Oregon Ministry Plan: Join Forces, Expand Outreach


First United Methodist Church of Salem is one of six churches involved in the cooperative United Methodist Ministries of Salem-Keizer. Photo courtesy of the church

Photo courtesy of the church

First United Methodist Church of Salem is one of six churches involved in the cooperative United Methodist Ministries of Salem-Keizer.

By Mahalia Smith, United Methodist News Service

By combining forces, six churches in the Salem-Keizer area of the Oregon-Idaho Conference hope to expand their outreach in the community.

Mark Bateman, chair of the United Methodist Ministries of Salem-Keizer, says the ministry is considering many new approaches.

“We understand that we need to be finding new ways of outreach and ministry,” he explained. “We need a change in activities, a change in the way we spend our time.” The ministry is looking for new areas in which to invest clergy leadership.

“By working together in key mission projects, it (the ministry) will be able to free time and resources for more outreach,” said Rev. Peg Lofsvold, superintendent of Cascadia District, “Internally, we’re working together on youth and pastoral care.”

Because the ministry started July 1, most ideas are still in the “conversation” stage. One in particular is outreach to the growing Hispanic community. Hispanic children make up 22.4 percent of Oregon’s school population and many are second or even third generation, said Lofsvold.

“What we’re in conversation on is whether we can bring a minister onto our team,” said the Rev. Dan Pitney, lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in Salem. “The goal would be to be able to begin a Spanish-speaking congregation.”

Other plans include reconnecting with Willamette University, a college founded by Jason Lee as a Methodist school, said Bateman. Lee, a Methodist missionary, established the Indian Manual Labor Training School on what is now the Willamette campus.

“One of the churches . . . has done some coordination with the community service office at Willamette,” said Bateman. “We continue to explore what a deeper relationship between the school and the UMC congregations in Salem-Keizer might mean.”

Congregations have already started their first project: working in the food ministry. The six churches host four food banks, Pitney reported. By working together to serve the food pantries, overall service will increase.

Salem-Keizer also is coordinating on pastoral care and developing an area-wide youth ministry.

“One of the immediate things we’re doing is a monthly preaching rotation,” said Bateman. “All of the preachers will get a chance to preach to every church in the ministry.”

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Food collected for the Jason Lee Food Pantry, the first project of the  United Methodist Ministries of Salem-Keizer. Photo courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Salem.

Collaboration plans include visitation

Collaboration is planned within the women’s organizations and on community service projects. Another priority is visitation of older adult members of the church. The goal, said Pitney, is once-a-month visits.

The new configuration has some churches concerned about keeping their own unique identities, but overall, there was overwhelming support of the new “cooperative venture,” said Lofsvold.

Pitney believes the ministry “gives the more struggling congregations a new sense of hope. It allows us to recognize all the gifts and abilities of the clergy.”

Lofsvold said she finds more energy among clergy and lay members. “There’s a real sense of possibility and opportunity.”