The Rev. Mary Huycke speaks at the 2012 Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.
Also pictured are charred doors which can be found in the educational wing of Ellensburg First UMC.

Seven Rivers District: In Ministry with the Community
By Jesse N. Love with the Rev. Mary Huycke

As the summer season closes and fall begins, the PNWUMC looks back at a season which has concluded with fires, natural and man-made. As of Friday, September 14, recovery efforts related to the Taylor Bridge Fire have concluded and it is estimated that it will take two years for the area to fully recover from this disaster.  Cases* are expected to be opened for damage involving the Taylor Bridge fire and eyes are watching the Wenatchee area as wildfires continue to burn through parts of Eastern Washington.

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*Cases expected to be open by The American Red Cross.

In June 2012, a small fire broke out in the educational wing of First UMC in Ellensburg, Wash. The Community Clothing Center, which was housed in this particular area of the Church, was affected along with surrounding rooms. As the Church and CCC begin rebuilding from this incident, behind the scenes, the Rev. Mary Huycke – Superintendent of the Seven Rivers District – helps illustrate the ministerial connections being nurtured during a time of disaster and rebuilding.

What needs has the Ellensburg church expressed to the office of the Seven Rivers DS?
Shoes (all sizes), clothing for children (ages 10 and under), and money. I’d add to that a plea that the clothing and shoes donated be in good condition. Following the fire at White Swan, much of what was donated was ripped, stained, or dirty and it came in such quantities that teams of volunteers were needed simply to sort the clothing donations; it took up an entire office building.

When and how did you hear about this fire?
I heard about the fire on Sunday morning at the PNW Annual Conference.

How familiar are you with Ellensburg UMC and its ministries? 
EUMC is a church that two years ago was trying to decide if it had a future. With a history of steady decline and facing massive building repairs, they wondered if they should close. After a 6-month period of discernment they came to the firm belief that God had work for them to do. They rolled up their sleeves and got to it, giving themselves to tough work of congregational renewal.

Churches change from the inside out, through congregation members shifting their understandings of what church can be and do…then shifting their behavior to match that thinking. It’s not easy and it takes a long time. But, you can already see the first fruits of that work in this congregation.

One of the shifts is moving from housing community services to partnering with them in ministry to address the whole of the person being served. That’s the shift that was just starting to happen when the clothing bank burned. The Ellensburg church is a good example of a congregation that’s learning to be in ministry with the community, rather than doing ministry for or to the community. That “partnering with” is what transforms both server and served. It fosters relationships, creates community and is the basis for effective evangelism.

What is the DS’s office involvement when incidents like this occur?  Are there simple steps towards processing, helping this church recover/rebuild?
I think of our role in these situations as the office behind the scenes making sure that connections get made with the appropriate agencies and Conference resource people and helping solve administrative problems that may arise so that the pastor and congregation can focus their energy on recovery. The Ellensburg leadership was knowledgeable about what to do and who to call. Many churches aren’t. When a crisis occurs, we’re the hub that can help connect need with help.

I appreciate the attitude of the pastor and congregational leaders I’ve spoken with. This moment of crisis isn’t disheartening. Instead, what I hear is “If we have to start it fresh, this is a great opportunity to do it so that the ministry is strengthened.” What a difference it makes when problems are seen as opportunities to create, rather than unmanageable blocks.

The Rev. Mary Huycke serves as the superintendent of the Seven Rivers District.
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This article was originally featured in Channels 56, September 2012. Download this issue, here

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