Donna Cates stands in front of the fire-damaged educational wing of Ellensburg First UMC.
She serves as the volunteer manager for the Community Clothing Center.

Ellensburg Church “in Stride” working to fulfill its mission | By Jesse N. Love

On Saturday June 23, 2012, a fire struck at Ellensburg First United Methodist Church (Ellensburg, Wash.). Rooms along the educational wing of the Church were affected the most. A room hosting The Community Clothing Center is where a fire was intentionally started. The Center was a hub for donations and for connecting resources to people in-need. A suspect has already been arrested and charged with arson in this case. Despite this incident, the community of Ellensburg is continuing to work towards engaging its local community in expressing its love for Christ.


Donna Cates serves as the volunteer manager for the Community Clothing Center. Cates has been mobilizing people and clothing resources at the Center since 1996. In that time the service has gradually grown, doubling the number of people the Center serves. On average, about 65 adults and 40 children visit the Center each week; in one instance up to 500 pieces of clothing were distributed in two days. “The way the economy is, more people have come in, even wanting to pay for the clothes. But no, it’s free.” shares Cates. “You see people from jail who have nothing on but a pair of raggedy panties, a t-shirt, no shoes, or a bloody face. It makes me feel warm to just give.”

John Mounsey serves as the Chair for the Board of Trustees at Ellensburg. Mounsey anticipates that the Center will be up and running by fall 2012. Clothing and monetary donations are still welcome. Mounsey has been a member of the Church for almost four years. He praises First for its reconciling ministries and its vibrant faith community. He along with the Church is constantly evaluating how to serve its community, specifically the homeless and LGBT communities. With First’s recent fire, Mounsey sees the glass ‘half-full’, seeking to grow from this incident and to continue growing its ministries.

The Rev. Shalom Agtarap, recently ordained, has been serving as the Pastor of Ellensburg First UMC for two years. When news broke of the fire at Ellensburg First UMC, the congregation took it “in stride” noting this moment as something that won’t set itself back in fulfilling its mission. On the Sunday after the fire, electricity had not yet returned to the main portions of the church. Agtarap used the opportunity to envelop into the deep quiet of the church and reflect on the community she serves. She states that there was a ‘faithful sense’ in the conversations of her congregants as the sun broke through the clouds on this Sunday.


In the first 48 hours since the fire, messages of support from both lay and clergy were sent to Agtarap and Ellensburg First UMC via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Friends and family helped relay up-to-date information on Ellensburg First’s status. Agtarap shares “We wouldn’t have gotten the PayPal donations we had without their push.”

The Revs. Mary Huycke and Derel Olson have helped support Agtarap and Ellensburg First UMC. Huycke, Superintendent of the Seven Rivers District helped guide First through the motions as they worked with insurance agents to help process claims from the fire. Olson, Pastor of Wilber Memorial UMC in White Swan, Wash. offered words of practical wisdom about donations as his community is finally recovering from January 2011 fires.

Agtarap shares praise for the Conference and its clergy and lay people for keeping Ellensburg First UMC in their prayers. “The connection is alive and well in the United Methodist Church,” she shares.
Ellensburg First UMC is a host of local community programs. Along with the Community Clothing Center, the Church welcomes Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and a food bank.

For more information on Ellensburg First UMC, check out You can also check out

Download the full issue of Channels 55, August 2012 here.

Leave a Reply