About Neil Munro

 Neil Munro was born Jan. 30, 1927 in Oakland, CA, and raised in Berkeley, where he was graduated from Berkeley High School on his eighteenth birthday in 1945. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on March 12 of that year and served in the “Army of Occupation” in Kyoto, Japan, from August of 1945 to May of 1946. He was discharged in October 1946. 

Neil enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in September 1946, and was graduated in June 1950. The following September found the young man at Princeton Theological Seminary. He served an internship in Fairbanks, Alaska, during the 1952-53 school year, ministering to military families living off base, and also, for nine months, serving as pulpit supply at First Presbyterian Church, Fairbanks. Neil returned to Princeton following these experiences and was graduated in May of 1954. 

Alaska had caught his fancy. Munro returned to Berkeley where he was ordained in the San Francisco Presbytery on June 16, 1954, but immediately transferred to the Presbytery of Yukon where he served as pulpit supply at the Utkeagvik Presbyterian Church, Barrow, from July 4 through Dec. 18, 1954. 

From Dec. 19, 1954 through Nov. 1, 1960, Neil was missionary pastor at Delta Junction. It was during his time at Delta Junction, that Neil married Kerry Imbach of Seattle, WA, and California. They were married July 31, 1955 at Delta, and became the parents of two sons, Peter, born July 1, 1957, and Jeffrey, born Sept. 13, 1959.

It was Nov. 14, 1960, that Neil began his work as assistant pastor at Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, Seattle, where he served until Aug. 1, 1962. On Aug. 1, 1962, he began his work as pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Anacortes, WA, where he remained until Aug. 1, 1968.

It was at this time that a sixteen-year ministry began back in Alaska. Neil became pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Sitka, AK, on Aug. 1, 1968 and served until Aug. 1, 1984. His wife of 28 years, Kerry, died in November of 1983. 

Neil accepted the position of associate synod executive for the Alaska and Yukon Presbyteries beginning Aug. 1, 1984. He married his wife Donna of Sitka on Aug. 5, 1984, and moved to Anchorage on Aug. 10.

Neil served both presbyteries until June 1, 1987, when Yukon Presbytery became independent. He continued as executive presbyter for Yukon until Dec. 31, 1993. He and Donna remained in Anchorage until May 31, 1994, at which time they retired to Spokane, WA, where they live today. 

Highlights as Executive

Neil lists the following as highlights of the Presbytery of Yukon work during his administration, showing the nitty gritty of executive responsibilities:

1. The Alaska and Yukon presbyteries became independent of one another in January of 1987. Having had responsibility for both presbyteries until that time, Neil now focused his attention on the Presbytery of Yukon. Bob Palmer was hired as executive for the Alaska Presbytery. 

2. Fire had destroyed the manse at Wainwright, AK, and a modular replacement was sent north and installed. 

3. The Savoonga church, manse and oil tanks were refurbished and replaced with all supplies flown into Savoonga.

4. A new furnace was installed at Gambell.

5. In cooperation with the Utkeagvik Presbyterian Church at Barrow, a building was constructed and a congregation initiated at the North Slope village of Atqasuk. 

6. Improvements were made at Bingle Camp, outside Fairbanks. 

7. A building was purchased from the Methodists and re-located to its present site, making the “instant” Presbyterian Church of Nome. 

8. A new church development was initiated under the administration of Gordon Corbett at the community of Eagle River, AK. The Rev. Jim Scott had been hired to survey the possibilities. The first gathering was held in September of 1984, shortly after Neil’s arrival and the new congregation was officially organized in March of 1985.

Munro is especially proud of the work begun among the Siberian Yupik Eskimos of the Chukotka Peninsula starting in January of 1990. The Rev. Willa Roghair of Barrow initiated the work when she travelled to Magadan in the Russian Far East in 1990 and again in 1991, on behalf of Rotary International. Willa spoke fluent Russian.

An ecumenical survey team was sent to Providenia, Anadyr, and Magadan in September of 1991, and work began to obtain the needed funds for the Yupik-to-Yupik Christian ministry. 

“Paul Rookok of Savoonga, (the Rev.) Sig Kristiansen of Nome and I met with Cliff Kirkpatrick (the now current stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA) to get it started,” Neil recalls today (1998). 

“We developed a ‘land grab’ plan where we would incorporate all of eastern Siberia into the Presbytery of the Yukon. In fact, we developed an overture and sent it to General Assembly for consideration,” Neil laughs. 

“We caused quite a stir. Theo Gill, editor of Monday Morning magazine picked up on our overture and ran it on the front page. He told me later he was tired of articles and rebuttals on the sexuality issue and wanted something different -- and we sounded like real mission. Well, every minister in the country heard about our proposed ‘land grab’ with the next issue!” 

Paul and Sig were commissioners to General Assembly that year held in Baltimore. The Presbytery of Yukon was not given all of the Russian Far East -- the Metropolitan of Russia objected and it really didn’t sound too “ecumenical” -- but the needed funds plus the blessing of the General Assembly were obtained for the ministry and the funds would be administered by the Yukon Presbytery rather than the synod or the national church. Objective accomplished.

Four denominations: the Evangelical Covenant, the Methodists, the Moravians, and the Presbyterians were initially involved in the effort. The Lutheran Church (ELCA) was added in later. The Rev. John Waghiyi was the first Yupik missionary sent to Russia under the program.

Neil has chosen to write a more extensive story regarding this ministry and has provided us with a copy of some reflections he wrote in March of 1994 on mission work in the Alaska and Yukon Presbyteries, both of which follow. 

The Future

 Neil’s predictions and/or hopes for the future of the Yukon Presbytery include:

1. the unification of the Alaska and Yukon presbyteries as one -- with the General Assembly providing the unified presbytery with the status of “mission” but having it administered from Alaska;

2. the expansion of the Lay Ministry Program with extensive training of lay leadership in-the-field (economically and practically, leadership must emerge from the field) which includes recruitment and nurturing of leadership;

3. the expansion of “tent-making” ministries, which would mean extensive leadership training for elders who would have to carry a greater share of the local ministry; and 

4. the application of the Chukotka Native Christian Ministry model of evangelism to each region of the current Alaska and Yukon presbyteries and/or any unified presbytery of the future.


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