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In Alaska, New Life for Materials from an Old Meetinghouse

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More than 25 organizations from across Alaska came to an Anchorage meetinghouse on Saturday, February 17, 2024, to collect the materials they asked to receive.

The Brayton chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is set to be torn down to build a larger house of the Lord in its place. Almost a year ago, Sheldon and Christine Fisher, following the example set a few years earlier in California, did not want to see materials from inside the building languish in the landfill. Christine knew they could be put to good use in the community.

“[We have] a lot of friends in the community who do good things within their own congregation and by helping them, we knew it would help the faith and the building of the community,” Christine said. “We reached out to our Jewish friends, our Muslims friends, and all these other Christian faiths as well as nonprofits to see [what] they needed, and the response was overwhelming. They were just so grateful. And we are so grateful that they’re taking it. I know it just continued to bless the community that this chapel will live on through these other organizations.”

Volunteers from Alaska Children’s Institute for the Performing Arts in Kenai came to collect curtains, trim and finish wood, and remove a handicap access ramp. Their theater burned down three years ago, and they have been crowd-sourcing materials and funds to rebuild. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, who is involved with the theater, helped gather the materials and believes they will benefit children in his community.

“These materials are a godsend,” Mayor Micciche said. “What looks like not much here will save us tens of thousands of dollars and will be put to work enriching the lives of young people and giving them a purpose for years to come.”

The First United Methodist Church in Anchorage is starting a worker-owned, cooperative preschool — the first of its kind in the state — to provide daycare to families in downtown Anchorage. Mary Anger is the project manager for this endeavor and is glad to reuse these materials.

“Anchorage, like most cities, has a real lack of licensed childcare,” Anger said. “We’re hoping to fill some of that need, especially for the downtown community that work and live downtown. We got so many wonderful things. And not only will that save on our budget, but also its ecologically sound. And it’s a really good partnership that the Church has offered the community. It’s goodwill and they get to be repurposed and reused. So, we’re very excited about that.”

Some from the city of Nenana, situated 300 miles north of Anchorage, gathered pews, chairs and even the basketball hoops which will find a new home in a new recreation facility.

“We’ve got long dark winters with not a lot of activities for kids. This will give them something fun to do,” said Nenana Mayor Josh Verhagen.

Osama Abaza of the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage cherishes the items his organization received. He said this is the start of a great collaboration with the Church of Jesus Christ.

“The idea of sharing physical things as we do today [facilitates] trust between the communities,” Abaza said. “Hopefully we can contribute to the Church in the future.”

Pastor Wilbert Mickens of New Hope Baptist Church has a relationship with Latter-day Saints that goes back 17 years. His sons played basketball with Church members — a connection allowed him to be at the meetinghouse on Saturday, February 17, to claim cabinets, stoves, chairs and other items that will be spread throughout Alaska.

“We are here to see what we can do, not only to help our church, but our organization, the Alaska Baptist Resource Network, which is formerly known as the Southern Baptist Convention,” Pastor Mickens said. “What we get today will not only help our church but all of the 122 churches of the Southern Baptist denomination in Alaska.”

This is not the first time this meetinghouse has received new life. In 2007, the roof caught fire and much of the building was destroyed.

This time, the tearing down has a purpose. Michelle Mitton, a local Latter-day Saint remembers the fire devastation well. She said this repurposing is a new beginning.

“When the building caught fire back in 2007,” Mitton said, “I remember walking in through the chapel and seeing the ceiling all over the pews and the snow everywhere. And it was just a tragic feeling. [When people came to collect materials today] I worried that it would feel like that coming in and seeing everything dismantled. But instead, there’s just this energy and excitement about what’s to come and what’s going to be happening for the Church here in Alaska as it grows — and for the community as it grows around that, too.”

While it is difficult to have a beloved building removed, Latter-day Saints are excited to welcome a temple that will be nearly three times larger than the current house of the Lord.

Elder Kevin Parks, a regional leader for the Church of Jesus Christ in Alaska, said a larger temple allows more people to worship.

“When this new temple was announced, we were really excited to triple our footprint, to better serve the membership in the Alaska, Yukon Territories,” Elder Parks said. “It’s going to be a beautiful, beautiful building and wonderful grounds and just be a blessing to the Church members in the area to have this.”

Christine Fisher believes this is exactly how Jesus Christ would want these building supplies and materials to be given away.

“All that we do is to emulate what Christ does, and this is what He would do,” Fisher said. “I said, ‘What can I do to help other people continue to do good in their community?’ And I have just felt through this whole process that this is what the Lord wants us to do and that He’s pleased and He will help us even if we don’t know exactly how to make it work. He has guided us through this process, and I know it’s His will and He wants to continue to help the other organizations do good themselves.

“It actually just fills me with joy to see that these items are going to other homes [and] that they’ll live on, that they’re not going to the dump and that people are pleased to be getting them.”

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