No one would blame Pastor Michael Bunton if, at 60 years old, he wanted to slow down. In fact, that’s exactly why he came to Alaska from Buffalo, New York, in 1995. 

“I wanted to come up, I was trying to get my life together,” Michael said. “I definitely needed a change of pace, a change of atmosphere, and I needed to slow my life down. Coming here made it a lot easier.” 

Over the past 30 years, Michael only seems to have picked up speed, currently serving as the senior pastor at Greater Friendship Baptist Church in Anchorage. 

Michael comes from a family of pastors including his father, who served for over 60 years. Several of Michael’s siblings are also pastors, and his wife and three daughters are involved in ministry.  

“We have a family that genuinely loves one another,” Michael said. “Sometimes you may want to strangle each other, but we love sitting down, laughing, joking, talking and the greatest time we have is just fellowshipping and sharing together.” 

That love for his family extends to the community, too. Michael is involved in the Interdenominational Ministry Alliance, the Martin Luther King Day Planning Committee, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and Chugach Baptist Association. In addition to his pastoral duties, he’s currently in seminary school. He said all of that makes for an exciting life.  

“I love pastoring because it’s different almost every day,” Michael said. “It keeps you interested and involved, and it gives you an opportunity to have a sense of compassion for the people of God.” 

It also gives him a clear perspective on the needs of the state’s Black community. In 1951, Greater Friendship Baptist Church was the first Black church established in Alaska and the first Black church in the country to affiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention. Several of Alaska’s prominent Black churches today were birthed out of Greater Friendship. While his church serves everyone, the pastor said, it’s important not to forget those roots.  

“It’s a blessing to be in community with so many different cultures, but sometimes you can lose who you are if you’re not careful,” Michael said. “We don’t ever want to forget who we are as African Americans and the things that our culture and our ancestors have been through.” 

Through his work with young people, Michael hopes to create an Alaska community that keeps them here. He said that means ensuring people have opportunities, entertainment, mentors and role models.  

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in Alaska as leaders,” Michael said. “What’s the driving force for us to stay? Who’s fighting for us legislatively or on the Assembly? Who is really forging that leadership for us? I pray that we can take up the reins and be the guys that can pull our congregations and our communities together but it’s going to take a group effort to do that.” 

Whether Michael is preaching, counseling or simply talking about his life, his voice demands attention with a playful energy and quiet urgency. It’s an energy, or perhaps a spirit, that keeps him going.   

“I prayed that I stay here my entire tenure as pastor in Anchorage, Alaska, because I know there’s such a great need for helping our communities,” Michael said. “In order for our communities to become better, we have to become better. I stay here because I want Greater Friendship in this community to make a difference.”