On May 16, 2019, charter members of the Alaska Adventist Forum (AAF) adopted the Bylaws for the new chapter and installed their initial slate of officers. Months had been invested in research and discussion before the careful formation of a 501(c)(3) organization and drafting of the Bylaws began.
For about three years, the seeds had been scattered for enabling and enriching “community through conversation” in a small lively Sabbath School (SS) class at the Hillside O’Malley SDA Church in Anchorage.
Mark Carr, one of the charter members who was a key player in the formation of AAF, recalls how much people enjoyed the open exploration of Adventist life and faith in that SS class which called its sessions “Life Talk.” On one occasion, they extended their SS discussion through the church worship hour and recognized how the extra time had elevated the conversations and sense of fellowship. Realizing this mirrored the basic pattern of Adventist Forum (AF) chapters, Carr contacted Bonnie Dwyer, Spectrum editor and executive director, to review steps for forming a chapter.
To add some muscle to the skeletal concept of a local chapter, there were many discussions among the leaders and members of the Life Talk class as well as others in the church who were interested but often had responsibilities in other SS classes which prevented them from participating in the Life Talk sessions. As the layers of small conversations deepened, the collective desire gained traction to inspire and facilitate respectful, robust conversations in a space that wouldn’t interrupt the programs of the church family they loved.
Carr also met with Ashley Schmiedeskamp, a church member who was involved with a different SS class, for some Friday afternoon brainstorming sessions on how they could bring these visions to life. On trips to Sun Valley, Idaho, Schmiedeskamp had connected with Juli Miller, an Adventist Forum board member, and collected ideas for a variety of activities and programs which would appeal to a multi-generational audience as well as to those without an Adventist background.
Among the central interests of the Anchorage group was to connect “with non-Adventists in the pursuit of a greater understanding and appreciation of the mystery of God” as was eventually stated in the Core Values, Section 2, of the Mission of the chapter. Additionally, Carr noted “there are lots of marginalized Adventist folks in Anchorage we would love to draw together.”
Eventually, Carr invited about 20 people, including the church pastor, to meet in order to evaluate the level of serious interest in formation of a chapter. About 14 were committed to moving forward with the endeavor and “we just jumped in,” as one person described it. None had ever been a member of another AF chapter. Mission statement, core values, aims and the various articles and sections of the Bylaws were developed via group editing of shared documents on a Google site.
The Bylaws framework for AAF rose out of the collaborative efforts of individuals ranging from 30-something to 70-something years of age who represented backgrounds in aviation, finance, academia, education, healthcare, and human resources. In Section 3 of Article II (Mission), the team created an acronym from ALASKA to outline the organizational aim of creating an atmosphere supporting Authentic thought, Learning, Acceptance, Study, Knowledge, Awareness.
The charter slate of officers are as follows: Melissa Bassham, president; Kate Johnson, secretary; Giny Lonser, treasurer; John Payne, IT manager. Johnson recalls how much work has already been invested in the process, but she looks forward to AAF creating a safe and encouraging space for increased dialogue and “understanding about the character of God and our privilege as His children” for anyone who is interested in participating. Several of the charter members concur that the exchanges and results of the group’s start-up efforts have already produced much encouragement and enthusiasm about the new chapter’s potential.
Carmen Lau had recently become the new chairperson for the Adventist Forum Board when she heard reports about the initiative underway in Alaska. “Hearing of the effort to form an Alaska Forum Chapter became one of the most uplifting bits of news I heard. For a few years, I had learned to anticipate the writings of Mark Carr on the website. I hope each of you can feel synergy and grace in this new endeavor. As the saying goes, we read to know we are not alone. However, it sure is nice to get together with kindred spirits. I celebrate this accomplishment with you.”
As AAF reconvenes after summer travels to plan the first year’s activities, Carr says, “I would be so gratified if we help church officials and members understand that there are those of our faith community who seek an open-minded and joyous brand of Adventism in Anchorage and the rest of Alaska which embraces a level of diversity and welcoming orientation to those who are seeking God.”
The AAF now will join 13 other active Adventist Forum chapters which can be found in the upper “Forum Chapters” tab on the Spectrum website, and information on upcoming events will be included in the “Upcoming Events” section found in the right-hand column of the home page.
In corresponding with the new Alaska Chapter, Lee Blount, an Adventist Forum board member hailing from Minnesota, welcomed the new group saying, "What fun to connect with people that do not hunker down in their homes shivering in fear because the temperature dropped below zero or a foot of snow floated down! It is exciting to have a new Adventist Forum Chapter. Welcome!"
Juli Miller is a business development consultant for the healthcare, hospitality, and aviation industries, and a member of the Adventist Forum board. Adventist Forum is the organization that publishes Spectrum.
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