La Roca Fellowship Joins Montavilla Church


It started in flames. The church building shared by Iglesia La Roca was destroyed in a night time fire in April 2010. The new faith community lost everything: sound equipment, band instruments, books, Sunday School supplies. The following afternoon, La Roca’s pastor, Juan Camacena, stopped in at Montavilla UMC in east Portland. Would there be room for the young community to worship there for a month or two, just until they could get reorganized?

Pastor JuanLa Roca was welcomed by a unanimous vote of the Administrative Board that evening. Montavilla members hosted the La Roca community through its first month of worship and prayer meetings, shared children’s supplies and band instruments, and offered financial support. The one-month stay stretched to six as both congregations grew more comfortable with one another. Pastor Juan and the La Roca leadership felt supported and encouraged by Montavilla’s leadership. At the invitation of Montavilla’s Pastor Peg Lofsvold, they began to explore the possibility of La Roca becoming a United Methodist congregation.

There were no known precedents; a a whole new process would have to be created. Annual Conference and District leaders were very helpful to La Roca and Montavilla as they moved forward. Ron Whitlach, then-Director of Hispanic Ministries for the Annual Conference, and Lowell Greathouse, Metro District Assistant to the Bishop, offered their wisdom, raised questions, and sought answers throughout this unusual process.

Ron Whitlach worshiped with La Roca and met with their leaders for several months. He found a vibrant fellowship with grace-filled preaching and teaching, dedicated to service to others and empowerment of the poor. Children, youth, and adults worshiped and worked together. Small, entrepreneurial businesses were launched to help church families. Outreach to people in need was a part of their DNA. It seemed a good fit in the Methodist family.

In April 2011, Ron Whitlach offered a UMC Confirmation class to La Roca members. Then, in May, after much prayer and discussion, the congregation voted to become United Methodists. In consultation with the Bishop and Cabinet, Lowell Greathouse helped the pastors write a covenant of relationship to present to their congregations. The covenant included communication and decision-making, sharing of responsibilities, and possibilities for shared ministries. La Roca Fellowship plan to continue their own worship service and ministries, with the support of Montavilla UMC, until they are ready to charter as a new church.

Fiesta!On a hot Sunday afternoon, August 7, members of the Montavilla UMC, the Hispanic Ministries Council, and Lowell Greathouse celebrated with La Roca as 22 youth and adults took their membership vows as United Methodists. Pastor Juan Camacena preached passionately (in Spanish and English) on Jesus’ call to love one another so God’s love is made real in the world. La Roca members invited everyone to a fiesta afterwards blessed with homemade food, great fellowship, and the youth’s festive decor. A relationship that began in destructive flames is growing into a partnership blessed by the warmth of the Holy Spirit. Bienvenido en la Familia Metodista, La Roca! Welcome to the Methodist family!