The Rev. Bert Bingle’s 600 mile-long Alaska Highway parish
Bert Bingle was a Presbyterian minister who came to Cordova in 1928 to serve the people along the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, and then moved to Palmer in 1935 to start a church at the Matanuska Colony. In 1941 he was assigned to a railroad ministry along the Alaska Railroad as well as ministering to scattered settlements along the Glenn and Richardson Highways.
On one of his trips along the Richardson Highway, Bert noticed Army personnel setting up camp near the new Civil Aeronautics Administration airfield near Big Delta (now referred to as Delta Junction). Finding that the new unit had no chaplain, he volunteered and served as a chaplain at the airfield (now Fort Greely) for 4 1/2 years until a military chaplain replaced him.
Discovering that construction was beginning on the 1,500 mile-long Alaska Highway, he also offered to assist the few chaplains serving along the construction route between Delta Junction and Whitehorse. In a 1965 interview, Bert states that he and his compatriot chaplains also on several occasions went part way up the Canol Road which runs northwest from the Whitehorse area to Norman Wells in Northwest Territories.
One of the units that he assisted with was the 97th Engineers — an all black unit. In Bert’s self-published book about his years in Alaska he wrote that the men of the 97th worked under harsh conditions, living in tents year-round. He wrote that food and clothing were scarce. At times they had to borrow clothes and send those who loaned them to bed so they could go out and do needed work. He also reported that on one occasion he worshipped with the 87th in an unheated building with the temperature inside hovering around 15 degrees below zero.
He and Rev. David Crawford, another Presbyterian minister who joined his highway ministry in 1943, used their own vehicles to drive the rough pioneer road. When their cars became stuck or refused to run, they hitchhiked, stopping at road construction and maintenance camps, telephone repeater stations, military airfields and the few Athabascan villages located near the road right-of-way.
After the war ended and the Alaska Highway opened to civilian traffic, Bert continued his ministry along the road, which became known as the Highway Parish. In 1951 he oversaw construction of a chapel in Tok, and in 1952 a chapel was built at Delta Junction. (The Delta Junction chapel is shown in the drawing.) A chapel was also constructed at Northway.
Bingle continued his highway parish work until 1953, but the parish ministry continued until the 1960s when the Episcopal Church, with a church and priest at Tanacross, assumed responsibility for the chapels at Tok and Northway.
The old chapel at Delta Junction is now all that is left of the highway parish. No longer in use, it is located just to the north of the modern Presbyterian church, which is now operated as a joint Presbyerian/Lutheran Church.
The old chapel, constructed of spruce logs milled flat on three sides, has two rooms and is about 15 feet by 30 feet. It has a low-angled gable roof with a small belfry above the front entry. The roof of the sanctuary sags a little, but the building is still in good condition and the congregation would like to preserve the building. According to the church’s current minister, Dr. Carin Björn von Letzendorf (Pastor Bear), the church had hoped to donate the old chapel to the city of Delta Junction and move it to land adjacent to Sullivan’s Roadhouse. Unfortunately, those plans never came to fruition, so the congregation is studying other plans to preserve the building.
- “Alaskan Missions, My 28 years in the Yukon Presbytery.” Rev. Bert Bingle. self-published, no date (c 1955)
- Bert Bingle interview by Jim Cassady. 1965. Oral History Collection at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives
- Conversation with Rev. Dr. Carin Björn von Letzendorf, current pastor of the Delta Junction Presbyterian Faith Lutheran Church
- “The Alaska Highway Ministry.” On Presbytery of the Yukon website. 1965