April 25, 2009
Just as Alaska's state ferry system serves as a highway link for coastal communities, the M/V Christian is unique to the Lutheran Association's network of pastors. Originally staffed by airplane pilots who traveled to Native American and Canadian villages, the M/V Christian is the only sea going vessel sponsored by the association and its only Alaskan outreach program.
Pastor/Skipper Stan Berntson, former pastor of First Lutheran Church in Ketchikan took over the helm of the M/V Christian in April 2008. His wife, Sharon Geldaker serves as nurse advocate/first mate and joined him in September. Together they sailed throughout southeast Alaska carrying out the M/V Christian's tradition of cross-cultural ministry providing worship services, pastoral care, counseling, sacraments, vacation bible camps, and education classes.
When the M/V Christian returned to its homeport of Wrangell in February, word was received from the Wisconsin head office that the vessel would need to be put up on blocks until financial support could be re-established. Annual costs for operation of the M/V Christian average $180,000 and major gifts expected for its support did not materialize with the current recession. Berntson and Geldaker traveled to the Midwest to meet with Lutheran Association's director, as well as with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)'s Alaskan bishop, to seek expanded support. They have also visited congregations and called upon friends and supporters in locations throughout the US to share the M/V Christian's story and expand partnerships for long term support.
ELCA churches throughout Alaska have pledged varying amounts of support, and many individual donors have contributed as well. Fundraising efforts continue with a "ReFloat the Boat" dinner, dance and auction in Ketchikan at the US Coast Guard's Crow's Nest on May 2, hosted by First Lutheran Church.
Lutheran Association has committed to re-launching the vessel if $150,000 in contributions and pledges can be raised over the next few months. According to one friend and supporter, Berntson and Geldaker are well suited for this mission. "Stan and Sharon's calling to the M/V Christian was bittersweet. Stan had been my family's pastor for fifteen years and Sharon is a dear friend so it was hard to say goodbye. But I also knew that they were perfectly suited for this work and had a real passion for outreach to the Native and isolated people of Southeast Alaska."
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