Nome Presbyterian Church Nome, Alaska
A Presbyterian Church was established in Nome during the summer of 1900 to accommodate the needs of the gold seekers. It was turned over to the Congregationalists in 1901. More of this story is included under the Interior section: Work in the Yukon Begins.
The early 1900 church at Nome provided services for the gold seekers from Outside. A movement was rekindled in 1973 to reestablish a Presbyterian Church at Nome, this time primarily to serve the Native population, their friends, and families. A number Yup’ik Eskimo Presbyterians had relocated to Nome from St. Lawrence Island and finding no Presbyterian Church there, sought to establish one.
Mildred and Clarence Irrigoo, 1991
"Since my family moved from Gambell to Nome in 1965, about 20 other families from Gambell and Savoonga have relocated to Nome, some for employment, others for medical reasons and still others for different reasons," wrote Clarence M. Irrigoo in a letter to the Presbytery, September 19, 1973.
"Unconfirmed rumor I heard about a year or so ago says that the Seventh Day Adventist people are planning to build a church here in Nome!" Irrigoo warned, "I know they did have property here occupied for a year or more back in the early 40's.... Before the Presbyterian work on St. Lawrence Island becomes just a history, why don't this Presbytery now in session (at Barrow) take a hard look at it and do something."
Irrigoo kept up his pressure. On October 3, in a letter to Jessie DeVries of the Mission Strategy and Evangelism Committee, he thanked her for her prompt reply to his first letter and recounted the early Presbyterian work in the Nome area by the Rev. S. Hall Young. Noting that the early Presbyterian Church was turned over to the Congregationalists, he said, "I wish I knew why this was done."
"The seed planted by the early Presbyterians here in Nome is still alive -- it only needs watering, and we are the ones to activate the work with the help of the Holy Spirit who really is the author."
Irrigoo indicated that Nome now had a population of 2,500; that approximately 160 to 170 people from St. Lawrence Island now lived in Nome; and that it was his belief that they would rather attend a Presbyterian Church, if one were available, than one of the seven other churches currently laboring in the community.
"There are many from Wales, Alaska, who also moved to Nome," he added, "Remember? We used to have a Presbyterian Church there."
A letter regarding the Nome project was written a few days later by the Rev. Sigurd Kristiansen, pastor at the Gambell church. Noting that he had tried to discourage the new church idea in the past because of the number of churches (9) already serving the area, he indicated that, after many pleas from the Nome group, he was beginning to change his mind. Perhaps, he suggested, a federated church could be developed with the Methodists, whose own church in the area was struggling and could possibly use the help -- although in his mind, the Methodist approach was "too liberal and formal for the tastes of the Eskimo people."
Kristiansen also noted that Clarence Irrigoo, a former lay minister from the Gambell church, had been and was the most active in pushing for a Presbyterian endeavor in the area. Rex A. Okakok, moderator for the Arctic Area Council, wrote in November that the Nome idea had enough merit to send a committee to check it out with the people there.
In December, Kristiansen wrote Gordon Corbett, associate synod executive, and enclosed a copy of the Nome Methodist church newsletter, indicating that their first priority was to obtain a pastor.
"If you will allow me to let my personal bias show a little more," Kristiansen closed, "I wonder how much the still very socially oriented goals set up by the committee in the Methodist statement are influenced by the minister covering the field.... The uses recommended for the church building (reading room, special preschool activities, general recreation, day care), though not altogether without merit, seem to be those that one would expect from a Community Center."
Nonetheless, in a letter to Irrigoo December 10, Kristiansen urged consideration for the concept of a Presbyterian/Methodist joint venture in Nome.
Not long after, DeVries wrote back to Irrigoo that on Saturday, January 12 (1974), she, Gordon Corbett, and the Rev. Samuel Simmonds of Wainwright, would be in Nome to confer with him and other interested members. The delegation was going to meet with the Methodists, as well.
On January 18, Corbett wrote a report concerning a possible Presbyterian Church at Nome. After meeting and worshipping with the Methodists, the committee had met with 25 to 30 St. Lawrence Islanders at the home of Irrigoo. The thrust of the conversation, conducted primarily in their Siberian dialect, was that the people were Presbyterian by identity and that they wished their children to be Presbyterians. As immigrants to Nome, their dialect set them apart from other Natives living in that community.
Corbett found that the people had a definite need for worship, nurture, and supportive fellowship that they were not receiving in Nome's other churches. Corbett did not support a building program for Nome -- "there are enough small struggling churches there now," he noted. However, a federated church, sharing the existing Methodist facility, might have potential.
But before a joining of two churches was possible, a Presbyterian church had to be established.
Corbett proposed that the Presbytery recruit an experienced pastor from the "Lower 48" to come to Nome for two months with a charge to organize a church, conduct a membership class, and provide a Leadership Training Course for church officers. From there on the Methodist pastor would function as the pastor of the Presbyterian Church, but Sig Kristiansen and Alice Green would be encouraged to stop and conduct services on their way to and from the Island, and visits to and from the Island might be encouraged for church members or groups such as choirs or youth groups."
"I have two or three prospects in Kentucky who might come and help organize this church," Corbett added.
By January 21, Nelson Ahvakana, lay preacher at Barrow, wrote the Mission and Evangelism Committee about finances and priorities. It seemed that available moneys should be used to hire pastors for two churches already organized, one in Anaktuvuk Pass and the other at Kaktovik. Take care of the problems of the first two churches, before adding a third, he suggested.
William G. Trudeau, pastor of the Nome Methodist Church, wrote Corbett in February that the St. Lawrence Islanders, through their spokesperson Clarence Irrigoo, were really not interested in a joint venture with the Methodists. They wanted nothing less than a full time Presbyterian ministry within the city or they would "just give up on the project."
Trudeau would continue conversations, however, and the two groups were planning a joint Easter Cantata. Trudeau suggested a Native lay minister for the Presbyterian Islanders.
By July, the new Methodist minister John J. Shaffer was writing the Methodist Super-intendent A.C. Wischmeier about the Presbyterian activity there.
"Services the past two Sundays have been under the direction of Clarence Irrigoo," Shaffer reported. Alice Green had conducted services earlier in the summer.
The Presbyterian petition being circulated in the community read:
"We the undersigned persons desire to be constituted and organized as a church which is to be known as _________________. We do covenant and agree to walk together as disciples of Jesus Christ in a church relation according to the provisions of the Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. We promise to maintain this church by our attendance at its services, our support of its work, our gifts, our efforts, and our prayers, and to seek in its fellowship to glorify the name and further the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Thirty-one persons signed the original petition:
Rodney O. Unguiluk, Sr.,
John Waghiyi, Sr., and
On July 30, Alice Green wrote Jessie DeVries indicating that she had prepared the petition for the Islanders in Nome and that she had had several conversations with Shaffer. She offered three potential courses of action:
1. Shaffer be called as the pastor of the new church;
2. A larger parish be organized with the Gambell, Savoonga, and Nome churches together -- then the Nome church could call both Kristiansen and herself as pastors;
3. Leave the church pastorate vacant and appoint either Kristiansen or she as Moderator.
On August 16, in a letter to Irrigoo, Kristiansen further explained the three options -- indicating his personal support for the first, e.g. calling Rev. Shaffer as pastor of the new Presbyterian Church in Nome, which would meet in the Methodist Church. The new congregation could proceed toward a Larger Parish relationship with Gambell and Savoonga at a later date, or even become completely independent with their own church building sometime further in the future.
Kristiansen also spoke of the financial support that would be expected from the Nome Presbyterians.
On August 30, Irrigoo responded in writing to the Mission Strategy and Evangelism Committee that only two persons in Nome were in favor of the suggestion to call Rev. Shaffer as a Presbyterian pastor to the congregation.
"All the others joined or sided with me and expressed the strong desire in building a permanent Presbyterian Organization and eventually build a church in the years to come," wrote Irrigoo. "The first request did not indicate that we call upon some other church to help," he added.
A "Supplement to August 30 Letter" indicated that Bernie Willis, pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, was giving many people rides back and forth to the villages in his twin engine airplane.
"I have heard it from one of his own people that Bernie is now looking for a bigger airplane," Irrigoo warned.
On September 2, Kristiansen again sat at his typewriter and wrote Irrigoo:
"I pray that you will reconsider your recommendation that the proposed congregation in Nome be organized without a pastor and without a real budget."
Again Kristiansen urged the group to call upon the leadership of Rev. Shaffer and to understand the very practical matter that the group would need a financial base to call a pastor of their own and to build a church building.
"I personally doubt that the Missions Committee of Yukon Presbytery or the Presbytery itself would approve the organization of a new church in Nome without the closest cooperation with the Methodists," Kristiansen flatly stated.
Plans continued to establish the new congregation. Kristiansen, on September 25, wrote a letter, copied to all concerned, outlining what would be needed -- choice of a name for the church; election of elders; establishment of a budget to pay for the stated supply and the use of the Methodist Church; and the establishment of a Charter Membership Roll.
Corbett wrote on October 3 that Tom Teply and Jessie DeVries would fly to Nome on November 12 for the purpose of organizing a church. The Rev. John Shaffer "should be named the moderator of the church and should be received as a member of Presbytery," he added. (Additional correspondence was exchanged among all parties.)
On November 1, Corbett wrote Teply that since the new church was not going to be a "union church", the Presbytery could not receive John Shaffer as a full member of Presbytery. He would be named temporary supply for the church and would be expected to attend Presbytery meetings at the expense of Presbytery.
And So It Was to Happen...
After a “delicious luncheon” hosted by Elder Clarence M. Irrigoo and his wife Mildred at the Nugget Inn #III in Nome, the Commission to organize the Nome Presbyterian Church was called to order by the Chairman, the Reverend Sigurd Kristiansen, Jr. at 3:15 p.m., on Tuesday, January 14, 1975. The Chairman opened the meeting with prayer.
Present: Ministers: Alice S. Green, Sigurd Kristiansen, Jr., and Thomas R. Teply. Elders: Mrs. John DeVries and Clarence Irrigoo. Absent: The Reverend Samuel Simmonds and Elder John Waghiyi. Those present at the meeting who were not members of the Commission were: The Reverend Gordon L. Corbett, Synod Associate Executive for Alaska; the Reverend John J. Shaffer, United Methodist minister in Nome who has been working with the Presbyterian group.
Reverend Shaffer was invited to participate in the meeting of the Commission since he would have ministerial responsibility for the new church.
It was moved by Elder Clarence M. Irrigoo that a United Presbyterian Church be established in Nome, as requested to the Presbytery of Yukon at its September 1974 meeting. The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.
It was moved, seconded, and carried by the Commission that the people named on the list supplied by Mr. Shaffer from the Gambell Presbyterian Church be received as members of the newly established church. A similar motion concerning a list of people from the Savoonga Presbyterian Church was also passed. In addition, the Commission voted to receive into membership of the Nome Presbyterian Church ten young people by Confession of Faith who had been instructed in a Communicants' Class by Mr. Shaffer.
The Commission appointed the Reverend Shaffer as temporary supply for the Nome Presbyterian Church and asked that he attend all session meetings of the new church as a ministerial observer. United Presbyterian Minister Alice Green was appointed as Moderator of the session.
A resolution to thank Elder Clarence M. Irrigoo for his long work in planning to organize a Presbyterian Church in Nome was unanimously approved by the Commission.
Nome Church Officially Organized
The service of organization for the Nome Presbyterian Church, Nome, Alaska, was held at 7:30 p.m., on Wednesday, 15 January 1975, in the United Methodist Church of Nome. The service was preceded by a potluck dinner at 6:00 p.m., served by the ladies of the new church and assisted by ladies of the United Methodist Church.
Those present were members of the Commission of Yukon Presbytery, except for the Reverend Samuel Simmonds; the Reverend Gordon L. Corbett, Synod Associate Executive; members of the church to be formed; visitors from the village of Nome; and several other Nome clergymen, namely Norman Crider of the Covenant Church, Father James Poole of the Roman Catholic Church, Everett Bachelder of the Nome Gospel Home, David Sinen of Wycliffe Bible Translators, and John J. Shaffer of the United Methodist Church.
Miss Green led in the Call to Worship. Elder Irrigoo read Scripture. Its Chairman, Mr. Kristiansen, declared the Authority of the Commission. Charter members were approved for membership as follows:
By letter of transfer from the Gambell Presbyterian Church:
Solomon Booshu, Sr.,
Rodney Unguiluk, and
By letter of transfer from the Savoonga Presbyterian Church:
John Waghiyi, Jr.,
Hazel Wongittilin, and
Those received on Confession of Faith were:
Viola Waghiyi, and
After a reading of the Covenant of the new church, the election of elders was held. A Nominating Committee ad hoc from the floor, the six were elected by vote of the congregation. They were:
Rodney Unguiluk, Sr., and
The elders present ordained Mr. Unguiluk, the Reverend Sigurd Kristiansen presiding, and all six were installed as the first elders of the Nome Presbyterian Church. Mr. Kristiansen then declared the church to be officially organized.
Minutes of the first session meeting January 15, 1975 included discussion of the matter of a budget for the church. The church had approximately $996.00 in the bank, plus three additional offerings that had not yet been deposited. Mr. Corbett offered general guidelines for a budget and suggested that the Session aim at a budget of $50.00 per week to be contributed to the Methodist Church for utilities and pastoral support, plus an additional $25.00 per week toward per capita apportionment and benevolence giving.
One Year Later
Minutes of the First Annual meeting of the Nome Presbyterian Church, on Jan. 18, 1976, indicates growing strength among the small congregation. Rev. Alice Green is moderator of the meeting, joined by the Rev. John J. Shaffer, (as of Jan. 14, 1976.) Clarence Irrigoo is the "elder moderator."
A financial report was given which reflected an income of $2,525.95 the previous year, with a balance on hand of $782.00. A budget for 1976 was adopted based upon pledges and anticipated loose offerings amounting to $4,000.00.
Officers were elected for the coming year, including representatives to serve on three Methodist committees.
It was reported that the Presbytery and the Methodist conference cooperated in the purchase of a church vehicle (a Chevrolet Suburban) for use by both congregations.
Several guest speakers had been hosted throughout the year and five of the congregation's children attended summer camp at Salmon Lake.
In May of 1976, Rev. Shaffer prepared a "Community United Methodist Church History, Nome, Alaska", which included a section on "Relationship to United Presbyterian Church." His review of the preceding history is instructive:
Presbyterian influence was evident in Nome, perhaps as early as 1900. We have documented that S. Hall Young spent 1901 in town. In addition, Sheldon Jackson established educational work on St. Lawrence Island at Gambell prior to this date, as well as working with reindeer herds in the Teller Area to the Northwest of Nome.
More recent history pays tribute to Elder Clarence Irrigoo, of Gambell, who sought Presbytery approval for the establishment of a Presbyterian Church in Nome, after he moved to Nome in October of 1965. Due to the ecumenical spirit present in Alaska, the Presbyterian Church did not wish to compete with the United Methodist Church in its ministry to persons in Nome.
However, time proved this valid concern to be irrelevant. Most of the church families who moved from Savoonga or Gambell on St. Lawrence Island during these years did not feel at home in any one particular Nome church. Only a few families changed membership and Presbyterian loyalty continued to be strong. The language barrier was a primary factor, as Siberian Yup’ik Eskimo is very different from mainland Eskimo dialects, to say nothing of the difficulty in communicating in the second language of the area, English.
Under the leadership of the United Methodist pastor, William Trudeau, the United Methodist Church offered the use of the church building in any way that would be helpful to the Presbyterian people and in 1974, Elder Clarence Irrigoo started holding Presbyterian Fellowship meetings at 5:00 p.m. each Sunday afternoon in the United Methodist Church building. Everyone was able to maintain his or her second church loyalties, while starting to rebuild the Presbyterian identity. About 170 persons lived in Nome from St. Lawrence Island at this point in time. Many were here for educational opportunities, medical treatment or for employment. While the flow back and forth to the Island is rather heavy, the number does not change rapidly.
When John Shaffer came as the United Methodist pastor in June 1974, he let the Presbyterian leaders know that he was available to be helpful to the Presbyterian people in anyway that was desired. Pastors Alice Green and Sig Kristiansen worked together in helping the people make a formal petition to the Yukon Presbytery for the formation of a church in Nome. As the process continued, the name "Nome Presbyterian Church" was selected and permission to organize was granted.
The November 1974 flood postponed the first attempt, but it was rescheduled for January 15, 1975. John Shaffer was assigned as Acting Pastor and the first Sunday worship service of the Nome Presbyterian Church was held on Jan. 19, 1975, with the pastor using an interpreter for the message: "Bringing Others to the Messiah."
On April 6th, the services were changed to 7:00 p.m. On April 9th, a Wednesday Evening Prayer and Hymn Singing Service was added to the parish program, under the leadership of the elders. In 1976, the first Board of Deacons was elected, plus United Presbyterian Women organized on Feb. 4, 1976. Pastor Alice Green served as the first Moderator of the Session, with Clarence Irrigoo serving as the Elder Moderator in her absence.
When it was learned that the United Methodist pastor could become Moderator and a member of Presbytery, if the churches were part of a Larger Parish, study was undertaken by Pastors Green and Kristiansen to see if this would be possible. This proposal gained the approval of all judicatories involved and on January 14, 1976, representatives of four churches gathered in Gambell, Alaska, to celebrate the creation of the Aywaan Being Sea Larger Parish. Aywaan means "north" in Siberian Yup’ik. United in the Larger Parish are three United Presbyterian (Gambell, Nome, and Savoonga) and one United Methodist (Nome) local churches. This made formal a relationship that already existed informally. Staff included Alice Green (Savoonga), John Shaffer (Nome) and Winfred Matuklook (Gambell, lay preacher), with the addition of Dean Hickox (Gambell) on July 1, 1976.
"Footnote: At one point in time, the church in Wales was Presbyterian and nearly all of the people who moved from Wales to Nome in the 1950's or earlier, became strong members of the Community United Methodist Church. Today the Wales church is Lutheran and the linkage is weaker, but all this serves to illustrate the important role of the United Presbyterian Church in United Methodist history," Shaffer added to his report in April 1977. Shaffer served the Presbyterian con-gregation until he left Nome in 1981.
Kristiansen Serves As Tentmaking Pastor
In 1986, we find Sig Kristiansen serving the Nome congregation while employed by the Nome Mental Health Board. Ministers serving in the Presbyterian church while gainfully employed in other fields are called “tentmaking” pastors, after Saint Paul who supported his ministry through “working in leather” (tent making.)
In a letter to Neil Munro, the then current Yukon Presbytery executive, Kristiansen reports that that jointly owned Methodist/Presbyterian vehicle has bit the dust -- blown its motor and well rusted -- and was being replaced by a 1981 nine passenger Chevrolet suburban, purchased from the Lutherans for $5,425. The moneys were raised from "personal interest funds available to me" and $1,925 from my own personal account." The title was placed in the name of the Nome Presbyterian Church.
Kristiansen also reported that the Pres-byterians continued to look for a place to meet separate from the Methodists.
"I also asked Bill Brooks (the current Methodist minister in Nome) about what might be expected of the Presbyterians for continued use of their building on Sunday nights since the Methodists discontinued providing preaching and pastoral ministry as of June 1986. I believe that he was under the presumption that the $300 monthly payment was to continue for rent and that was probably a fair amount... My own feelings are that I would like to get any amount that the Presbyterians owe paid off and get out of any arrangement with the Methodists as soon as possible."
Handwritten notes of a telephone conversation taken for the Presbytery's Mission and Evangelism give further evidence of a major split between the Methodist pastor and Kristiansen. "Only Clarence and Sig want independence" from the Methodist church, asserts Brooks.
Kind words are offered for the work of a Presbyterian Volunteer in Mission, Sandra Coffey, who was working with the people in cooperation with the Methodists.
"She is the best thing the Presbyterian congregation has going and she makes Sig look good," the Methodist reported.
Nonetheless, correspondence dated Oct. 24, 1988, shows Sig Kristiansen providing Alice Green a copy of the Bill of Sale for the building that "we have bought from the Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church," for $3,000.
It was estimated at the time that the facility would need about $10,000 or more put into it "to have what is needed." By 1989, that figure was $15,000 and a grant had been applied for from the Synod's Bicentennial Fund.
This Nome congregation was a determined little group.
Another instructive document from the period which catches us up somewhat on the happenings at the Nome church, is a job description and advertisement prepared by Kristiansen for another Volunteer in Mission -- "minister's assistant" -- for Nome.
One volunteer is being sought to work with the Nome Presbyterian Church, presently served by a Tent Making Minister (works full time at secular employment, volunteer pastor to the church.)
The volunteer will be working with Eskimo people in a bi-cultural community. English is spoken but is only the secondary language of the older generation of church members. The volunteer should be sure of his own faith and have a desire to teach and share it with others. There is a need for a person who can work and communicate with children and young people, visit in the homes of the elderly members and call on prospective new members. The volunteer will assist in church school and worship and attempt to develop a youth program. There will be occasions to lead worship and to preach.
Nome has a population of about 4,000 and is about 60 percent Native American Eskimo. The Presbyterian Church membership of approximately 60 is entirely made up of Eskimos from St. Lawrence Island and a few Caucasians that have become a part of the fellowship through marriage. They are a minority group among other Eskimos in Nome and speak a different Native language (St. Lawrence Island Yup’ik). The church has been in existence for 13 years and is just now taking steps toward having a church building of their own, not expected to be ready for use until at least the summer of 1989. In the meantime, facilities are rented from the Lutheran Church; a four-bedroom apartment which is the residence of Pastor Kristiansen and his wife and with a large room designated the Presbyterian Chapel. The VIM would have room and board with the Kristiansens.
Nome is a unique community, with a history that dates from the late 19th century, when gold was discovered nearby. Gold mining is still an important industry, most active during the warm months of late spring to fall. The climate is very cold in winter, usually several months with below zero temperature. The volunteer will need to have appropriate clothing, including long underwear, a warm hooded parka, and insulated boots. Such clothing, of course, will not be needed for summer, but eve summer temperature usually ranges from the mid-thirties to highs in the sixties with an occasional heat wave in the seventies.
Nome is the center of transportation and service for about fifteen smaller communities and villages. Transportation from outside is by Alaska Airlines; two to three scheduled jet planes each day. There is no highway connection to other parts of Alaska other than three roads that extend only about seventy miles in different directions. Prices are high in the several grocery, clothing, hardware and general stores. Better bargains are found in ordering by mail. There are several restaurants, two hotels, about a dozen churches and a number of bars. There is a fine swimming pool at the high school, open to the public and an excellent reaction center with gym, weight rooms, handball courts and bowling alleys. Many tourists visit Nome.
Volunteer should be prepared for a time of learning and the challenge of ministering to people of a different culture. Sensitivity to cross cultural problems must be learned. A volunteer with an evangelical and/or charismatic theological persuasion will be most readily accepted.
The Nome Church continues today under the leadership of Certified Lay Preacher Timothy Gologergen. Pastor Gologergen also serves as a representative on the Chukotka Native Christian Ministry Board -- bringing the gospel message to Siberian Yup’ik-speaking Eskimos in the Russian Far East.
Elder Linda Gologergen serves on the Presbytery's newly established Native American Consulting Committee. She is also Clerk of Session for the Nome church. Elder Ora Gologergen, of Savoonga, served on the Interim Executive Presbyter Personnel Committee for the Presbytery.
Clarence Irrigoo was retired in 1993.
Sigurd Kristiansen was honorably retired and is currently living in Dundee, New York.
And Who Followed Whom...
• The Rev. John J. Shaffer, a Methodist minister, resigned as stated supply June 30, 1981.
• The Revs. John and Debbie Pitney appointed stated supply September 11, 1981.
• The Rev. Sigurd Kristiansen appointed stated supply June 1, 1986; retired August 31, 1990.
• Clarence Irrigoo approved as certified lay pastor March 7, 1991.
• Michael Gross approved as summer intern for ten weeks 1994.
Back to Contents