CRAIG, Alaska (BP) – Liberty Church has made great strides in the past year. At one point down to 10 members, it currently averages 50-60 in attendance each Sunday. Community goodwill toward the church has grown through outreach. A partnership with Alabama Baptists has the congregation poised to move into new worship and education space.
On July 3 Liberty will host a Fourth of July extravaganza open to the public, celebrating what God has done in addition to dedicating its new building and recognizing the ordination of Pastor Cody Schwegel. With such momentum, Schwegel’s response after being asked about further plans may surprise you.
“I don’t have any,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the church’s work will fizzle out like a July 5 sparkler. Schwegel grew up in Craig, a town that despite a population of just over 1,000 is nevertheless the largest on Prince of Wales Island, which is conversely the fourth-largest island in the United States. He’s familiar with the effects of the long, wet winters that contribute to depression and drug and alcohol addiction. He’s seen firsthand the lack of jobs and loneliness from isolation.
It’s an environment where Liberty Church can become a beacon for freedom through Christ.
“It’s a perfect place for the Church to get its act together and minister to people through love and grace,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to change the direction of the generation coming up, to be the generation that seeks God’s face.
“We want to show them that God’s love is better than what the world can give them.”
Schwegel had been a ministry leader and apprentice at Anchor Church before being named pastor. Anchor struggled and in October 2020 decided to shut the doors for a season, with plans to replant.
“I’m not a quitter,” Schwegel said. “The church was strong; we just didn’t have the numbers.”
About 2,800 miles away, Jamie Baldwin was preparing to enjoy retirement in Tallassee, Ala. Baldwin had spent 23 years in Sunday school and discipleship ministries with Alabama Baptists, but had barely leaned back in his rocking chair before he got a phone call.
Scotty Goldman, Alabama’s director of the Office of Global Missions, was on the other line. Alaska Baptists had called asking for help with a church revitalization. Could Baldwin help?
That led to a five-year partnership agreement between Alaska and Alabama, with Baldwin living in Craig for six months last year and currently coming to the end of two months there.
“I will be 68 years old tomorrow (June 25) and have 50 years in the ministry,” Baldwin said. “I have never worked so hard in my life nor been part of a greater blessing than the last two years working with Cody and Liberty Church.”
Nine teams comprising more than 70 people visited last summer to help finish the construction of Liberty’s building, begun when it was still Anchor Church. Baldwin told Baptist Press that he estimates more than 100 Alabama Baptist churches gave by sending either volunteers or money.
A group from First Baptist Church in Reeltown, Ala., is currently working to complete the upstairs sanctuary and education space in time for the July 3 celebration.
“Folks in the town are seeing the difference in the church and how they’re reaching out to the community. They’re seeing what’s happening here,” said Tim Smith, First Reeltown’s pastor.
“It’s been pretty cool to watch. Our folks who are here are seeing it too and it keeps them energized.”
Schwegel knows about energy, as he works full-time for Alaska Power & Telephone. Liberty’s outreach team had made its presence felt last year through efforts such as providing a backpack for every child on the island who wanted one. Schwegel felt God calling for another big effort at Christmas but knew the church didn’t have the funds. He filed for grants and asked around, but nothing materialized. Schwegel told church leaders he didn’t think the outreach would happen.
Then he went to work and found a $5,000 check waiting on his desk. His company was so impressed with Liberty’s community impact that it fast-tracked a grant that would normally not appear until January.