“It’s the long-term relationships that we’re developing with the staff and the people who are there too,” he said. “There’s a trust that builds up, and the opportunity to work together for a bigger impact increases over time because of that trust and relationship that we have.”

Tyler added he has a unique perspective of the Boys & Girls Club of Eagle River, as he personally benefited from just such a club when he was young.

“Growing up in Salem, Oregon, I realized there was a Boys & Girls Club close by. For me, it just became a great place,” Tyler said, adding he discovered his local club when he was in the sixth or seventh grade. “I love sports and activities, so I was over there constantly and building relationships with other kids and involved in all kinds of games and sports and stuff.”

He said the relationships he developed with the club’s staff were valuable ones that he still appreciates today.

“I had good friendships with those people, and I think they rubbed off on me in good ways,” Tyler said. “Those were very positive influences on me, and then because of my involvement there, I got to the point where I was elected the Youth of the Year.”

According to www.bgca.org, the Youth of the Year recognition began in 1947 and has been Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s premier acknowledgment program, celebrating the extraordinary achievements of club teens. Club members who earn the Youth of the Year title embody the values of leadership, service, academic excellence and healthy lifestyles. They exemplify the critical impact the Boys & Girls Clubs have on the lives of young people.

Although Tyler said he had the support of his friends, family, church and his local Boys & Girls Club as a young person, he recognizes that not all youth have the opportunity to benefit from so many positive relationships.

“They’re open to any kids, but some of the kids they draw and some of the kids they continue to want to help are the kids who are on the margins for one reason or another,” Tyler said of the Boys & Girls Club of Eagle River. “They might be kids who would be left to themselves because both parents work or are part of a single-parent family or a blended family.”

The open nature of the club and its staff helps create an environment that allows volunteers to genuinely invest in area youth, he said.

“They’re kids who need something—good kids from my experience. But for that very reason, that’s the place we want to be partnering with as a church,” Tyler said. “There’s opportunity there to make a difference and make an impact.”

Tyler said he’s volunteered at the club in the past, and has witnessed the genuine commitment of its staff to youth, as well as volunteers.

“I get the impression that they have great relationships with the kids,” he said. “They’re there because they want to be there. They like to be there, and they’ve been really open to us coming in there. It’s been a good atmosphere.”

Above all else, Tyler said parents can have some peace of mind knowing the Boys & Girls Club is open throughout the summer and is offering good programs by people who care about their children.

“They’re not just in the business of entertaining kids—that’s not what they’re about. They’re really about trying to build and instill values and help them with a hand up so they’re successful in life,” Tyler said, explaining Community Covenant hopes to impact the local community in the same way. “We want to help people be successful in life and be good citizens, and so there’s no reason we can’t form a deep partnership in that regard.”

The prospect of involving more volunteers with a heart for serving youth is something Tracey said she looks forward to and can only benefit the club as a whole.

“I love it,” Tracey said. “The more volunteers, the better our programs will be, and there will be even more exciting and fresh ideas.”

For more information on the Boys & Girls Club of Eagle River, contact Tracey at 694-5437 or thupe@bgcalaska.org.

Great Futures Start Here

High schoolers brainstorm on ministry’s future

Students and leaders get their blood flowing by sprinting and yelling at the top of their lungs midway through a two-day high school leadership retreat, where they spent hours planning and sharing ideas on the vision and purpose of Community Covenant’s high school youth group at Chickaloon Retreat Center.

Students and leaders get their blood flowing by sprinting and yelling at the top of their lungs midway through a two-day high school leadership retreat, where they spent hours planning and sharing ideas on the vision and purpose of Community Covenant’s high school youth group at Chickaloon Retreat Center.

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Students and ministry leaders put their heads together at Chickaloon Retreat Center during a two-day retreat to plan how the high school youth group can better serve Community Covenant and the surrounding community for the 2016-17 school year.

“The intent of the retreat was to bring together our vested leaders and participants to evaluate, dream and plan about how God is leading us into the next year,” said Mike Alverts, the High School and Young Adult Ministry director. “The hope was to provide increased ownership, to foster collaboration and to aim at fitting our ministry to our opportunities. The whole process also provides an opportunity for aligning together in vision and purpose.”

Ten high schoolers and four leaders participated in the retreat, which encouraged the students to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, observations, threats and barriers that exist when planning discipleship, engaging in prayer and coordinating outreach within and beyond the CCC community.

“Most of us have a ‘born-and-raised-in-the-church’ testimony,” said Madelynn Barnlund, who will be a high school senior in the fall. She said youth who never move out of their comfort zone within the church community may have a limited perspective on how to relate to people who don’t know Christ or don’t know the truth of who Christ is.

“Students give a unique, valuable and keen insight into their peer group,” Mike said. “Students can also begin or accelerate the journey of leading their peers—everything from leading events to leading peers into a personal journey of faith.”

Stephanie Conlan brainstorms activities and outreach opportunities Community Covenant youth can invest in for the 2016-17 school year during a high school youth group leadership retreat at Chickaloon Retreat Center.

Stephanie Conlan brainstorms activities and outreach opportunities Community Covenant youth can invest in for the 2016-17 school year during a high school youth group leadership retreat at Chickaloon Retreat Center.

Stephanie Conlan, a recent Chugiak High School graduate, said participating in the discussions created a sense of anticipation for the future.

“Doing all this stuff, it makes me excited to see what’s going to happen and what I could potentially be doing in the future,” Stephanie said.

The students turned to their Bibles throughout the retreat, discussing healing, hope and wholeness to better understand how God can be present as plans for next school year progressed.

“I enjoyed being able to make plans,” said Brendan Binniker, who began attending CCC with his family this year and will be a freshman at the University of Alaska Anchorage in the fall. “I also enjoyed meeting new people. It makes me feel included.”

Mike said the students and leaders worked hard throughout the retreat, laying the groundwork for next school year and providing feedback on how the ministry may be shaped in the months ahead.

“I thought we had fabulous discussion, great insights from all participants and great alignment with where the church is moving,” Mike said. “I think we’re positioning our ministry to be in step with the broader church body. Everybody worked hard and stayed super engaged.”

CCC welcomes Rachel McConihay to Children’s Ministry

Rachel McConihay works with a child at Lions & Lambs Preschool.

Rachel McConihay works with a child at Lions & Lambs Preschool.

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Transition can be part of the natural life of a church community, and Community Covenant is preparing for a transition of its own as it says goodbye to Children’s Ministry Director Stacy Pickens and her family and welcomes Lions & Lambs Preschool Director Rachel McConihay to serve as the Interim Children’s Ministry Director in the months ahead.

Stacy moved to Alaska in June 2002 with her husband, Marshall, and their sons, Liam, 8, and Zack, 3. She came on staff at CCC in September 2014, and said she’ll hand the reins of the Children’s Ministry over to Rachel May 27.

“I have found Community Covenant to be a precious place that has blessed me and my family greatly. It has been a place of great joy and opportunity,” Stacy said, who will be moving to Caldwell, Idaho, June 9 to be closer to family. “We will cherish our lifelong relationships we have fostered here and pray the Lord has just as dynamic of a church family [for us] to serve alongside of in Idaho.”

Stacy said she’s worked closely with Rachel since the preschool director began serving at CCC in July 2015 and has come alongside her to help her transition to serving as the Interim Children’s Ministry Director go as smoothly as possible.

“We will deeply miss the Pickens family but join them in their excitement about the new opportunities that await them in Idaho,” said Lead Pastor Todd Michero. “Stacy served our church well, giving herself fully to our children and families. Her vision has helped prepare the way for the future of our church’s Children’s Ministry.”

Rachel will bring a wealth of experience to the Children’s Ministry, to include long-term coordination of vacation Bible school programs, serving as a Sunday school teacher and nursery worker and directing the children’s and youth ministry for an Episcopal Church in Arizona.

“Rachel combines the experience and giftedness necessary for directing the Children’s Ministry with a passion for the spiritual nurturing and care of children and their families,” Todd said. “You can’t be in her presence without being inspired to support the Children’s Ministry.”

Rachel said she moved to Alaska in 2014 when her husband, Jeff, was stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to serve as the Behavioral Health chief. They have five children, Katherine, 21, Ian, 19, Caleb, 17, Keegan, 15, and Alayna, 11.

Although the McConihays attend an Episcopal church in Anchorage, Rachel will be regularly attending CCC and will be a vital presence in the Sunday morning Children’s Ministry in her new role. She said she feels called to serve where family foundations are built for children.

“I believe the best practice is to keep in mind that they are children, but our job is to teach them to be adults. They have the same size soul as we do and only know and understand what they have been taught and seen modeled,” Rachel said. “All children want the same things as adults do: to know they are cared for, needed and listened to. If all of these ideas are based in God’s love and mercy, then what we teach can grow out of that.”

While Lions & Lambs Preschool will end May 13 for the school year, Rachel said she plans to serve the ministry for many years to come and was somewhat surprised to be called to serve as the Interim Children’s Ministry Director.

“God’s plan for me is usually a surprise and not what I was planning. However, when I open myself to go in a direction He has placed before me, His plans always are better than mine,” she said. “Every ministry ‘job’ I have been called into has been a challenge, a blessing and way more of what God could do than I could.”

Serving in a manner that best meets the needs of the ministry, church and volunteers is important to Rachel during this time of transition for CCC.

“I hope I can be a balancing factor as CCC stretches into new places and finds new ministers to serve. I hope to encourage and train new workers to be teammates alongside their children or friends in the teaching and training of others,” she said. “Ministry is not restricted to certain people or age groups. I pray I can be an inspiring voice to enable those who do not see themselves as teachers to start seeing themselves as God’s hands and let Him do the teaching.”

She added that being role models as servants of Christ is key when serving the youngest members of CCC’s congregation.

“I want all children to find and know God through the adults around them — for them to understand that church attendance is about the reverence and privilege of serving and knowing God and not about being entertained,” Rachel said. “Faith is an action that they choose each day, and as faith grows, the balance and strength and peace in their life also grow.”

As much as Rachel wants to positively influence the lives of those the ministry serves, she said she’s grown through her years of working with children as well.

“I think the biggest impact has been a better understanding of the breakdown in spiritual health and growth in today’s society. So many families are overwhelmed by life, and parents have a hard time finding and keeping faith for themselves, much less their children,” she said. “While they may send or take their children to church, there seems to be a real need in modeling an active faith to children and training them in how to stand firm on that faith once they leave Sunday school classrooms.”

Eagle River team effects long-term change through short-term trip

La Fuente Pastor Adrian Alexander Tower Martinez pours dirt for Madelynn Barnlund and Teresa Taylor of Eagle River, Alaska, to sift March 11 at a church plant in Compostela, Mexico. The dirt was then mixed with cement to create mortar to texturize the church’s walls. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

La Fuente Pastor Adrian Alexander Tower Martinez pours dirt for Madelynn Barnlund and Teresa Taylor of Eagle River, Alaska, to sift March 11 at a church plant in Compostela, Mexico. The dirt was then mixed with cement to create mortar to texturize the church’s walls. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska — Thirteen members of Eagle River’s Community Covenant Church helped La Fuente Ministries make a long-term difference in communities in Nayarit, Mexico, on a short-term mission trip from March 8-16.

While the group was based out of the state’s capital of Tepic, they had opportunities to serve in and experience the cultures and communities of several towns as they met some of the ministry’s more pressing needs.

“You guys are coming here to come alongside us to do what we’re already doing,” said La Fuente Pastor Tony Simon during the team’s in brief in Tepic.

Simon contributes to the development of many of the ministry’s 21 church plants and stressed the importance of short-term mission teams, who help ensure La Fuente’s ministry bears fruit by focusing on its immediate needs, rather than the team’s own agenda.

“One of the things I really appreciated was the first time we met with Tony, and he started talking to us about the significance of our work and how that work may seem minimal or menial,” said Lori Michero, explaining the team accomplished work the ministry would have had to find a way to complete with our without the help of the mission team. “So, the money and the labor that we bring—even if it’s short-term—has a long-lasting impact, because it helps us come alongside them.”

And work the team did throughout the trip, to include building a stage platform, completing church and Nana’s House painting projects and building a parking lot awning in Tepic, as well as installing a waste pipe and texturing and painting walls at a church plant in Compostela.

“I’ve been wanting to get to painting the house for probably four or five months. We have just never been able to get to it,” said La Fuente Co-founder Pastor Mary Jo Hansen of the work done at Nana’s House. “You guys came down and did that, and it’s done, and it’s such a relief.”

While it may be hard to know how completing such projects contribute to the long-term needs of the ministry, returning team members couldn’t help but see how the work they did last year when they painted the boys’ dorm endured and continued to benefit Nana’s House.

“That was pretty cool. They took pride in that and kept the work that we did,” said Tim Porter. “It looked like we just did it last week.”

Hansen said returning teams also help build lasting relationships with the Nana’s House children and communities they serve.

“They remember you guys,” Hansen said. “It’s a benefit when you see it click for it to keep going forward and to keep building relationships, which is something that La Fuente really needs.”

Part of establishing those relationships is plugging teams into the ministry’s normal routine, Hansen said. Although there’re temporary additions to the staff’s workload the logistics of supporting a team creates, much of what the staff is doing is business as usual.

Lucas Barnlund of Eagle River, Alaska, helps dig a trench to lay a waste pipe March 11 at the La Fuente church plant in Compostela. Barnlund was one of 13 members of Community Covenant Church to serve in the state of Nayarit, Mexico, from March 8-16. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

Lucas Barnlund of Eagle River, Alaska, helps dig a trench to lay a waste pipe March 11 at the La Fuente church plant in Compostela. Barnlund was one of 13 members of Community Covenant Church to serve in the state of Nayarit, Mexico, from March 8-16. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community covenant Church)

“You’re basically able to get a really good view of the ministry and a good view of everything that’s happening down here,” Hansen said. “Usually I have kids over to my house, and I’m at Nana’s House…so I went ahead and just kept that going, because you guys came down here to see what the ministry is doing.”

In addition to the work they accomplished for La Fuente, the team also spent time plugging into the daily routines of Nana’s House, a children’s home that provides care for about 30 youth in Tepic.

While time at the church plants focused on the work the team could accomplish in support of La Fuente, the time spent at Nana’s House was all about relationships, with the team attending football and choir practices; eating meals, playing and doing activities with the children; and learning how to make homemade tortillas from one of the house mothers.

“We would work, and then we’d work with the kids as well,” said Thad Heagy, who was one of three teenagers to participate in the trip. “I expected just the kids—just Nana’s House, but I liked how we went back and forth between the two.”

The time spent in relationship with people helped the team gain a better understanding of the culture and the long-term needs the ministry is helping alleviate, the most prevalent of which include poverty; physical and sexual abuse; and fatherless and abandoned children.

According to Hansen, a lack of education is the greatest contributor to poverty in Nayarit, as many children are pulled from school to work at a young age by their parents or grandparents.

“By the time they become 10 or 11, they look at them as somebody who could work,” Hansen said “Even if they bring a minimal amount of money home, it’s more money than they’re getting.”

The Nana’s House children aren’t an exception to the cycle of abuse and minimal education that exists in the region, Hansen said.

“My kids that are at Nana’s House have been charged rent by their parents or were expected to pay the rent,” she said.

The awareness the mission team from Community Covenant has continued to gain over the last two years has done much to help them better understand how God is using them to meet long-term needs during their brief trips to Mexico.

“Last year, my mind was on the kids and Nana’s House,” said Heidi Porter. “It’s easy to love them and get excited for them and to see the great things that have happened over a year’s time.”

She admits the awareness she’s gained through her experiences beyond the children’s home has helped shape her understanding of the many other needs that exist in the communities La Fuente serves.

“My attitude has changed. Nana’s House is still an awesome ministry that’s going on, and it’s exciting to see how well the kids are cared for and how they’re growing,” Porter said. “However, the poverty in some of these neighborhoods, there’s still a great need.”

Her husband, Tim Porter, agreed.

“The short-term work that we do here is so important in establishing these relationships,” he said. “In the long term, it’s helping spread the Word of God to communities that are so poor.”

As Community Covenant looks toward a third annual trip to Mexico in 2017, it presents an opportunity to further gain an understanding of the ministry and how relationships between the Mexican and Alaskan church communities can continue to grow.

“We talked about being relational, and I didn’t quite understand what that meant,” said Lucas Barnlund. “I thought primarily I’d just come down as a helper, just helping in any way I can, but as we got out into the community and started working with people, I realized everything became relational at that point.”

It’s those relationships that may make the difference for both church communities to effect change and to help the people of Nayarit and Eagle River as God continues His long-term work in everyone the ministry and short-mission trips touch.

Baptism Sunday

Kaiti Cotton is baptized by Pastor Todd Michero April 3 at Community Covenant’s Baptism Sunday. Those who also celebrated baptisms and dedications with the church community included Henry Albertson, Evan Chadwick, Lena Halvorsen, Molly Mae Lamphier and Ava Zuehlsdorff.

Women will get spiritual thirst quenched at Triennial XV

Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Join women from throughout the Alaska conference as they get connected, refreshed and transformed at Triennial XV from July 28-31 at the Sheraton Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo.  Learn More »