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Alaskan Thanksgiving: All invited in Tenakee Springs

TENAKEE SPRINGS, Alaska (BP) — A small church in southeast Alaska is inviting its community to Thanksgiving dinner.

The invitation is extended to all 100 residents and anyone else in Tenakee Springs who may not have local gatherings of family and friends that day.

Tenakee Springs Community Church has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for most of the 10 years bivocational pastor Todd Buck and his wife Jodie have served there.

“Initially I went out there on a request for supply preaching, and I just kept going,” Todd said. “After about a year I was definitely the pastor.”

To get “out there,” the Bucks travel 120 miles round-trip from their home in Juneau to Tenakee Springs on Chichagof Island. Todd is a civilian marine information specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard. Jodie owns a sewing and quilting shop.

The Bucks go to the island on Thursday and return to Juneau on Saturday after the church’s worship service and a fellowship meal. They go once a month in winter when they usually take the ferry, and every other week in the summer when they sometimes make the trip in their own boat.

“We have about 15 to 25 people who come on a regular basis,” Todd said. “And it has just grown in community. It’s grown a little bit in size, but mainly in community.”

The Bucks attribute recent growth in community to the purchase of a cabin in Tenakee Springs last summer. For 10 years they rented places to stay, camped on a boat or stayed with friends. Their own cabin, Todd said, gives them a place to relax and where “people can come and see us.”

“We’ve already seen some very significant growth in the couple of months since we’ve been able to spend more time there,” Todd said.

The Thanksgiving dinner has become a significant community-building occasion in Tenakee Springs. The church started it to provide for those who might not be able to prepare a traditional holiday dinner. Many residents live in tiny one-room cabins with limited means for cooking and makeshift plumbing that’s prone to freezing before Thanksgiving.

So the church invites town residents and visitors to Thanksgiving dinner at the community center where the church regularly meets. The facility’s plumbing is freeze-proof, and there’s a kitchen and other amenities for putting on a big meal.

The church provides the turkey. “People will bake desserts or other dishes. It’s essentially a potluck,” Todd said. “We usually have about 30 to 35 people,” about double the number of people who attend church services.

The gathering will include a brief time “to share how God has blessed over the year and then just a time of fellowship,” Todd said.

Laura Strong, a 12-year Tenakee Springs resident and church member, said the Thanksgiving event is just one important expression of the Bucks’ witness, leadership and influence.

“I think that Todd and Jodie bring a lot more than just the Thanksgiving ministry,” Strong said. “They’re well-known and respected in our community for a lot of the other volunteer aspects like Fourth of July, which is a really big deal here. For years they’ve found ways to volunteer and help out with that.”

With his Coast Guard training, Strong added, Todd “is able to serve in a lot of ways in this community.” In addition to his current 12-year civilian career, Todd, now 55, served on active duty in the Coast Guard from age 19-29, during which he became a Christian and met and married Jodie.

Strong recalled that Todd has helped with emergency medical evacuation and also a Thanksgiving weekend search-and-rescue incident.

“So Thanksgiving is another nice addition,” she said, “but it’s certainly not the only way that the church and Todd and Jodie stand as witnesses in our community.”

Through sewing and quilting, Todd said, Jodie has befriended some people there who aren’t attracted to Christianity. But because there is a shared interest in sewing, Todd said, “It’s like, ‘Oh, well, let’s get together.'”

“And so things like that have provided opportunities,” Todd said. “And now that we have a cabin there, that changes the dynamic incredibly.”

Before the Bucks started coming to Tenakee Springs, Strong said, “We had different preachers” and “other people sent out periodically” to offer youth activities or Sunday School or Christian mentorship.

Jae McKee of the Alaska Baptist Convention said the ministry at Tenakee Springs, sponsored by Glacier Valley Baptist Church in Juneau, has “been going on a long time before Todd got there.” But for the past 10 years, Todd “has really been the consistent person to go,” McKee said.

Todd’s “excited about it and very consistent,” McKee said. “He loves the people and I think that’s what really pushes him: his love for the people and his desire for them to know Christ.”

Frances Ziel, an 18-year Tenakee Springs resident, said the Bucks “minister to every walk of life in this community, and they have brought many people together that probably normally would never be together — many different denominations — just to learn the Word of God and to praise God.”

“I have been battling stage 4 colon cancer for 10 years,” Ziel said, “and the Tenakee Springs Community Church has rallied around me like no one else. My colon cancer metastasized to my lungs, so although I’ve got no active cancer in my colon, it’s now in my lungs. I just went through radiation for that. And just every day is a gift.

“And Thanksgiving is such a special time because it evokes that feeling of family. And every day that I’m here I just praise God.”

    About the Author

  • Tim Tune