Notes from Ellen- April 2019

In mid-March, I spent three days in Seattle at the NEXT church gathering of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  This event brings people together from across the country to participate in worship, listen to speakers, and attend workshops dealing with various concerns as we discern how God is calling the church into the future.   According to the organization’s website, NEXT Church is a network of church leaders who believe the church of the future will be more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful and more agile.  It is a movement seeking to strengthen the relational fabric of the PC(USA) so that our congregations are strong and healthy enough to be a sustained, effective, faithful and moral voice that is engaged in the transformation of our communities toward the common good.

 What I most appreciated about the gathering was that NEXT church sought to embody this self-description.  Instead of just talking about diversity, the NEXT church leadership made a commitment to being at least 50% minority and they held themselves to that, so that the leadership board is a vibrant mix of races and genders and backgrounds.  The keynote speakers included a Native American mission worker, an African-American church leader, and a white lesbian Baptist sociologist.  During the closing worship service, three women of color stood at the communion table, celebrating the sacrament.   That image spoke more powerfully than any slogans about diversity ever could.

 Instead of just talking about an agile church, the conference modeled agility, adjusting to meet needs as they occurred, such as when food ran out for lunches on the first day of the event!  We heard from the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Seattle, where the gathering was held, about how their congregation is finding new ways to do ministry in a building which used to hold 500 people that now finds fewer than 40 in worship  - half of the facility is currently used as transitional housing for those seeking to escape homelessness, while the long-term plan is to sell the building and use the funds to develop sustainable ministry. 

 I share the hope that NEXT Church proclaims that the future of the church will be “more relational, more diverse, more collaborative, more hopeful and more agile.” I long for that church to come to fruition, and I saw a glimpse of it at this gathering. I also glimpse it on many Sundays at Immanuel, when I look out over a congregation of young and old, black and white, gay and straight, and everything in between, all worshipping God together.  I pray that as a congregation, we can find ways – such as making use of the resources offered by NEXT church – to be an “effective, faithful and moral voice that is engaged in the transformation of our community” for the good of God’s world.

 In hope,


Notes from Ellen- Caller June/July, 2017

It's summertime! Or at least that's what the calendar says. Hopefully the weather will soon agree! Here in Alaska, with our comfortable temperatures and long hours of daylight, summer is time to be out and about. People go camping, fishing, and hiking in the wilderness, there are running races or fundraising walks every weekend in town, and festivals and celebrations abound. Alaskan summers may be short, but they are jam-packed with activity and opportunities to get outside.

This summer, I would love to see Immanuel be out and about as well, getting out into the community as a congregation and/or on behalf of the congregation. We can participate in events such as the Pride Parade on June 24, marching together as a congregation. Perhaps a team of Immanuel women could participate in the 25th annual Run for Women on June 10 to support breast cancer research and education. We could host a church picnic in a public park, inviting others to join us for worship. Do you have other ideas for how our congregation could be out and about, helping to meet a community need while also making the congregation's name more known to those around us?

As a congregation, we have much to offer the community, but our offerings can't be put to good use if the community doesn't know about them. For example, as of this past weekend, only half of our garden plots have been claimed for this year, meaning that the other half are still available. Is there someone you know that might like to use one, so that our gardens are truly community gardens which benefit not only our congregants but others as well?

In mid-summer, a youth group from Vancouver, WA, will be staying at Immanuel while on a mission trip to Anchorage. They will be leading Vacation Bible School on July 10-14 (exact days and times to be determined). Although they will certainly need some support and assistance from our members, their leadership means that we won't have to plan and lead VBS on our own. I hope that some of the time and energy that might otherwise be spent planning and leading can instead be used to publicize and promote VBS in our wider community, so that children from the local neighborhood might also benefit from the opportunity to learn about God's love for them.

These are just a few suggestions for how our congregation can get out and about this summer, in order to help support the needs of our community while also enjoying the countless opportunities of an Alaskan summer. Maybe you have some of your own ideas. If so, please take that idea and run with it, letting the rest of us know how we can help.

Summer blessings,


Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, October/November 2016

As of October 1, I have officially been your pastor for one year. It has been a mostly joyful year, with highlights including welcoming 5 new members to the congregation, possibly record setting high attendance at Christmas Eve and Maundy Thursday services, and Leadership Retreats in which your Deacons and Elders set forth goals for the coming year and then evaluated their progress several months later.

There has also been sadness, with two memorial services in the month of August. Both joy and sorrow are a normal part of life, including the life of a congregation. There is a lot going on at Immanuel these days. We are trying some new things, such as Taizé services this summer which were well-received and will re-appear 4 or 5 times a year, and a Women's Meet Up group which has started on Mondays at 7pm, led by new member Elizabeth Amber and at the home of another new member Candace Arlian. We have welcomed numerous visitors to our worship services in recent months and several of them have become regular attendees, thanks in part I believe to the welcoming and tracking processes developed and put in place at the Leadership Retreat in February.

At the end of December, we will be ending our building use agreement with the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, and the Session has already been approached by other potential groups who are interested in using our facility after that time.

God is providing us with many opportunities for ministry in various ways. Although all this activity is a sign of health and vitality, it can also be exhausting for those who are coordinating it all, namely myself and the Session and the Deacons. Please pray for continuing strength, wisdom, and energy for us as we seek to be faithful to our call as your leaders.

We welcome your input and assistance, and later this fall you will have the opportunity to tell us how you'd like to contribute by filling out a pledge card with your commitment of time, talent, and treasure. In the meantime, if you see a need that is being unmet, rather than simply complain about it, I encourage you to find a way that you might help to meet it. In a small congregation, each and every person is essential!

In Christ,


Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, September 2016

I have thoroughly enjoyed the glorious return of summer this past week, with sunny days and temperatures climbing well into the 70's, but the changing colors of the leaves and the cool nights remind us that it will be a brief return. Summer is turning into fall, with all that season implies, both good and bad. In addition to colorful foliage and pumpkin-flavored everything, fall is also a reminder of the cycle of life, and that all things come to an end.

Death has been weighing heavily on me in recent weeks. I am still mourning the loss of a friend and former co-worker who died at the beginning of the summer, and find myself periodically wanting to talk to her, forgetting that she is gone. And as I watch the health of my beloved dog decline more and more, I know that more death lies not far ahead. It seems that tears are never far from my eyes these days.

And I know that I'm not alone. I know several others in our congregation, and friends in our Presbytery, who have also said good-bye to beloved friends and family members this summer. It has been a hard few months for many. Immanuel hosted two memorial services in August, an unusual occurrence for a congregation that often only has one death per year. Kim and Detta were both strong, memorable women and I'm glad that we were able to help celebrate their lives and support their families in their times of grief. And I hope that we will continue to find ways to honor their memories and the way they touched our community of faith.

As we head into fall, with all its reminders of death, it is a good time to acknowledge that many of us are grieving, and to remember to be kind and patient with each other and with ourselves. Jesus tells us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Even as we gear up for the excitement and busyness of choir practices and Sunday school and other fall activities, may we also take time to comfort those among us (and those who come in contact with us) who grieve, that we might be part of that blessing.

With tears and hope,


Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, June/July 2016

This summer, on the last Sunday of each month, we will worship in the Taizé style. Located in southeastern France, Taizé is an ecumenical monastic community which strives to be a living example of Christian unity. Founded by Brother Roger, a Roman Catholic originally from Switzerland, the community began during World War II and some of its first work was to shelter refugees fleeing from occupied France and later to care for children whose parents had been killed during the war. Today, the community consists of over 100 brothers, Catholics and Protestants of various backgrounds, representing around 30 nationalities (

In addition to the members of the monastic community who reside there, Taizé attracts large numbers of teenagers and young adults from around the world who come to spend a week or an entire summer participating in communal life. Young people spend their time at Taizé engaged in worship, study, and service. Families and church leaders are also regularly welcomed at Taizé.

But perhaps what has made the Taizé community most widely known is its music. In order to create a worship setting in which people from many nations could easily participate, Brother Roger began to write simple, chant-like songs in many languages. The words are usually short phrases or sentences from Scripture, set to a simple melody, and there are songs in several different languages including Latin (which equalizes all singers, as it is the native language of none!). Taizé-style worship services include prayers, readings from Scripture, and music sung repetitively to create a meditative effect.

I was first introduced to music from Taizé during college and immediately loved it. I was able to spend a week in Taizé in the summer after my first year of seminary, and was profoundly moved by participating in the worship services there and hearing 2000 voices joining together in songs of all languages. I look forward to Taizé style worship services at Immanuel this summer and hope that we may be inspired by the spirit of Christian unity they represent.

Peace, Shalom, Paix, Friede, Paz, Maluhia, Pax,


Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, April 2016

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Our Easter declaration still rings through the air and through our hearts.  Easter Sunday may be over, but the celebration continues as we move through this Eastertide season, culminating in the festival of Pentecost on May 15.

The good news of Easter is more than the remembrance of a one-time event that happened long ago in a faraway land.  The good news of Easter is the promise that God in Christ is more powerful than death, that love will eventually triumph over hate, that joy comes after sorrow, and that new life is always possible.

In many parts of the world, this season is filled with reminders of resurrection and the promise of new life.  Buds are appearing on trees, flowers are shooting up from the ground, grass is starting to turn green once again.   Because we had an early Easter this year, and because we live in Alaska, such signs of new life in nature are not yet present for most of us.  But neither are they far off.  Before the Easter season ends, we too will have the joy of watching buds pop out and seeing green shoots appear from the ground.

But nature is not the only setting in which we can be reminded of resurrection. I see numerous signs of new life here at Immanuel – increasing participation in adult forum, new energy in worship, the “resurrection” of the choir, the wonderful (perhaps record high?) attendance at our Maundy Thursday potluck and communion service, the festive atmosphere of our post-worship lunches, visitors who show interest in learning more about our community, and dedicated, energetic Deacons and Elders who are committed to building up this community of faith and to seeking new ways of serving Christ.

We are Easter people. We not only proclaim the resurrection of Christ, but - in the words of the Nicene Creed – we also “look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”  I give thanks for the resurrection and new life that I see here at Immanuel, and I hope you will join with me in celebrating and enjoying it together.




Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, February 2016

The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls this year on February 10.  Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the traditional practices used by Christians observing this time leading up to Holy Week and Easter. In modern days, the practice of “fasting” has often taken the form of “giving something up” for Lent.  Instead of a literal fast in which no food is consumed, one might instead refrain from eating meat, or drinking alcohol, or spending time on Facebook. 

I didn’t grow up with the tradition of giving something up for Lent and I haven’t embraced the practice as an adult either.  But the idea of fasting in general is one which I can’t ignore so easily.  It is affirmed throughout both the Old and New Testaments, and has been a part of Christian tradition for centuries.  I’ve found that there is usually at least some wisdom in such enduring traditions.

And so for my own growth and learning, and hopefully for yours as well, I’ll be exploring the topic of fasting in my sermons during Lent, beginning on Feb 14.  Using different Scripture passages which include descriptions of fasting, we’ll look at how this ancient practice connects to faith, repentance, community, and justice, and perhaps examine its intersections with the other traditional Lenten practices of prayer and almsgiving.  Hopefully our Lenten season will be richer as a result of what we discover together.



Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, January 2016

In mid-January, I will be spending five days with a group of peers that serves as an incarnation of Christ in my life.  This group began as a project funded by the Lilly Endowment which brought together 19 “young” (age 35 and under) pastors serving small membership churches to build a community for learning and mutual support.  We came from six different denominations and traveled from around the country to a retreat center in the mountains of western North Carolina.   The initial program included six gatherings over the course of two years but when it ended, our group had formed such a strong bond that we committed to continuing to meet together.  We pool our study leave funds and other resources so that we can meet every 12-18 months in various retreat sites around the country, from Philadelphia to San Francisco and this year in Las Vegas.  We invite guest speakers to teach us about various topics, from prayerful writing to improvisation techniques.   This year’s theme is “Following Yonder Star” and will focus on seasons of light and darkness in our lives and ministries.

In the 11+ years since we first met, we have experienced many changes.  While some of us are still pastors of congregations, others are now hospital chaplains or serve on staff for their denominations.  Still others have left pastoral ministry and work in the non-profit sector, while two have earned doctoral degrees and teach religion in academic settings.  All of us are now over age 35!  But we continue to share knowledge and insights gained from our various ministry settings, sing and pray and discuss Scripture together, and accompany one another on our journeys of faith.  Most importantly, this group serves as the body of Christ for one another, offering love and support and encouragement, laughing and crying and eating together.

Although we spend most of our time far apart, our group stays connected via email and a group Facebook page and occasional conference calls.  In the early days, we had weekly online chats and then a group blog.   All of these methods of communication allow us to ask questions of the group, such as “Has this particular situation ever occurred in your ministry?  What did you do?” and to receive immediate feedback.   In this way, the group has been an invaluable resource throughout my ministry.  But nothing can replace our “incarnational” time, when we gather together in the flesh.  The sound of all of our voices singing together fills me with joy and a sense of community that can’t be duplicated over computer or phone.  

As we move through the season of Christmas and celebrate the gift of God taking on human flesh in order to live among us, I hope you are all able to experience your own version of the incarnation of Christ.  May you feel God’s love in a hug from a friend or see God’s joy in the eyes of a child.  And may we each seek to be the body of Christ for others.


In Christ, 


Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, December 2015

This coming Sunday, November 29, marks the beginning of the Advent season. Advent means “coming” and is a season of preparation and reflection, of readying ourselves to once again ready the Christ-child into the world and into our lives.  Advent consists of the four Sundays before Christmas and can be as long as 28 days or as short as 22 days, depending the day of the week on which Christmas falls.  It is my favorite season in the church year.

In a culture which is obsessed with instant gratification and easy fixes, and in a society in which Christmas carols play on the radio and in stores starting in October, the church’s celebration of Advent is radically counter-cultural.  Instead of instant satiating our desires, we talk about waiting.  Instead of a month of Christmas music, we sing beautiful Advent hymns about our longing for God and God’s promises to us.  Instead of rushing from one store to another and one party to the next, we take time for silence and reflection and meaningful conversations.

Our worship services on these four Sundays will include special rituals, such as the lighting of the Advent wreath, which focus on the traditional themes of the season: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.   My sermons will also lift up the spiritual disciplines of Advent: Waiting, Preparing, Anticipating, and Growing. The sanctuary will be beautifully decorated (come help with that project this coming Saturday!), the choir will be singing each week, and the Adult Forum will be discussing Advent hymns which the congregation will be singing.  I invite each of you to take advantage of the various ways that we can use this time to reflect and prepare for the coming of Jesus, our Immanuel. 

                                                                                                                                                With hope,



Notes from Ellen- Immanuel Caller, November 2015

I am happy and excited to be officially starting as your pastor.  It feels a bit odd to introduce myself to you, since most of you already know me (and have known me for years).   So instead of telling you about myself, let me tell you about my thoughts for the future of Immanuel and our work together as partners in ministry.

As someone who has frequently worshipped and spent time with you over the past five years, I already have a good sense of the gifts of this congregation, and I want to continue them and build upon that foundation.  These strengths include meaningful worship services (including good music and solid preaching), a long-standing tradition of Christian education for both children and adults, plentiful times of fellowship (weekly post-worship lunches as well as Ladies' Night and Mens' Night Out), and a strong voice for social justice, especially the full inclusion of LGBT people in Christ's church.  

My hope and vision for the future of Immanuel is that although we can and should build upon these already-existing attributes, we will not be content to rest upon them as laurels.  Instead, we need to find new ways to live out these traditions, to be creative in our thinking and innovative in our practices.   For example, how might we be able to expand our idea of fellowship to include even more people?  On what new issue(s) of social justice might we be called to speak, and what might that look like, remembering that often actions speak louder than actual words ever could?   How can we make our building and grounds, worship services, and other activities truly welcoming to all people, not just the ones who usually participate?

I believe Immanuel is a unique and wonderful community, and that God can do exciting new things in our midst if we are open to them. I look forward to taking this journey together as we follow God's call.