The Synod of Alaska-Northwest has voted unanimously to merge the Presbyteries of Alaska and North Puget Sound (NPSP).
The merger is effective Jan. 1, 2014, with a one-year period of transition to work out all of the details, including a new name.
“There are all kinds of ways these two areas are connected,” NPSP Executive Presbyter Corey Schlosser-Hall told the Presbyterian News Service in a Dec. 12 interview. “Families, economics, ferry lines and cruise ship routes ― there are all kinds of natural relationships,” he said. “One thought about a name is ‘Inside Passage,’” which would reflect the historic moniker given to the travel route from the northwest Washington coast up to southeast Alaska.
But for right now, Schlosser-Hall said, “we’re all just calling it ‘the new presbytery.’”
The merger unites the nine congregations of Alaska Presbytery ― Petersburg, Metlakatla, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Sitka, Craig and Klawok, Yakutat, Hydaburg and Northern Light church in Juneau ― with North Puget Sound Presbytery, which consists of 36 congregations in western Washington from north of Seattle to the Canadian border.
The merged presbytery will include more than 8,200 members.
“Sure, Alaska Presbytery’s down to nine churches,” but this new thing is not about that at all,” Schlosser-Hall said. “We feel like God is doing this and we’re enthusiastic ― this isn’t about loss, this is about building a new body of Christ together.”
The preamble of the merger agreement states “that together we may better engage, equip and encourage people and congregations to make disciples for Jesus Christ , the Presbyteries of Alaska and North Puget Sound do now unite. The nurture of healthy congregations and new expressions of Christ's church is our passion and purpose. In our several mission fields God has blessed us with people of different cultures and languages that together we may be ambassadors for Christ and show forth the Kingdom of God.”
Contacted while on a retreat in Utah, Dobler told the Presbyterian News Service: “This merger is a really cool thing, not just because it gets Alaska Presbytery out of a difficult situation, but because it gives a variety of new ways to be church together.”
Schlosser-Hall noted at least three “positive, proactive” benefits of the merger:
- Native ministry: “that is such a core part of Alaska Presbytery’s identity. We have a couple of clearly-defined Native communities in North Puget Sound ― we’re eager to strengthen and extend Native ministries throughout the new presbytery.”
- Village ministry: “five of the nine churches in Alaska Presbytery are ‘village churches’ and we have five village churches in North Puget Sound ― this will help Presbyterians in both areas of the new presbytery think better about village ministry and what kinds of community and leadership development will strengthen our churches and these villages.”
- Regional focus for ministry: “In North Puget Sound we already have several distinct regions of our presbytery where the dynamics and needs are different. Alaska Presbytery is a whole new rich region to add to our mix, to help us think contextually about how best to do ministry.”
The future of Alaska Presbytery has been considered by an Administrative Commission of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest since last spring when six of the presbyteries 15 congregations ― Skagway, Haines, Hoonah, Angoon, Kake and Chapel by the Lake in Auke Bay, the largest church in the presbytery ― departed for the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO).
Presbyterian polity requires 10 congregations to form a presbytery.
Under the administrative commission’s guidance Alaska Presbytery ― which encompasses the southeastern Alaska panhandle and Pacific islands off the coast ― explored three possibilities: merger with North Puget Sound, merger with Yukon Presbytery, which covers the main body of the state of Alaska, or appealing to the PC(USA) to continue operating with less than 10 congregations.
“While a few voices raised the desire to find a way to continue ‘on our own,’ or to consider partnering with Yukon Presbytery, the overwhelming choice was to seek merger with North Puget Sound,” the merger agreement states.
Corey Schlosser-Hall, executive presbyter for North Puget Sound Presbytery, will continue as executive of the merged presbyteries. The Rev. David Dobler, pastor to the presbytery for Alaska Presbytery, will continue to serve half-time until his retirement next September.
In the meantime, Schlosser-Hall and Dobler will travel back and forth between NPSP and Alaska, serving as “bridge-builders” as the new presbytery knits itself together, Schlosser-Hall said, adding, “It’s been an absolute joy to work with David on this. We’re having a blast!”