While Church activities in Anchorage, Alaska, differ little from those in any U. S. town of 250,000, there are some things here that take getting used to. In summer, daylight lasts all night long. It’s possible to forget to go to bed.
Winters, with their short hours of daylight, can be depressing. Children go to school and come home in the dark. In December and January, you can miss Sunday’s brief “day” while attending Church.
Anchorage’s climate is tempered by Cook Inlet and the Pacific Ocean to the South. The average winter temperature is around twenty degrees F., while summer temperatures average fifty-five to sixty degrees.
Sunshine is truly appreciated by Anchorage citizens. Gardens produce cool-weather vegetables in abundance (if you can keep the moose out of them), and flowers are spectacular.
When Brother J. L. McCarrey, Jr., arrived in Anchorage in March 1933, it wasn’t the metropolitan area it is now. He says: “Anchorage, Alaska, was then principally a territorial community of approximately fifteen hundred people and was the headquarters of the federally owned Alaska Railroad, which ran some four hundred miles from Seward, on the coast, to Fairbanks in the interior. To my knowledge, I was the only Latter-day Saint in the vicinity until the threat of World War II, when the U. S. began building the area up around the end of the thirties.”
LDS Church members began to meet together on a regular basis in 1938. Three years later, in the early spring of 1941, the first full-time missionaries were sent to Alaska to help organize the first branch in Anchorage. Members met in various temporary buildings, but finally, in 1955, they were able to move into the first LDS chapel in Anchorage, on 11th and E streets. The first stake was organized on 13 August 1961.
The discovery of oil in Northern Alaska in 1968 accelerated the growth of the Church in Anchorage. The construction of an 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline brought many people to oil company headquarters in Anchorage, where the Church grew from one stake and three wards to three stakes and twenty-one wards by 1987.
Two of these stakes serve an LDS population of 5,200 in the Anchorage Bowl, while the Wasilla stake immediately to the north serves 2,286 members. Five chapels in the Anchorage stakes and three in the Wasilla stake are in frequent use weekdays from 6:00 A.M. for seminary to late evening for other activities, as well as all day Sundays.
Unfortunately, the boom in Anchorage is over, at least for now. Church membership, along with the general population, has begun to decline. The depressed economy has forced 15,000 people from Anchorage to seek employment elsewhere. Some 650 of this number were members of the Church.
Alaska Mission President James Fogg believes that if the Church is to continue to grow in Anchorage, members must continue being member-missionaries.
“Most of the growth within the Church at Anchorage has come from population increase due to the great economic conditions that have existed here,” he says. “Because of the recent decline in Church membership, caused by numerous families leaving this area to seek new employment, the continuing growth and strength will have to be provided by a joint effort by the missionaries and the members.”
The efforts of members and missionaries resulted in four baptisms on July 4, four days after President Fogg arrived in Anchorage to begin his duties. The four converts—well-known local runner and Olympic contender Kris Mueller, Robert Lloyd, Domishae Jackson, and John Warrior—celebrated the birth of the country with their own spiritual rebirth.
Brian Snow, a lifelong member of the Church, has been a friend of Kris Mueller since boyhood. Kris spent many hours in the Snow home, and when the time came for Kris to learn about the gospel he was receptive to the missionaries.
Brother Willard Mann and his wife, Carmen, two of thirty missionaries in the Anchorage Bowl, note: “Many converts are now serving in leadership positions in Anchorage. People here are very diligent in missionary work, and they become readily involved.”
One of these converts is Wasilla stake president E. T. Pettijohn, who joined the Church in 1948. He and his wife, Ruby, also a convert, have been in Anchorage since 1950. “Early-day members were fewer,” they recall, “but were a closely knit group that knew and cared about each other on a personal level, both the active and the inactive. Although there are more members now, we need that closeness still.”
Opportunities for fellowship abound in Anchorage. Long summer days make possible a variety of outdoor activities. The Church sponsors both a men’s and a women’s softball league. There are trails all over Anchorage, where running and cycling are enjoyed in summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
The Relief Society sponsors an Award of Excellence program, and many LDS women have been running or walking for fitness. The annual Women’s Run, sponsored by several local businesses, was completed by 2,372 women in 1987, many of them members of the Church.
Each ward sponsors Scouting activities that often attract nonmembers. Volleyball and basketball are favorite indoor winter sports, and cultural halls in all chapels are in frequent use. Members, with their nonmember friends, frequently get together for outings, picnics, and fishing and hunting trips.
The community is aware of the LDS members in their midst. “The Church is respected,” says Brother McCarry. “It enjoys a good reputation here. The spiritual influence of the Church has increasingly been felt by the city of Anchorage.”
Correspondent: Marie Dickey is Alaska Region public communications director. She is a member of the Anchorage Eleventh Ward, Anchorage North stake.