Javier Olivares, Melissa Rynders, Rachel Gilmore, Khalif Smith, and Bishop Carlo at Haven UMC

On August 5 and 6, 2023, West District Superintendent Rev. Javier Olivares and Rev. Rachel Gilmore visited some churches in the West District. Their first stop was at Chino Valley UMC, where they met with Rev. Elizabeth LeMaster, the pastor of Chino Valley UMC and Director of Fresh Expressions in the area.

What is a Fresh Expression? 

It’s a form of church that meets outside of Sunday mornings and usually meets outside of church buildings. These gatherings happen in dog parks, libraries, restaurants, on motorcycles, house churches, preschools, or in tattoo parlors. 

Rev. LeMaster helped to start Fresh Expressions of church when she was in ministry at the Baltimore Washington Conference, and now she’s working with layperson Amber Caulkins and Rev. Amanda Corella to dream up some exciting ideas for the area. Amber Caulkins is a school teacher in Chino Valley who is also active as a volunteer with the Girl Scouts and coaching local sports teams. Javier and Rachel spent time visioning and dreaming with Elizabeth and Amber before meeting with some of their leaders for a larger discussion and delicious lunch!

After Chino Valley, they were off to Prescott Valley UMC to meet with Rev. Corella and leaders from her church.  While they shared about some hurdles they have had to overcome as a congregation, they also talked about some updates they have made to their church management software and ideas to reach new people in their community. They also spoke with great pride about their pastor, ordained at our most recent Annual Conference.

Following the Prescott Valley UMC visit, the cabinet members were off to Prescott UMC to join them in worship at their 5:00 PM service. The Saturday service was well-attended, and Rev. Dan Hurlbert and his wife joined Rachel and Javier for dinner. They discussed the tool of Mission Insite, and Dan’s wife, Marci, shared how she’s used the data to help Prescott UMC develop sermon series that resonate with the community.

On Sunday morning, District Superintendent Olivares and Rev. Gilmore were off to Jerome, Arizona, to worship with the great folks of Haven UMC and their dedicated pastor, Vicki Ledahl. Rev. Gilmore preached and presided over communion and, after worship, met with church leaders. Church members shared the need for grant funding for their building and gave their guests a tour of the extensive food pantry and clothing closet that has assisted 76.68% of their community over the past two years! It was an inspiration to see a church in service to their neighbors.

Javier and Rachel shared well-wishes from Bishop Carlo and the resources available in their particular context at all the churches. It was a wonderful visit, and the cabinet members were blessed by the radical hospitality they were shown during their time in the west valley. Other cabinet members, including Bishop Carlo, visited Haven UMC just ten days later on their way to the cabinet retreat at Mingus Mountain Camp to see the feeding ministry in action. Rev. Gilmore looks forward to other visits to towns like Cottonwood, where innovative things are also happening, as she continues her church visits throughout our Annual Conference. Her next stop will be joining the congregation at Trinity Heights UMC in the North District on September 5, 2023, as she leads them in worship. The following weekend Rachel will be in the South District to discuss strategic visioning with two churches in the Tucson area.

These are tough times for many of our churches, where the average worship attendance at all churches nationally is lower than the average before COVID-19.  While there are very real struggles that our churches are facing, there are also “glory sightings” where we see hope, love, and joy in our congregations as they seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

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Author: DSC Communications

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