ReThinking Church in Chiloquin, Oregon
United Methodism has been part of the rural community of Chiloquin, Oregon, for more than one hundred years. During that time, the town of Chiloquin, where the headquarters of the Confederate Tribes of Klamath River, has seen birth, dispossession, and decline. Today, Chiloquin has the dubious distinction for being the poorest town in the poorest county in Oregon. A quick drive through town reveals an abandoned downtown district and many boarded up homes.
But the Chiloquin United Methodist Church has not given up hope, and is developing new and creative ways to be a positive force for change in the community. Although small in numbers – twenty people worship together there on any Sunday — its members staff the local volunteer food pantry, serve on the City Council, and contribute to the community in many other ways.
Last year, Chiloquin UMC hosted the Sierra Service Project (SSP), the United Methodist-affiliated youth ministry organization. Over the course of the summer, 327 volunteers from throughout the Western United States came to Chiloquin, repaired homes, learned about this community, and worshiped together. Over the course of the summer, repairs were completed on 24 homes, including building three new wheelchair ramps, four sets of stairs and two porches.
With the success of the 2013 summer, Sierra Service Project and Chiloquin UMC entered into a formal agreement to share the facility and to support each other's ministries. Starting this June, volunteers will be housed in the church's "repurposed" sanctuary building, sleeping in bunk beds and gathering for worship and program in the worship space. Meals will be prepared in the next-door parsonage, which is currently undergoing extensive renovation! All of this work is being driven by local church members, community volunteers and Sierra Service Project. Funding is coming from SSP, a grant from the Ford Family Foundation, and some area business.
But the new vision for the church and its role in the community does not stop there. Plans are being developed for utilizing the church building to house an after-school youth leadership program. The aim of this program is to help local youth, who have few prospects for jobs and virtually no after-school activities, develop their leadership skills and become an active force driving the future of this community. Details and funding for this second phase of the church's transformation are still being worked out.
To learn more about the exciting things happening in Chiloquin, please contact Rev. Rich Christensen, (541-783-2254), local project leaders Kathy Erion (510-414-4439) and A Woman Called Sam (510-686-6135) or Rick Eaton, SSP's Executive Director at 916-488-6441. More help is needed to make this vision a reality, so if you have ideas, volunteer labor, or want to make a financial contribution, we would love to hear from you