Sullivan Honors Alaskan Of The Week: Pastor Evelyn Erbele

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke this week on the Senate floor in recognition of Pastor Evelyn Erbele, co-pastor of Ketchikan’s First United Methodist Church, who operates the First City Homeless Services Day Shelter. Erbele was recognized as part of Senator Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”
The following is the statement submitted to the Congressional Record:

Tribute to Evelyn Erbele

Madam President, every week for the past few months, I have been coming down to the Senate floor to recognize a special Alaskan, someone who makes my state - what we believe is the most beautiful and unique state in our country - a better place for all of us. I call this person our Alaskan of the Week.

Last week, I had the opportunity to recognize Glen Hanson, who volunteers his time by flying in what we refer to as the Iditarod Air Force - members of the Alaska volunteer community pilots who fly supplies in for the Last Great Race.

I know the pages are really interested in the Last Great Race. So just as a quick update, we had a winner. It is still going on but one musher, Mitch Seavey, crossed the finish line in Nome, AK in record time. I congratulate Mitch and all of the members of the Iditarod Air Force who are still out there flying, when it is 30-40 degrees below zero. It is a tough race, a real tough race. Iowans, I am sure, could do well in it but not a lot of other Americans.

Today, I want to take my colleagues and viewers to a very different place in Alaska - about 1,300 miles southeast of Nome, where all the Iditarod action is going on, really almost a world away - to a beautiful city called Ketchikan, AK.

Ketchikan is the first port city that people will visit when they take the Alaska Marine Highway's Inside Passage up to Alaska. It is a trip that I encourage everybody to take. It is beautiful. Flanked by the towering Tongass National Forest, it is a place full of life and spirit, mountains, forests, lots of rain, lots of salmon and lots of jaw-dropping scenery.

Yet like most places across our country, it has its challenges and it has a challenge with homelessness, like many communities in America and Alaska. Luckily for all of us, Ketchikan is also home to a very caring community that has set its sights on helping its fellow Alaskans.

One of these people is Pastor Evelyn Erbele, our Alaskan of the Week, who has dedicated her life to helping others.

Evelyn is the co-pastor with her husband, Terry, of the First United Methodist Church in Ketchikan. There is a day shelter in the church's social hall, which provides a hot meal, shower, clean clothes and a place for the community's homeless to go every day of the week.

Oftentimes when we think of homelessness, we think of people not having a place to sleep, but it is also important to remember that being homeless means having no place to go during the day. First City Homeless Services Day Shelter gives people a place to go during the day. Pastor Evelyn oversees that day shelter. According to the manager of the shelter, Chris Alvarado, who himself has been homeless, she does so with commitment and with kindness and with compassion.

“She has a heart of gold and gives 100 percent,” said one resident of Ketchikan about Evelyn.

Evelyn met her husband, Terry, in Seward, AK where she was a nurse in 1976. From Seward, they set out on a journey to help people around the world - Nigeria, Lithuania and Russia.

In 2009, Evelyn - now with a Ph.D. in theology and ordained by the Methodist Church - went up the Alaskan Highway from Bellingham to Ketchikan with her husband. She didn't know when she accepted the job at the Methodist Church in Ketchikan as co-pastor that she would be overseeing the day shelter. At first according to her, the work was a bit unsettling. 

“I never intentionally walked side by side with people who are homeless,” she said. “Initially, I may have been biased. I was using the word ‘them’ when I would describe the people I was working with. One day, the Lord said to me, “Evelyn, you are them. You are my child no less or no more than they are.” She said that after hearing that voice, she realized she wasn't working with ‘them’ anymore. “I was working with men and women who were in a place that I easily could have been.”

In her years working to help the homeless in her community in Ketchikan, she realized that not everybody who is homeless fits neatly into ‘one basket.’ There are lots of reasons for homelessness she said, and the homeless may have many, many faces: men, women, children, families, the old and the young.

As the Presiding Officer knows, homelessness is a big challenge across our nation. On any given day, tens of thousands of Americans - hundreds of thousands - don't have a permanent place to call home. Of course, the best way to address this is to have a strong economy and job opportunities, and that is what we need to be focusing on here in the Senate. But we also need people like Pastor Evelyn not only in Alaska but across the country, who are tireless advocates for helping the homeless. I thank all of them. I especially thank her, and I thank her for being our Alaskan of the Week.