An exciting new Rural Church Engagement Initiative launched in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church in 2019 among churches ministering in rural communities across Idaho, Oregon and Washington, will be growing in 2020.
“Our goal is to build competency and support with the local church for transformational change and new relationships with our neighbors,” said Lynn Egli, Crater Lake lay leader and coordinator of the Rural Church Engagement Initiative. “We’re reaching out to more neighbors, new neighbors and different neighbors. Our approach is very practical: learn by doing; learn in a cohort of learners that are ministering in a similar rural setting.”
There are currently 13 churches in smaller communities
involved in this project, which has included 40 to 50 lay people, pastors, and
leaders from the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team providing resources
and training opportunities for the pastors and lay leaders serving these
The cohort regularly uses Zoom video conferencing technology
to meet and study the Book of Acts in the Bible, discussing local community
organizing efforts, sharing setbacks and what they’ve learned.
The cohort meets quarterly for remote training sessions on
topics like social media, leadership development, creating change and community
development. Each church gets an on-site visit from a nationally recognized
faith-based community organizing consultant.
The churches currently involved in the Rural Church
Engagement Initiative come from the Sage, Crater Lake, Inland and Seven Rivers
Egli said next year the hope is to add another 18-20 church
cohort, expanding into more districts, including Alaska.
Currently the Rural Church Engagement Initiative is being
implemented in Ashton, Idaho; Coos Bay, Oregon; Chelan, Wash.; New Meadows,
Idaho; Veneta, Oregon; Clarkston, Wash.; Gooding, Idaho; Klamath Falls, Oregon;
Magic Valley Ministries in Idaho; Pullman, Wash., Sandpoint, Idaho; Toledo,
Oregon; and Goldendale, Wash.
The current churches will join the new cohort of churches
for a gathering at the Northwest Leadership Institute 2020 in March at Boise
First United Methodist Church.
“Please pray for us as we continue to grow and serve,” Egli
said. “We are so grateful for support of the Pacific Northwest and Oregon-Idaho
conferences to launch this work in our rural churches that are serving so
faithfully and, quite frankly, remotely.
We may be miles apart, but we know we are not alone. We are the church
and we will move forward with hope, vision, confidence and courage.”
In this season of uncertainty and anticipation and about the
future of The United Methodist Church, its heartwarming to see generosity flowing
multiple directions across The Greater Northwest Episcopal Area.
This summer the Pacific Northwest and Oregon-Idaho Conferences committed to a special offering in the local churches to help lower the cost of Alaska Conference members traveling to Puyallup, Wash., for a shared Annual Conference this June. When a cry went out from churches in Oregon, Idaho and Washington located far from the Conference site, the Alaska Conference responded in kind for their siblings in Christ in the Oregon-Idaho Conference who will also endure significant travel costs to attend.
“People just really resonated with the idea that we want to
come alongside in solidarity,” said Rev. Carlo Rapanut, Superintendent for the
This reciprocal giving from the Alaska Conference for a
travel fund started after Rapanut received inspiration during a General Board
of Global Ministries gathering in Atlanta earlier in the fall.
Bishop Hector Ortiz-Vidal of Puerto Rico asked for a moment
of privilege during the gathering and called on Bishop Tom Bickerton, president
of United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to stand with him. Churches and
communities in Puerto Rico received massive UMCOR support in 2017 after
“Bishop Ortiz takes out an envelope with a check in it and
says, ‘this is a gift from the thankful people of Puerto Rico,’” Rapanut
recalled from the presentation.
Ortiz said the check, a significant amount, was being
presented to help those in the Bahamas recovering from Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
“Everybody was in tears. (Puerto Ricans) are people still in
need, yet they wanted to help people in the Bahamas,” Rapanut said. “It was
just a Holy Spirit moment for me.”
Rapanut came back from that meeting and wanted to inspire
his church members — many of whom will travel hours to get on a plane to fly
to Anchorage to connect another flight to Seattle – that are already
financially strapped to extend their generosity beyond Alaska’s boundaries.
He personally promised $50 at each of his charge conference
gatherings to raise fund to assist remote churches in the other two GNW
conferences with travel expenses. To date the 29 churches in the Alaska
Conference have given $4,271.
“The response has just been incredible,” Rapanut said.
The PNW and Oregon-Idaho Conferences have raised
approximately $11,000 to date to assist with Alaska travel funds.
The GNW Area cabinet recently met and decided, because of
distance, it would be up to Sage District Superintendent Rev. Karen Hernandez
and Crater Lake District Superintendent Rev. John Tucker to utilize this gift.
The two district superintendents in the Oregon-Idaho Conference are still
working out exactly which churches will qualify for the support.
“In a time of crisis in the denomination, when the Alaska
Conference is trying map out its future with limited finances, this is the most
beautiful response I can imagine,” Hernandez said. “Because of the timing it’s
so selfless of them.”
Homer United Methodist Church responded to Rapanut’s call
with great enthusiasm, raising more than $1,000 for the other two conferences.
Rev. Lisa Talbott, pastor of Homer UMC said their church has
been supported by churches in the lower 48 states for more than 70 years,
allowing it to establish its ministries in Homer and the lower Kenai Peninsula
“[The churches] sustained us through really tight years. Now that we are a financially self-sustaining
church this is our response with gratitude toward the churches who may have
supported us,” Talbott said. “For me this is also a way to remind everyone that
mission and ministry don’t go in one direction in the Greater Northwest Area. We
are all partners in ministry together.”
This year the Greater NW Area Innovation Vitality team has expanded its summer internship program to different cities throughout the region.
Young leaders of color are getting the chance to develop leadership skills while exploring the intersection of faith and social justice in various community settings.
This summer, instead of being based in the Portland area, the group will expand to Boise, Salem, Tacoma, and Seattle.
Read the profiles written by the individuals chosen to be leaders and learners this summer through a joint venture with the IV team and The Voices Project:
Portland Coordinator: Nicholle Ortiz is an incoming co-pastor at Tabor Heights United Methodist Church. She is originally from Tacoma, Washington but now calls Portland her home. Nicholle graduated from Warner Pacific University where she began to actualize her dreams of community development, ministry, and artistic expression. Nicholle is a connector, an includer, a performer, an artist, a spouse, an advocate, and a friend. Nicholle wears many hats but all in the name of justice, inclusion, and love. She chooses to enter spaces that are uncomfortable because she believes in sharing her voice so that other people may feel inspired to share theirs. Nicholle is a Black, Puerto Rican, Plus-Sized Woman who enjoys wearing funky glasses, laughing loudly, talking about recycling and telling jokes that don’t make sense.
Portland Coordinator: Forrest Nameniuk is the incoming co-pastor at Tabor Heights United Methodist Church. He is a graduate of Warner Pacific University where he served as student chaplain. He has been with the UMC for the last year, serving in different capacities under the Innovation Vitality Team, and he is currently pursuing his candidacy for ministry. Forrest’s two greatest passions are the church and theatre. He believes that the church should be the greatest instigator for justice and healing in our world. He sees his call as creating spaces where weirdos, misfits, and wanderers can be their true selves and encounter the gospel in new and creative ways. On his time off, Forrest can usually be found at his stolen desk writing stories, with his cat and a cup of coffee close by.
Salem Coordinator: Jess Bielman is the Associate Director of Innovation for the Greater Northwest UMC. He has spent the past two decades investing in the lives of young folks and empowering them spiritually and academically. For 17 years he served as a professor and the campus pastor at Warner Pacific University. He loves the Pacific Northwest, having lived along I-5 his whole life. Jess loves baseball, sushi, 90’s era music, and John Wesley. He is married 17 years to Candi with two daughters.
Boise Intern: Destiny Miteg is a Portland native who now resides in Salem, Oregon. Destiny is excited to be a part of UMC’s the Voices Project because of its intent to help young people of color see how the church can become more tangibly present in their communities. She is eager to see how faith and community intertwine together in people’s lives outside of just the spiritual. Destiny is studying Ministry and Community Engagement at Warner Pacific University. After graduating, she hopes to do work at a non-profit that centers around serving those in need. When not in the classroom, Destiny can be found eating Top Ramen or spending time in the library.
Tacoma Intern:Rachel Taylor is originally from Tacoma, WA. She is studying for a BA in Christian Ministries in Portland with the goal of working with nonprofits. Rachel chose this internship because she is passionate about equity and wants to learn how she can best help others. She enjoys writing and experimenting with makeup while drinking large amounts of coffee in her spare time. Rachel’s favorite part of the summer is spending time with the kids in her life.
Portland Intern:Monivoi Vataiki is of Pacific Islander and Caucasian descent. She is from Vancouver, BC, Canada. Monivoi recently graduated from Warner Pacific University with a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Ministry. She chose this internship because she wanted to be apart of making room at the table and to be apart of the change she hopes to see in the church/world. Monivoi sees this internship as a way to create space for those like her, especially as a woman of color. Monivoi’s hope is to continue to help in the rebuilding, redefining, and redirecting the church. Fun facts: Monivoi sings and writes music. She also plays soccer, rugby and loves to travel.
Tacoma Intern:Akéylah Giles is from Tacoma Washington. Akeylah attends Warner Pacific University and is a Criminal Justice major. She also serves as a Spiritual Life Coordinator on the Campus Ministry team where she is a worship leader and a leader among her peers on campus. Akeylah chose this internship because she wants to be involved in work that is meaningful for herself and others. For fun, she enjoys singing, worship flag dancing, and swimming.
Portland Intern:Asia Austin is from Portland Oregon. She is a Music Performance major at Warner Pacific University. Asia is the Vice President of B.S.O (Black Student Organization), a proud HOLLA Mentor, and a Spiritual Life Coordinator on her school’s Campus Ministry team. Asia applied for this internship to help further her education, and to empower her voice so she can prevent injustices in her city. In her free time, Asia loves to play guitar and watch Netflix.
Portland Intern:Chidozie Kenneth Urom (“Chi” for short) is currently enrolled at Concordia University and is majoring in Psychology. Chi grew up in Nigeria with his grandparents before moving to Portland. Chidozie looks forward to working with fellow interns and further identifying his leadership abilities. In his free time, Chi loves to cook and write music. He even has a Youtube channel where he shares his musical creations.
Salem Intern:Juan Pedro Nicanor Moreno Olmeda is a proud first generation Mexican American. He was born in Hillsboro Oregon, and his family comes from Guadalajara Jalisco Mexico. Juan is a current student at Warner Pacific University studying Business Administration with an emphasis on Sports Management. Juan has always been passionate about sports, and in his free time, he likes being active outdoors or at the gym. If you give him a soccer ball he could have fun for hours! Juan also enjoys music; whether it’s listening to it, making it, or even dancing to it. Juan also loves video games, whether they are retro or new, he’s always looking for a nice challenge. Juan chose this internship because he believes that it can help him obtain and polish his abilities and help shape and form a career he is passionate about. Juan would also like to amplify and learn more about spirituality, and how he can use those skills and apply them to life. Juan believes that if we put our heads together, we have a real chance of making a difference.
Boise Intern:Eveline Okonda-Kapinga is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is currently attending and pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Theology with a concentration on Christian mission, youth ministry and a minor in business administration at Seattle Pacific University. Eveline is currently a Senior and is set to graduate in the fall of 2019. After graduation, Eveline plans to start grad school at SPU but is still deciding on her major. Eveline’s goal is to attain a career where she can use her specialized theology skills combined with a strong business background to help churches, as well as business organizations, implement information that will help communities achieve their goals and help them become more efficient and effective. Eveline has a calling in ministry and is currently serving at her local church, Open Door Church Ministries, as an interpreter, a singer, and as a youth leader. As a youth leader, Eveline guides students in their faith journey and imparts teachings of faith through prayer, events, activities and mission trips that appeal to youth while encouraging them to be faithful followers of Christ. Eveline believes the knowledge that she will acquire in this internship program will enable her to become a better leader.
Seattle Intern: Nyob zoo, kuvlubnpeyog Dawci Herr. Dawci Herr (She/her/hers) is Hmong and a first generation student at PCC (Portland Community College) working towards her AAOT (Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer). In Dawci’s spare time (when she’s not studying or working), she likes to go out to try out new foods and restaurants with her family and friends. At the moment, Dawci’s favorite restaurant is Taste of Sichuan. To satisfy her sweet tooth craving, Dawci likes to get a bubble tea drink in Beaverton or Portland. When the weather is great, Dawci also enjoys hiking trails in the Pacific Northwest. Dawci chose this internship to further her college learning and to find ways that the church and community can connect.
Salem Intern:Josiah Mendoza was born in Salem, Oregon. He currently attends Warner Pacific University where she is majoring in recreational sports medicine. Josiah chose this internship to develop and identify leadership skills within himself. He also seeks to find more ways to help his community.
Tacoma Intern:Eunice Langbata is from Washington State. She loves to take risks, go on random adventures, go hiking, spend time with her family, and just chill and watch “Friends”. Eunice can be shy and quiet but is actually an outgoing person and sometimes can’t stop talking! Eunice chose this internship because she wants to learn different leadership skills. She understands the difficulty that comes with being a leader but she wants to gain new experiences and learn things that might be outside of her comfort zone. Eunice is currently a student at Warner Pacific University, and over this past year, she has learned to be patient with life, listen to herself more, and to pay attention to what is visible around her. She realizes that things are placed in her life for a reason. Eunice knows that the more she is open to learning new things, the more she learns about herself. She is excited for the opportunities this internship will create for her to try something new.