Shelby Tanke cleans the space that will be the office for Martha’s Pantry, while Mike Neuschwander and Roy Tanke move cupboards. In May 2016, several churches in the Vancouver area have been set on fire leaving many in the community to be cautious and on watch.

Vancouver Heights welcomes Martha’s Pantry in the wake of church fires

By the Rev. Denise Neuschwander

VANCOUVER, Wash. – On the morning of May 25, people arrived at the prayer breakfast of The Interfaith Coalition of Southwest Washington. We heard that one of our sister churches, First Congregational United Church of Christ, had been set on fire by an arsonist in the early morning hours – and was still burning as we heard the news. The first estimate of damage was two million dollars, and that was to the sanctuary alone. The UCC has been active in many peace and justice issues and is a member of the Faith Action Network.

For those on the outskirts of society, Martha’s Pantry is where people are treated with true dignity.

With damage to the sanctuary, other ministries were now displaced. Martha’s Pantry, a food bank designated for people with HIV/AIDS, would lose much of their food resources and room space due to smoke damage.

Martha’s Pantry has been a special ministry of the Vancouver Heights UMC for many years. Two years ago at an all-church Conference, the congregation voted to invite Martha’s Pantry to build a permanent structure on the property. Since then, capital fund drives have been moving toward that goal. Vicki Smith, Martha’s Pantry Board of Directors chair simply asked me, “How much do you love us?” (Answer: Very much, Vicki…Very much.)

With the immediate displacement of the Pantry, VHUMC called an emergency Ad Board meeting and we invited the Pantry into our church. Over the Memorial Day weekend, several members of Vancouver Heights, Martha’s Pantry, and Metropolitan Community Church of the Gentle Shepherd began cleaning out space and moving shelves in preparation for the new home of Martha’s Pantry.

For those on the outskirts of society, Martha’s Pantry is where people are treated with true dignity. Coffee and a welcoming smile will greet every person as they enter. Vicki Smith sees that the mission of the Pantry goes far beyond the allocation of food. There is love, respect, and an unsurpassed caring for those who are served by this ministry.

Click on the image above to visit Martha's Pantry on Facebook.
Click on the image above to visit Martha’s Pantry on Facebook.

We are all thrilled to have this ministry find its home at Vancouver Heights UMC. There are many long days ahead as shelves are stocked, computers get up and running, and the joy of the Lord is felt in the service to others. Members of the church have donated food, time and talent. The Ridgefield Community Food Bank brought two trucks of food, all sorted and dated, to the Pantry. There is ministry in the air, as well as laughter and good cheer.

Churches in the Vancouver area are hyper-vigilant, as within the week of this article, three churches have been set on fire. We ask readers to please keep Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene and Bethesda Slavic Church (recently sold to Daybreak Youth Services, an in-treatment program for youth struggling with drug and alcohol addiction), were set on fire between May 26 to 29, 2016. Water damage from the sprinkler system was the main damage in these two facilities.

For more information on Vancouver Heights UMC, visit

Note: The fire photo featured in the cover montage is a stock image courtesy of Wikipedia and not an image of any churches mentioned in this article. Learn more about it here.

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