First United Methodist Church
Sunday, October 22, 2017
People with Heart in the Heart of the City
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1920s-1950

Over a century ago the evangelistic zeal of Methodists established churches and preaching point in mining camps and villages of Alaska.  Early in the 1920’s the Methodist Church cooperated with similar denominations in a community agreement to missionary support.  Thus, the Territory of Alaska would be served more efficiently.  Anchorage was then served by the Presbyterian community Church.  With the beginning of civilian travel after World War II and an increasing interest in Alaska, the Presbyterian Church became self-supporting.

 In 1941 Methodist workers from all of Alaska gathered in Seward to make plans.  A project of great concern to Bishop Bruce R. Baxter and the Rev. G. Edward Knight, the new Superintendent of the Alaska Mission, was the work in the busting community of Anchorage.  The community was rapidly growing as the central hub of at the Alaska Railroad.

  A brief survey conducted by Rev. Knight in 1943 indicated the presence of several hundred Methodist by preference or membership.  Also, indicated in the survey was evidence that not more than one-third of the children were touched by the church.

 In the winter of 1943-44, Bishop Baxter visited several theological schools.  At the General Conference in Kansas City, he offered George Dolch of Little Falls, NY the opportunity to come to Anchorage.  George and Dorothy arrived in Anchorage on September 30 after spending a few days in Seward with the Knights.  They knew no one in Anchorage and had not even a reservation for a place to sleep.  At the Westward Hotel, two pilots were out of town for two days and the Dolches were finally allowed the use of their room.

 Monday, they moved into a little house on 10th Avenue just east of P Street and wrote the office of the church extension for money to purchase it for a parsonage.

 They began house to house calling to find prospective church members.  They also rented the American Legion Hall for Meetings (Now the Woodshed Restaurant on 3rd Ave).  It was the only possible place available, but had a very “unchurchy” odor Sunday mornings and had to be swept out before services could begin.

 The first service was held on October 22, and 33 attending.  Less than a month later the church school began in the parsonage ten blocks from the “church”.  Several trips of a 36 Dodge coupe transferred pupils between services.  On January 7, 1945 the church was chartered with 29 members.  The following Sunday services were moved to the Seventh Day Adventist chapel across the street (at about the location of the Anchorage Westward Hotel’s west door).  The atmosphere was much more worshipful and church school was also moved to that location.

 In May 1945 the mission conference was held in Metlakatla, Alaska.  Forced to travel by Alaska Steamship with a flexible schedule, the Dolches were gone a month to attend a 4-day conference.  George finally flew home from Juneau to meet with Dr. Lakey of the Section of Home Missions and with Superintendent Knight.

 That summer the Womens Society of Christian Service raised $62.00 from a bake sale.  This was the start of the building fund.  On July, the church had a food booth on 4th Avenue near G Street and made $117.00.   That summer some members also planted and harvested three acres of potatoes and made $400.00.

 On a Sunday evening in February 1946, the pastor’s car was stolen with his Bible and sermon notes inside.  The car was found a week later a block from the U.S. Marshall’s office.

 The first Dolch baby, bud, arrived on April 11th, 1946 at the Seward General Hospital.

 Late in the Spring of 1946 three lots at 9th and G Streets were purchased as a future building site for a permanent church home.  Monday, July 15, Rev. Dolch was given sudden notice to move his equipment from the Adventist chapel by Wednesday or it would be tossed into the street.  The piano and other equipment had to be stored in the tiny parsonage living room.

 Two log cabins sat on the recently purchased property.  The Rev. Knight and Rev. Dolch began at once renovating the larger two-story cabin. The old floor was removed and the stairway moved to the back wall.  By Thursday night new floor supports and used flooring were installed.  Member volunteered help and the women came in later and cleaned.  Only July 21, the log church was formally opened with a dedication service.  The congregation sat on borrowed chairs, but fireweed bloomed at the windows and God was there.  This cabin is now located at 1028 E. 8th Avenue and used as a residence.

 The log church seated about 50 persons including the choir (on backless benches).  In winter the back seats were often piled high with coats.  The oil heater in the middle of the room was too hot if you were too close, too cold a few feet away.  Behind it you couldn’t see!  The floor was uneven and cold.  The pastor’s study and church schoolrooms upstairs were heated by a “stack robber” attached to the stovepipe.

 The minister never walked, he was driven to run.  There was so much to do – besides his usual pastoral duties he frequently transported chairs to and from the USO, cleaned the building, and cajoled the oil heater into producing a few degrees of warmth.

 Due to growth of the congregation and church school, plans to build were pushed ahead until a six-month shipping strike delayed the whole project.  The younger Sunday school class had been meeting in the smaller log cabin for sometime.

 In 1947 construction was begun on a permanent church building.  Most of the work was done by volunteers often using salvaged materials.  Dr. Henry C. Mechlenberg of the Department of Field Service and Finance of the Section of Church Extension came to help and to direct the work on the building.

 On October 5, the parsonage family welcomed son David into its busy household.  That fall George developed a severe infection from working with insulating materials and was hospitalized for several weeks followed by convalescing at home.

Christmas Eve there was the thrill of holding the first service in the new basement.  The oil heater with a stovepipe through a window furnished token heat and the basement continued to be our place of worship for many months.  Changes were made; finishes added, an enlarged heating system installed, running water and a kitchen.  Planks were used for sweating along with added chairs until some used seats were borrowed form the Lutheran Church.

The upper two stories were completed with the Sunday school rooms at the east end of the main floor for use by the younger classes.  By February 1948, the pastor’s family moved into the apartment on the first and second floors at the west end of the building.  The building was now called the Bruce R. Baxter Methodist Church, in honor to Bishop Baxter who had died a few days before the Alaskan Mission Conference was held in Seward in 1947.

On June 17, 1948 the Dolch family returned to its home conference in New York leaving a church of 116 members, a growing church school and usable building. 

In June 1948, the Rev. Edward Purviance and his family arrived.  His first major effort was to plan for completion of the sanctuary during that fall and winter.  During the winter three classes of primary and beginners met in the church kitchen, a space approximately 11 x 15 feet.  Also, the parsonage living room was a pastor’s study became classrooms.  The church School nearly doubled in attendance that year. 

The larger log cabin was moved off the property, the other with various trash was demolished and hauled away be volunteers.  The yard was leveled and temporary grass sown.

Soon the Lutherans required their benches to be returned.  Members and friends pledged to buy one or more folding chairs as replacements.  Twenty were given by WSCS of the Seattle Queen Ann Methodist Church.  Sixty-two chairs were secured in this way. 

As the church neared completion it was evident that many things were needed.  Memorials and gifts were many; two pulpits, a pulpit Bible, carpeting, candelabra, alter picture, neon sign, movie projector and screen, pews, organ and baptismal font.