Alaska Centennial Congress
Army Activity Reflects a Changing Alaska
by Sue Schumann Warner –
“Great is thy faithfulness,” declared the banner above the Chilkat Center auditorium–a testimony to the Army’s 100 years of ministry in Alaska, and to God’s continued presence and grace throughout those years.
This year’s Centennial Congress was held in the town of Haines, a short ferry ride down from Skagway, the gold rush town where the Army first opened fire in Alaska in 1898.
Leadership was provided by Commissioners Robert and Alice Watson, national commander and national president, women’s organizations, respectively, Western Territorial Commander Commis-sioner David Edwards and Territorial President of Women’s Organizations Commissioner Doreen Edwards, supported by Alaska Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Harold Brodin.
Local leadership was provided by Congress Coordinator Major Dolores Rivitt (R) and Haines Corps Officer Lt. Shevaun Malone, along with Ass’t. Corps Officer Lt. Donna Hofmeister.
The Northwest Brass, under the leadership of Envoy Nigel Cross, bandmaster, was supported by the Alaska Music Ensemble.
“When Evangeline Booth commissioned Bill Benson (the Native Alaskan porter with the Army pioneers) to take the Gospel to his people,” said Commissioner David Edwards, “her action was prophetic in that nowhere in the Salvation Army world does one see a greater blending of Army practices with the traditions of the people than in Alaska”
As always, Congress was a touchstone, linking delegates–and traditions–to the past, present and future as more than 300 officers, soldiers and friends–many Native Alaskans–spent four days worshiping, fellowshiping and renewing relationships with others and God.
And the blessings? Well, they were as varied as the weather, which ranged from bright blue skies to clouds, drizzles, rain and snow.
Stormy weather, in fact, delayed the arrival of Commissioners David and Doreen Edwards and a number of other delegates for the opening meeting. Filling in for the stranded Edwardses, who caught a flight from Juneau to Haines the next morning, was Commissioner Orval Taylor (R), the son of Lt. Colonel Chester O. Taylor, Alaska’s first American divisional commander.
Taylor reminded delegates that the Congress is a special time when many wonderful friendships are renewed, memories relived and commitments made. “The most important commitment we are all called to make, however, is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our homes, communities and neighborhoods,” he stated.
A single drumbeat echoing throughout the auditorium signaled the start of the Congress weekend as the Gei-Sun Dancers performed traditional Native dancing. Major Virginia Gilman, performing as Commander Evangeline Booth, portrayed the Army’s beginnings in Alaska during an animated pageant reenacting the commissioning of Field Captain Charles Newton, the first Native officer to be charged with taking the Army’s message to Southeast Alaska.
At the pageant’s close, Major Florence Murray was honored as the first Native Alaskan officer to achieve the rank of Major. Divisional Commander (then) Major Harold Brodin also presented a Certificate of Recognition to Major Dolores Rivitt (R) for her dedication to the ministry in Alaska as the Longest Service as an Active Commissioned Officer in Alaska–more than 35 years.
Haines Salvationist and president of the Gei-Sun Dancers, Charlie Jimmie, Sr., welcomed the delegates and leaders. Paying tribute to past leaders who were influential in furthering the Army’s work, Jimmie displayed the tunic worn by Alfred Andrews. As he traveled among the villages, Andrews wore the gopher-skin tunic made by the Yukon Indians, which was passed on to Austin Hammond (of Haines) with a charge to continue the work begun by Andrews. Hammond, in turn, handed down the tunic to his son, Charlie, as a reminder of the important work and mission of The Salvation Army.
Women’s and Men’s Rallies
“A woman of excellence,” declared Commissioner Doreen Edwards, “is a woman who, when confronted by the pleasures of the world and truths of Scripture, chooses Scripture as the foundation of her life.” Edwards was the speaker for the Women’s Rally, which featured vignettes of early Salvationist women of Alaska as well as a vignette on Major Dolores Rivitt (R). At the meeting’s conclusion, women stood four-deep at the front of the church, committing themselves to a life of excellence.
At the men’s rally, Commissioner Orval Taylor (R) spoke movingly of his father’s love for Alaska, its people and places. Attending his first Alaska Congress, he encouraged the men to form links with each other. “Christians need to develop deep relationships with one another to make us strong.” Men prayed together at the rally’s end, as a sweet move of the Spirit filled the room.
League of Mercy Luncheon
Under the direction of Divisional League of Mercy Secretary Major Nila Fankhauser, the division celebrated the enrollment of new members, recognized those attaining “dedicated hands goals,” and awarded recognition certificates: 25 years–Mary King, Haines and Katie Miyasato, Sitka; 30-years–Mona Jackson, Kake, Virginia Moy, Sitka, and Priscilla DeWitt, Saxman; 35 years: Rachel Johnson, Haines, and Fred John, Gateway.
Commissioner Alice Watson, luncheon speaker, encouraged those present to “be a people with a heart for God and a heart for people…we must bring a message of hope and love straight from God’s heart.”
League of Mercy members in Alaska continue a valuable ministry through harvesting berries and herring eggs, hunting, fishing, and providing seal and venison meat, seal oil, and salmon. “Besides being a unique ministry,” says Fankhauser, “It is a way of preserving their culture.”
Dinners are a favorite and significant part of Congress, a time for friends and families to gather and renew friendships. One dinner was particularly meaningful, as it was sponsored by Matilda Lewis and her family in memory of her husband, George Lewis.
Thanking those present for attending, Joe Hotch stated “Our ancestors had so much faith, we are all here today. I hope we can leave tracks for others to follow.” Lewis was the father of Major Florence Murray.
Meetings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights continued the Alaskan tradition of worship and fellowship. Friday’s praise meeting brought a time of testimony and praise for God’s faithfulness, including testimonies by Brigadier Pearl Lorenzen (R), who spoke of the years she and her husband served in Alaska, and by the division’s eight corps sergeant majors. One CSM stated, “My father used to say I was his worst son. Now, he says, ‘My son has joined The Salvation Army in Alaska’.”
In his message at Friday’s Holiness meeting, Commissioner David Edwards reflected on the Army’s work in Alaska, stating “This year marks a significant milestone in the Army in Alaska…from the start of this work, Alaskans have shown themselves willing to endure hardship as true soldiers of Jesus Christ. Let us celebrate the people of the past–the early Salvation Army pioneers–who spread the Gospel from village to village.”
He cautioned those present not to be satisfied with past glories. “Let your vision inspire dedication to the tasks ahead. Let us celebrate the past, take stock in the present, and dedicate ourselves to the future and to God.”
A time of heartfelt, spontaneous prayer for friends, families, communities and the Army followed, with many touched by the Holy Spirit.
During Saturday’s celebration of “Heroes,” memories of faithful Salvationists were presented in a musical program portraying the Army’s early history in Alaska. Vignettes included Soapy Smith, Evangeline Booth, Walter Carruthers, Field Captain Charlie Newton and Belle Newton, Walter Williams, the William Booth boat, and Tommy Jackso
Fellowship and growth
Throughout the weekend, opportunities for fellowship and growth were provided. Early Sunday morning, young people attended a youth leader’s breakfast, where Commissioner Doreen Edwards challenged them to count the cost of service. “It will cost you,” she admonished, “but what a wonderful privilege of knowing you are in partnership with God.”
The teens who attended were enthusiastic about Congress. “I like seeing all ages of people together in the division,” said Banu Mufale, Haines. “Here, everyone fits in the same building. I really like that.” Alice Basso, Petersburg, said “Major Anne Pickup’s discipleship seminar was the highlight for me. I’ve also liked meeting all the new people.”
In her class on Discipleship 2000, Pickup (who with her husband, Major Bill Pickup, went to training out of Alaska), brought the concepts of discipleship to a personal level. “Discipleship isn’t about coercing us to go some place we don’t want to go and become someone we don’t want to be,” she stated. “Jesus said ‘Come,’ and they came.” She cautioned the audience: “If we are the same person we were 20 years ago, something’s wrong.”
A time of remembering comrades who have been promoted to Glory during the past year is unique to the Alaska Congress. “Our life is a gift from God,” said HLC Ruth Lokke, who le.d the solemn service. “It’s like a coin. We can only spend it once.” As she read the name of each person, representatives from the corps came forward, one with a lighted candle and one with a rose. With the calling of every name, she read a personal remembrance. “I miss his friendly smile. He was a fisherman. God called him home while he was preparing to go fishing,” she said about a comrade from Haines. Of another, “He was a Tlingit leader. He has left so much of himself in each community.”
Bringing the message, Commissioner Robert Watson called the congregation to live a life of holiness. “We must rededicate ourselves to living a holy life. We are still a holiness movement.” Explaining that holiness was simply to be like Jesus, “it’s not a complicated concept,” he challenged those present to begin the second century of work in Alaska with a pure heart.
As the chorus, “Whiter than snow” softly filled the auditorium, people quietly streamed forward to the cross set in the middle of the stage to spend time in prayer.
–with reports by Jenni Ragland and Major Anne Pickup