This past week I got to visit Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka for the first time. Here’s a bit of what I learned:
- It rains a lot in Southeast Alaska. Ketchikan claims to be one of the rainiest cities in North America. 12 feet of rain each year. I got lucky with a gorgeous sunny day on Saturday.
- Our five United Methodist Churches in the Southeast face a similar challenge to our other Alaska churches: high rates of turnover as people move for seasonal jobs, military, government and retirement. As soon as you invite people into leadership, get them trained and empowered, it’s about time for them to move on.
- Everything is relative. In the lower 48, we’d drive an hour on the weekends to see someone without thinking too much about it. In Anchorage, it’s a big deal to drive more than 15 miles outside your area maybe. In the Southeast, one family threw another family a going away party when they moved the 7 miles from “the valley” into town!
- When you get an interview with world-famous totem pole carver, Nathan Douglas, make sure your camera batteries are fully charged. Mine died right after I asked him my favorite question.
- Rain is healing.
- There is a park at the end of the road in Ketchikan that took my breath away. Felt like I was in another world. Green, lush, streams, new life.
- When we look for God’s presence, we find it in ravens, totem poles, a Filipino Bible study, a morning breakfast club, a covenant group in someone’s home, whales, a ferry christening, the Salvation Army, youth group teens, the capitol building and glaciers.
- Five days of filming and interviews takes up 70 gigs of space on my computer. 23 more churches to go!
- Herring season arrived in Sitka last week. Lots of boats and fishermen wait anxiously for the all clear that they have two hours to catch as many herring as they can. There are regulations on how much each boat can get so there are enough in the future. People have lost fingers because of how quickly they work in two hours. They can each make $120,000 in one summer. On Saturday, one boat coming in with its catch capsized because they brought in more fish than the boat could carry.
- The cruise industry is a significant part of the Ketchikan economy. As we strolled around the docks in the evening, I saw store after store closed up for the winter. They open in the summer when the cruise ships come into town. The same things are sold in Ketchikan that are sold on cruises in the Caribbean. They ship it to Alaska in May and send it back in September. Locals are thankful for the visitors and income they bring. But they also avoid downtown if at all possible.
See more pictures here.