Memories of Glennallen Community Chapel
December 1, 2023 | View PDF
The small space between Mt. Sanford drive and Crossroads Clinic didn't seem big enough to hold the log church building from my childhood memories. How could the main room with the cathedral ceiling, the two-story Sunday school addition, the outhouses, the "extra room" mobile home, and all those parked cars possibly fit on that small piece of land? These were my thoughts back in December 1999, as I stared at the empty space where the Glennallen Community Chapel once stood. We had recently moved to Slana and my husband and I had made a trip to Glennallen for some groceries and to eat lunch at the Caribou Café.
My first memory of Glennallen Community Chapel is of sitting in the little room to the right of the pulpit area, which was front center. Mrs. Walya Hobson was my Sunday school teacher and I loved her. She was kind, she told interesting stories, and if we remembered to bring our Bible, she gave us a shiny gold cross sticker to place on a chart on which our names were printed. The stickers had to be licked and I had never seen anything like them before. I was in second grade during the winter of 1963 and my family was new to the Glennallen area.
I also vividly remember the giant icicles that hung down sometimes 4 to 5 feet off the edge of the roof. Once or twice I broke off an end point to suck on, but after a good scolding from both Dad and Mom about the danger of the whole thing crashing down on me or some other little kid and what would happen if I did it again, I learned to just admire them. It wasn't until years later that I also understood Dad's comments about heat loss.
In the early years, the Sunday evening service was one of my favorite times. For at least half an hour, everyone sang favorite hymns requested by the congregation. That is where I learned the words and became familiar with the melody of many old hymns. Every once in a while, Fred Lambert would make a 3 foot x 2 foot chalk drawing during a Sunday evening service. I especially enjoyed watching a magnificent drawing unfold before my eyes with Mr. Lambert telling a story all the while. The church was dark with only a spotlight focused on the giant paper pad on his easel.
In the fourth, fifth and sixth grades we climbed the steep, narrow stairs to a large second floor classroom where all three grades met together for the first 15 minutes. Then we separated into individual classrooms divided by cloth curtains. The competition of those weekly Bible drills helped me learn the names of each book and where they were located. We were also each given a small study booklet to take home and fill in the blanks each week. Special award charts hung on the walls showing the Bible verses we memorized.
Junior Church was held in the back room for ages 5 through 12 during the Sunday morning sermon, and an interesting flannel graph story was presented each week by one of the "mission" ladies. (Central Alaska Mission was the parent organization for the church, the radio station, and the Bible college.) Many times the stories involved missionaries. Out in the hallway was a large bulletin board with a map of the world and pictures of the various missionaries and information about the mission they were involved with. Sometimes we sent our Junior Church offering to the Lazy Mt. Children's Home near Palmer. Years later while living in the Mat-Su valley, I got to tour the children's home facilities which was by then being used by a different organization. I could imagine how it bustled with children 20 years earlier.
Also in the church hallway was the door to the KCAM radio station booth. In my younger years, I thought all churches broadcast their worship service over the radio. Later I realized Glennallen Community Chapel was unique in doing that-KCAM went "live" for the first time immediately following the 1964 earthquake. I sometimes peeked back during the service to see if the sign showed we were still "on air."
Every summer the Vacation Bible School program was looked forward to and well attended. There were songs, crafts, stories, games, various contests and oh so much fun. In later years, I worked as a VBS helper. High School Youth Group was held every Sunday evening in a "mission" home. My senior year, I can still remember sitting in a pew toward the back of the church during the Christmas Eve service, holding hands with the young man who would become my husband.
The old log church was torn down for safety reasons and a modern building built sometime in the 1980s, at a new location about a mile up the Glenn Highway. It is spacious and has plenty of parking. Although the name is the same, it is certainly not the church of my childhood memories.
During the 11 years we lived in Slana, we had several occasions to walk through the doors of the new building, including for a Sunday morning worship service, a wedding, a memorial service, a 50th anniversary celebration, and a retirement/good-bye party. The current building bustles with life, still broadcasts live from KCAM, and serves the needs of the community.
Now in December 2023, as I think about the "reason for the season," I am thankful for the influence of the Glennallen Community Chapel during my childhood.
Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.