Story by Joey Butler, photos by Mike DuBose
May 15, 2023 | ANCHORAGE, Alaska (UM News)
When the Rev. Murray Crookes returned to his home state of Alaska in 2018 to start a new church, he wasn’t sure where to begin. He spent a lot of time in the community before learning of a regular gathering of Alaska Native people meeting at a local Days Inn.
“I saw people singing in Yup’ik and invited them to come have a meal with me,” he said. “We started with a meal, then a Bible study, then we would sing. It was important to find ways to worship in the most genuine way possible.”
Nina Gorman, who met Crookes at the hotel gathering, said she then started recruiting others “because people need to be spiritually fed to succeed.”...
When the congregation could meet in person again, Crookes overhauled the Sunday worship service completely. Worshippers began meeting at 2 p.m. and instead of the traditional altar-and-pews setup, they started sitting in the round.
Everything has a more informal feel to it now, which he said has enhanced the worship experience.
“I encourage them to get coffee, sit down and be comfy. People will interrupt me while I’m preaching to ask questions, and I love that,” he said.
Gorman praises Crookes for being “down-to-earth and nonjudgmental.”
“This is a healthy community gathering where people don’t have to come dressed up — just show up as you are,” she said.
Children are also involved in the service. Blankets are placed on the floor, just outside the circle, with coloring books and other activities, and Crookes does a short devotional for them.
“We don’t leave children out of any part of the life of the church,” said Crookes’ wife, Maria, who is a United Methodist deaconess. “If we move them away from the Lord’s teaching, then what are they here for?”