By Kristen Caldwell & Lynn Egli
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 laypeople, pastors, and leaders from the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team providing resources and training opportunities for the pastors and lay leaders serving these churches.
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 districts.
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 the 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.”