A Warmth of Spirit in Anchorage, Alaska
December 1999

“A Warmth of Spirit in Anchorage, Alaska,” Ensign, Dec. 1999, 69–70

A Warmth of Spirit in Anchorage, Alaska

Nestled between the soaring, snowcapped mountains of the Chugach Range on the east and the Cook Inlet on the west, Anchorage is one of the largest U.S. cities in terms of area. This Alaskan city covers 1,955 square miles and runs more than 70 miles north and south, and its more than 260,000 residents make up nearly half the state’s population. People come here from all over the world, some for adventure, some for work, some to find solitude, and some simply to take in Alaska’s breathtaking scenery.

The Church in Anchorage has grown from three wards in 1961 to two stakes encompassing 14 wards and one branch. In spite of its growth, the Church remains a small minority, with approximately 6,500 members.

“You feel needed here,” says Rosemarie Spencer, a member of the Anchorage 13th Ward, Anchorage Alaska Stake. “You know you’re making a difference. The community knows who the Church members are, which makes us behave better. And because there aren’t many of us, there are more opportunities and more variety in the ways we can serve.” Sister Spencer and her husband, Neil, have lived in Anchorage for more than 30 years.

The new smaller temple in Anchorage, dedicated on 9 January 1999, has been a blessing for active as well as less-active members. Brent Wadsworth, president of the Anchorage Alaska Stake, says that in the four months following the dedication of the temple, 71,000 ordinances were performed. “We now have 26 percent more members with temple recommends than last year,” he says. “But the percentages are not what is important; it’s the change in people’s lives.”

Kenneth Petersen, bishop of the Anchorage 14th Ward in the Anchorage Alaska North Stake, was born and raised in Anchorage. He and his wife, Kerstina, intend to raise their three children here. Just 29 when called as bishop in June 1997, he loves serving the Lord and his ward. “I’m the bishop in the ward I grew up in,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to spend my life helping people and doing something worthwhile. I’m doing what I always wanted to do.”

Members of the Anchorage 17th Ward, Anchorage Alaska North Stake, manifest a spirit of warmth that is common to many wards in the area. In May 1998 their bishop, Steven E. Young, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was given a short time to live. He and his wife, Linnea, decided they must move to Colorado to be near a hospital there. Members of the ward not only fasted and prayed for their beloved bishop and his family but also packed the Youngs’ belongings and cleaned their home. They sent telephone calls, letters, notes, and posters, as well as “hats of the week” to cover Bishop Young’s head, bald from the chemotherapy. His cancer subsequently went into remission, and he believes the Saints in the 17th Ward had a hand in his turn of health. “I will never forget the members here,” he said during a visit to Anchorage last April.

Elder Gordon G. Conger, a member of the North America Northwest Area Presidency, said at a recent stake conference in Anchorage: “The Church in Anchorage has a part of the Alaska spirit, which is huge personal warmth. The people bond so warmly and are so open and so culturally diverse … that it is a delight to be here and to be part of it. The Anchorage temple is a jewel in the crown of Anchorage. It’s a beautiful place, and it also has that feeling of warmth and personal love that I feel among all the people of Anchorage.”

A Brief History

Dedication of Alaska for preaching of the gospel: 6 June 1928

First Church meeting in Anchorage: July 1938

Missionaries first arrived: spring 1941

First branch organized: 25 May 1941

Dedication of first meetinghouse: 10 August 1958

First stake: The Alaska Stake, with three wards, was organized in Anchorage on 13 August 1961.

Missions: The Alaska Anchorage Mission was organized from the Canada Vancouver Mission on 15 October 1974.

Anchorage at a Glance

Meetinghouses: 5

Missionaries serving from the area: 65 full-time missionaries, 115 stake missionaries

Seminary Students: 295

Institute students: 178

  • Sandi Howlett, a member of the Anchorage 17th Ward, Anchorage Alaska North Stake, is an area public affairs representative.

Above: Sunset view of downtown Anchorage (photo by Lynn Howlett); right: longtime Alaska residents Martha and Jerry Swan.

Karma Tomlinson, right, a member of the Anchorage Alaska North Stake, leads her sophomore seminary class in a scripture chase. (Photo by Lynn Howlett.)

Elders Alvin Englestead, Heber J. Meeks, Lowell T. Plowman, and James Judd dedicated the territory of Alaska for missionary work on “Mormon Hill” in Juneau in 1928. (Photo courtesy of Norman H. Jackson.)