Palmer Church Celebrates Humble Beginnings and Marvelous Miracles

The Palmer Church dedicated its debt-free church and school, Amazing Grace Academy (AGA), during a high Sabbath on April 14 attended by excited members, visitors and former pastors.

The Palmer Church, established during the U.S. government's agrarian Colonization Project during the 1930s Great Depression, was the first denominational church in the Matanuska Valley. The church school, also recognized as the first denominational school in the area, began with four students. With the same pioneering spirit that inspired the colony Adventists, the debt-free church and school were built on faith, prayers and hard work.

Aaron Payne, the pastor, shared with the church in the fall of 2009 a message from the Lord: pay off the church and school. The church embraced the plan, and months of prayers, planning and spirit-filled sermons followed. The church launched its Partners in Faith campaign of "not equal giving but equal sacrifice" in February 2010. An added goal upon being debt-free was to build a school gym to serve the church, school and community. The church held a continuous 24-hour prayer vigil followed by a banquet heralding the three-pronged campaign.

On dedication day, former pastor Neil Biloff recalled that, in 1994, members would come to church on Beaver Street only to leave, unable to find parking spaces. Church historian Ibbie Sandvik reported that, in 1973, the group of 30 members had received the Alaska Mission's approval to build the new church, which had a seating capacity limited to 108. "But God had other plans," Sandvik recalls.

During the construction of the church on Beaver Street, the members worshiped at the Maud Road two-room church school built in 1960 from material salvaged from Elmendorf Air Force Base. However, the Matanuska Valley Adventist School, renamed Amazing Grace Academy, was established in 1958 in a building adjacent to the modest log church built by 15 believers in January 1936. They defied the subzero temperatures constructing "God's House" out of cut spruce trees as the Matanuska winds challenged the undaunted members. Debt-free and completed in record time, it was their house of worship for 30 years. The new church on Beaver Street, completed in 1975, grew and thrived until it suffered growing pains.

Fast-forward to 1994, when Biloff suggested to the congregation that they build a bigger church. After prayerful consideration, they sold the church to build a new one on about 15 acres offered at a reasonable price by senior church member Marjorie Hoskins. Church member Dan Shaul designed the church with an expansion plan to add a church school in the future. Construction began as services were held in the gym of a newer school also on Maud Road that was built during the 1980s economic boom.

By 1998, services were held in the present church completed largely by volunteers, including Maranatha groups. In time, school construction began led by Biloff, who was intent on seeing it to completion. When he answered the call to preside over the Dakota Conference, the Lord sent Dave Crockett, an equally gifted craftsman and spiritual leader. Just after Crockett's arrival at the Palmer Church in the spring of 2006, the local Head Start program offered to rent a section of the school for $7,000 a month — God's answer to a huge debt problem. The push to install an elevator and complete the third floor and kitchen began. The task was accomplished to accommodate Head Start by the opening of the school year.

The church experienced a severe budget crisis in 2008 that prompted members to develop a faith-walk with the Lord through meaningful prayers and action. In time, the church's financial health significantly improved. Later the church board voted to send $1,500 to Maranatha's One-Day Church for every $100,000 eliminated from the church debt. Four checks have been sent to Maranatha, the first of which went toward the Masakasa Church in Malawi, Africa. With 95 percent church participation in the campaign, the Palmer Church's segue into becoming God's house of prayer to bring Him glory was evident and intentional.

With the church and school debt-free, the goal of building the school gym to serve the church, school and community took center stage. With a record 75 students enrolled in AGA, this past winter's long periods of harsh winds and heavy snowfall further justified the need for a gym. AGA created a delightful video that has gone viral to share with others its tremendous need for this gym.

This fundraiser video may be seen at the AGA website,

Church member Mark Alder shares, "I'm looking forward to continuing to apply the concept of 'partnering in faith' to the ministry of our church family... . But there's more to achieve together and even better rewards that will last through eternity."

September 01, 2012 / Alaska Conference