Category Archives: religion

Enlightening artistry — ‘Emmanuel’ exhibition channels prophetic artwork

“Forever God is Faithful,” acrylic by Rebecca (Hinsberger) Middleton.

“Forever God is Faithful,” acrylic by Rebecca (Hinsberger) Middleton.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

God is in the swirling oranges and streaks of blue. God is in the glowing menorah and the assembled angels. God is in the eagle’s wings, the budding tree leaves and the lion’s mane. God is in what’s seen on the canvass, what’s experienced when it is painted, and what’s felt when it’s viewed.

For the artists contributing to the “Emmanuel, Light of the World” exhibition at the Kenai Fine Arts Center this month, what better way than art to demonstrate their tenant that God is in all creation — and, thus, their creativity?

“One of the most natural parts of being created in the image of God is the ability to dream and create. We humans were born to create, build and advance. When we purpose to create from being in God’s presence, we can mirror the reality of heaven here on earth,” writes Rebecca Hinsberger in the artists’ statement for the group show.

“Emmanuel” is an example of prophetic art — works that are not only about God, but created through God’s influence, as though the artist is the paintbrush yielding to the strokes of divine inspiration.

Hinsberger, of Kasilof, has been exploring prophetic art since her conversion to Christianity in 1975, becoming involved with a larger community of like-spirited artists in the area in the late 1990s and teaching workshops in the practice. Like praise music or liturgical dance, she explains that it’s an expression of worship.

“And also a means of hearing from God and transmitting a message from God to whoever is viewing the painting. The message would be transmitted through the medium of the painting, whether it’s symbolism or the emotion or capturing the moment or conveying something biblical or historical that we feel is important,” she said. “… You might call it intuitive, but we call it painting by the Holy Spirit in an inspired way.”

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Almanac: Methodical expansion — Churches grow, move with new congregations

Editor’s note: This is the third part of a three-part story concerning the early Christian churches of the central Kenai Peninsula. Two weeks ago featured the origin of Christianity on the Kenai and early church efforts throughout the 1940s. Last week focused on how local church offerings, particularly the Catholic Church, expanded throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s. This week features other early places of worship, including the Methodist Church, the first church in Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of Soldotna United Methodist Church archives. Soldotna Methodist Church, seen here circa 1956.

Photo courtesy of Soldotna United Methodist Church archives. Soldotna Methodist Church, seen here circa 1956.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Both of the first two Methodist churches in Soldotna were hauled from the Kasilof area and brought whole across the Kenai River bridge. During these moves, adjustments had to be made because the smaller church sat a little too high, while the larger church sat a little too low.

The earliest Methodist church on the western Kenai Peninsula was the first church structure in Soldotna. It was originally known as the Kasilof Methodist Church, and it predated the now more-established Methodist church in Kenai. According to information in the photo archive at Kenai Peninsula College, the one-story, one-room building — complete with greenish exterior walls, white-painted door and window trim, and a red roof — was moved out of Kasilof once a greater Methodist population grew in Soldotna.

Probably in late 1951, church members agreed to move onto property donated by homesteader Maxine Lee at Mile 0.5 of the Kenai Spur Highway, and they hired Homer Freight Lines to jack up and haul the structure. At the bridge, they realized that the top of the building would strike the overhead steel supports, so they had to deflate the tires on the trailer in order to create the proper clearance.

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula College photo archive.  The Rev Gene Elliott with his Methodist flock in Soldotna in 1952 Rev. Elliott.

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Peninsula College photo archive.
The Rev Gene Elliott with his Methodist flock in Soldotna in 1952 Rev. Elliott.

A photograph taken in April 1952 shows a small group of Methodist children posing with itinerant Moose Pass minister, Gene Elliott, in front of the new church, which, with its small oil stove, was difficult to heat in the winter. Area Methodists used this church into the mid-1950s when a new, much larger, church was built in Kenai.

On Jan. 15, 1955, Pastor Quincy Murphree mailed two postcards to every box holder in Kenai. The first read, “Dear People: If you are interested in a Methodist Church in Kenai, fill in the attached postcard and return it to me at once. Do not fail to register your interest in one of the provided places.” The second card read, “I am interested in a Methodist Church in Kenai and will (A) become a member ____, (B) I do not care to become a member, but will attend regularly ____, (C) most of the time ____, (D) occasionally ____.  My name is ____________________.”

Based on the results of this survey, the Kenai Methodist Church was born, with the first service being held on Feb. 13, 1955, in the Civic Center with 37 people in attendance. Although someone had tampered with the furnace, leaving the indoor temperature at 33 degrees, the faithful were not deterred. In fact, on Easter Sunday a few weeks later, 77 people showed up to worship.

The following week, 19 individuals joined the church on Charter Membership Day. Two years later, the large new church, constructed with nearly 2,000 hours of volunteer labor and located next to the Kenai School, was consecrated. The tiny Soldotna church was abandoned and transformed into an office building for the Coastal Drilling Company.

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Almanac: Community communion — Peninsula parishioners find places to pray

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part story concerning the early Christian churches of the central Kenai Peninsula. Last week featured the origin of Christianity on the Kenai and early church efforts throughout the 1940s. This week focuses on how local church offerings, particularly the Catholic Church, expanded throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s. Next week will feature other early places of worship, including the Methodist Church, the first church in Soldotna.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Photos from the Kenai Peninsula College photo archive. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Soldotna, seen in 1962.

Photos from the Kenai Peninsula College photo archive. Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Soldotna, seen in 1962.

A photograph from “Once Upon the Kenai” depicts an odd-looking Catholic Mass from June 1955 in Kenai. The words in the ceremony may have been the usual fare, but the setting certainly was not: The scene was the Western Corral Bar, where an altar had been erected from two oil drums, a sheet of plywood and an old white bedspread.

Father Thompson presided as parishioners arrayed themselves around the outside of the counter. On the wall behind the congregation were alcohol-related posters, and drink-mixing implements could be seen behind the bar.

Such was life for the Catholic faithful in the early days — and, truth be told, such was life for the congregations of many early churches on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Catholic services on the central peninsula began in the home of Frank and Marge Mullen in 1951. The Mullens had moved out of their 14-by-16-foot cabin when Marge became pregnant with their third child, and were renting a place near the Soldotna bridge from the brothers Alex and Marcus Bodnar.

The Mullens, who had lived briefly in Anchorage in the mid-1940s and had remained in contact with the Catholic hierarchy there, had been informed that if they arranged a place of worship, an itinerant priest from Seward could make regular monthly visits to the area once the roads were passable in the spring. Thus did Father Arnold Custer, whom Marge called “a great old Jesuit,” bring Mass to the masses on the western peninsula.

Later, the parishioners determined that Catholic services should be moved closer to the population center, so the meeting place was moved to Kenai, with Louisa Miller arranging the locale wherever space was available — from her own café to Kenai Joe’s bar, from the old Territorial School to the Carpenters Hall. They even met sometimes at Wildwood Army Station, when a Catholic chaplain was flown down from Anchorage to hold services in the Quonset hut that served as a base chapel.

Marge Mullen remembers that many of the church venues had their own peculiarities — Mass in the café, for instance, might be enhanced by the smell of freshly baked bread, while the smells in the bar might include ashtrays and the vestiges of old beer.

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Almanac: Religious roots run deep

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part story concerning the early Christian churches of the central Kenai Peninsula. This week features the origin of Christianity on the Kenai and early church efforts throughout the 1940s. Next week will focus on how local church offerings, particularly the Catholic Church, expanded throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s. The following installment will feature other early places of worship, including the Methodist Church, the first church in Soldotna.

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Historical Society. The Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai as seen around the turn of the century.

Photo courtesy of the Kenai Historical Society. The Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai as seen around the turn of the century.

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

Much has been made — and rightly so — of the massive changes wrought once non-Natives began settling in Southcentral Alaska. The arrival of the Russians in the late 1700s ushered in a new economic system, social unrest, altered distribution of natural resources, increase in the spread of disease and a shift in education and the ownership of property.

A change in belief systems arrived, too, when Christianity was introduced to the Kenai Peninsula.

The Russian Orthodox Church established the first Christian presence in the form of 34-year-old missionary, Father Juvenaly, who came to Kenai in 1795 and began baptizing local inhabitants. He spent the winter of 1795-96 at Fort St. Nicholas (the first area Russian fur-trading outpost, established in 1795 by the Lebedev-Lastochin Company) and at the nearby village of Shk’ituk’t.

Juvenaly was part of a group of eight monks organized in 1793 in a Russia monastery and charged with preaching to Alaska Natives. He ran into trouble, however, after leaving Kenai in 1796. Although reports are conflicting, it appears that as he continued his missionary work westward he was killed by a group of Yup’ik villagers he was attempting to convert.

In the absence of Juvenaly in Kenai, the faithful of the central peninsula had to settle for limited church leadership for several decades. Until 1840, Kenai would be visited by missionaries from the Kodiak parish only every two to three years.

Then, in 1841, Father Nicholas (Igumen Nicholai) arranged the construction of the first Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai. Three years later, Kenai was officially established as a parish, encompassing a vast territory.

Father Nicholas’ 1859 diary noted that he needed two years to make the rounds of the villages in his care. Without benefit of a road system, he traveled from Kenai north as far as Knik, south to the tip of the peninsula, and east to the site of present-day Valdez. Typically, he traveled by bidarka, usually accompanied by an interpreter, assistant and his oarsmen.

The United States purchased Alaska in 1867, around the same time that Father Nicholas died. Over the next quarter-century, he was succeeded by Father Nikita, who had the church remodeled in 1883, Father Mitropolsky and Father Alexander Yaroshevich, who advocated successfully for the construction of a new church.

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Faith in family — Special-needs baby in India already at home in Kenai couple’s hearts

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai’s Gozelski family — from left, John holding Ben, Anna and Amy, show a photo of 20-month-old Kitana, who they hope to adopt from India.

Redoubt Reporter

Of all the questions, details, adjustments and decisions needing to be sorted out for the arrival of the Gozelski family’s new daughter — and they are many to the point of seemingly infinite, big to the brink of panic, small to the realm of sometimes silly, and nitpicky past the edge of frustration — the truly significant ones are unequivocally settled.

While the international adoption process for the Kenai family to bring home 20-month old Kitana from an orphanage in India has been crawling slowly forward to its — hopefully near — conclusion for over a year now, John and Amy Gozelski have been keeping up a quicker pace, spinning with all that must be done, arranged and resolved: Which adoption program, and which country, and which child do they apply for? How do they come up with the at-minimum $21,000 in fees? What’s the extent of Kitana’s disabilities and how will they provide for her special needs? How will their other two kids adjust? Where will she sleep? Which of the three giant binders of paperwork is that one, particular form in? How much forewarning will they have to book tickets when they get the OK to go get her? Should they start cooking spicier meals now so they can stomach the food when they get to India?

And so on, and so forth. Another day, another detail, another eligibility requirement to pass, another cost to pay, another form to file, each detail leading to another needing to be ironed out. It’s enough to make even the most determined prospective adoptive parents question their resolve, except that Amy and John already have the biggest questions answered:

  • They were meant to adopt Kitana.
  • She will be every bit their child, so whatever physical limitation she has or challenges she brings will not limit them from loving her wholeheartedly and unendingly.
  • Doing so is God’s will, and accepting that means having faith that God wouldn’t set forth such a task without providing for a path to follow.

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Almanac: New home, citizenship for Old Believers

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story about how a group of Russian religious dissidents became Kenai Peninsula residents and U.S. citizens. Last week, part one described the around-the-world trek these dissidents embarked upon in order to find religious freedom and escape persecution. This week, part two reveals how Kenai Peninsula Community College and a retired brigadier general helped the Russians become naturalized citizens in 1975.

By Clark Fair

Photo by John Jones, courtesy of the UAA Consortium Library. Russian Old Believers take a U.S. naturalization course in 1975 from Kenai Peninsula Community College. From left are Kiril Martushev, instructor Bob Moore, and husband and wife Tidoysia and Ivan F. Reutov.

Redoubt Reporter

The list contained the names of 59 adults. The members of four extended families — the Reutovs, the Martushevs, the Kuzmins and the Basargins — accounted for more than 40 of the names, all from the village of Nikolaevsk, and all of them about to become citizens of the United States.

The date was June 19, 1975, and a special U.S. District Court session in the gymnasium of Chapman School in Anchor Point had become a naturalization ceremony for this band of former Russian dissidents, the oldest of whom had embarked more than 50 years earlier on a round-the-world trek of more than 20,000 miles across three continents.

Seeking religious freedom and escape from the influences of communism, the Russians had fled their original home near Vladivostok to the Manchuria region of China, then to Hong Kong, to Brazil and to Oregon before settling on the Kenai Peninsula in early 1968. For $14,000, they purchased a square mile of state land east of Anchor Point and carved out a home there, and by the time of the naturalization ceremony their village boasted a population of nearly 300 residents.

In the gym that day, the 59 Old Believers and most of the rest of the village residents wore their finest and brightest garments, their “Easter clothes,” according to a Betzi Woodman story in the Anchorage Daily Times. The style of dress was largely reminiscent of life in Russia 300 years earlier, when their ancestors had broken with the Russian Orthodox Church because they opposed Patriarch Nikon’s changes to their ways of worship. These dissidents became known as the Staroviertsi, or “Old Believers,” and thus began a life of secret worship, persecution and a fervent hope of freedom.

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Almanac: Old beliefs, new home — Religious group follows long path to Kenai Peninsula

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about how a group of Russian religious dissidents became Kenai Peninsula residents and U.S. citizens. This week, part one describes the around-the-world trek these dissidents embarked upon in order to find religious freedom and escape persecution. Next week, part two will reveal how Kenai Peninsula Community College and a retired brigadier general helped the Russians become naturalized citizens in 1975.

By Clark Fair

Photos by Charles O’Rear, National Geographic. A wintry scene settles over Nikolaevsk in 1972, four years after the village was founded.

Redoubt Reporter

In the pages of the September 1972 edition of National Geographic, the founding of the tiny, 4-year-old village of Nikolaevsk was documented by the words of Homer resident Jim Rearden and photographer Charles O’Rear. The photos especially — depicting a rough-hewn rural existence that seemed nearly to be an anachronism — belied the turmoil behind the village’s very reason for existence.

The oldest of the villagers had, at that time, traveled more than 20,000 miles across three continents since the 1920s, hoping finally to find a safe, productive and permanent home. In truth, however, their long exodus had its beginnings more than 300 years earlier, when the ancestors of these villagers had refused to accept the religious reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Only three years after the magazine article, nearly 60 of the village adults would be swearing an oath of allegiance to the United States and receiving hearty congratulations from Alaska dignitaries, as well as U.S. President Gerald R. Ford.
Nikolaevsk sits about nine road miles due east of Anchor Point on the southern Kenai Peninsula and is populated largely by Old Believers, adherents to the path set forth by their dissident ancestors. Currently, its population is about 300, but at its peak it contained about 500 residents. In more recent decades, some of the Old Believers have left village life behind completely, some have moved to other Old Believer communities in the Lower 48, and some have splintered off into even smaller and more remote communities of their own on the southern peninsula — Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak Selo.

In the 1650s, the Russian Patriarch Nikon attempted to reform the rites of the Russian Orthodox Church to bring them back into line with the Greek Orthodox tradition, from which Russian Christianity had originated nearly 700 years earlier. The Orthodox who refused to conform to Nikon’s edict called themselves the Staroviertsi, or “Old Believers,” but Nikon called them heretics. Peter the Great excommunicated them from the church.

The Old Believers spent generations being persecuted and worshipping in secret, and in 1907 about 40,000 of them moved into the more isolated countryside of southeastern Siberia. For a decade, they lived in relative peace, working on homesteads and farms, until the rise of the communist revolution in 1917 forced the concept of collectivism upon them and drove them into further isolation.

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