Church discovers its calling helping Navajo neighbors

 

Financials are not strong, but Spirit is abundant

By Gail Strange | Presbyterians Today

White Rock Presbyterian Church
White Rock, New Mexico
Approximately 28 members

Matthew 25 focus: Building congregational vitality by partnering with its Navajo neighbors

If you’re looking for a congregation that personifies the spirit of Matthew 25 congregational vitality, you will find one in White Rock Presbyterian Church in White Rock, an unincorporated community of nearly 6,000 people in Los Alamos County in north-central New Mexico.

“We’re a small little church,” said Jennifer Holmes, who serves as a deacon at White Rock. “When we used to go to church, prior to the pandemic, we would have between 20 and 25 people in a service. And that includes the pastor and the pianist and any little kids that happen to come. In some ways you might look at it like we’re just barely hanging on, especially if you look at our numbers and our budget.”

The Navajo House of Fellowship congregation periodically helps White Rock Presbyterian Church. When the congregation was without a minister, Pastor Fred (Fred Thomas), left, of the Navajo House of Fellowship, came and preached for them. Courtesy of White Rock Presbyterian Church

At the end of December 2019, White Rock Presbyterian had a membership of 28. Its annual expenses for that time period were $130,289. Its income was $124,198. Those numbers, though, don’t tell the story of how “vital we are in the community and in our larger community,” Holmes said.

White Rock Presbyterian exemplifies that vitality through its ongoing work with the Navajo Nation, especially now in a time of pandemic. According to the Navajo Nation Department of Health, the Navajo Nation has one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country. Partnering with Navajo House of Fellowship near Bread Springs, south of Gallup, the church has worked through a small nonprofit organization, Nihitaa’ Binaanish, meaning “Our Father’s Business,” to assist the Navajo Nation community during this unprecedented time.

Holmes said that this is “more than a project” for the congregation, but rather helping their Navajo neighbors “is just woven into the fabric of our whole church.” It was that way before the pandemic started. “This is an ongoing partnership, and there are so many unique things about it,” Holmes said. “But one of the interesting things is the Navajo church. It’s a local kind of almost house church. It’s led by two Navajo pastors who are so dedicated to serve, serving their community and just being the hands and the feet of the church.”

White Rock Presbyterian helped Navajo House of Fellowship refurbish its outhouses. Courtesy of White Rock Presbyterian Church

“It’s a humble little church. The church has no running water,” she said. “They are just servants. They’re on the ground, and they’ve been doing that work for 20 years before we started partnering with them in 2008.”

The Navajo House of Fellowship congregation comes up periodically to help White Rock as well, Holmes said, citing that when they were between pastors, Pastor Fred (Fred Thomas) of the Navajo House of Fellowship came and preached for them. Holmes says that in addition to the physical help, the Navajo House of Fellowship shares its spiritual gifts and culture with the White Rock congregation.

“We were stuck in old music, and they bring their praise band and drums and guitars and get us going. They taught us Navajo ways of praising and singing hymns. So then in turn, we go to them and help with building projects and whatever they need,” said Holmes.

Helping to fight COVID-19        

Holmes says the two churches are now working together to address the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the Navajo Nation. Unlike in the past when the churches worked to offer sustainable assistance — investing in training programs and building ramps for mobility — that has changed. The Navajo people need tools to fight the virus, she said. Particularly needed are water, access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies.

White Rock Presbyterian and Navajo House of Fellowship through Nihitaa’ Binaanish have collaborated with other organizations, including the National Guard, private entities like food banks and other nonprofits to bring needed items such as food to the Navajo people.

Holmes says the response has been tremendous, recalling a particular day in late August when five National Guard truckloads of water and supplies had been delivered. “People [wearing masks and keeping a safe distance] just pulled up in their cars, and we put it in their trunks,” she said.

“We feel that God has called us to do this work,” Holmes said, adding that White Rock Presbyterian now has a “wonderful pastor,” the Rev. Deb Worley, who came in 2019 and “has just jumped in the middle of this and been so supportive.”

While White Rock Presbyterian may be small by some measures, it’s obviously doing very mighty work. It is a living example of a Matthew 25 church.

Gail Strange is the director of church and mid council communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.


What is congregational vitality?

The Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PC(USA) has outlined seven marks of vitality to help churches gauge where they are. The marks are:

  1. A commitment to forming disciples over every member’s lifetime. This leads first to personal transformation, as people put on the heart of Christ, and then to social transformation, as people joyfully go forth into the community and tackle the issues facing today’s culture.
  2. Embracing the call to evangelism. We show forth the love of Christ by our actions and our lives even more than by our words. Our relationships are genuine and caring. People know we are Christians by our love.
  3. An outward focus. Our church is not a place to escape from the world, but rather our gateway to our community where we may be the hands, feet, heart and mouth of Jesus Christ for people who are suffering,
  4. Discovering one’s gifts. Empowering every member to discover their individual calling and the gifts God has given them so they can go forth and serve.
  5. Spirit-inspired worship. Worship that challenges, teaches, transforms, convicts and energizes us so when we are sent out, we have experienced the wonder of God and are changed for the better from when we arrived.
  6. Caring relationships modeled on God’s love. We open our doors and hearts to all people, and we build relationships modeled on God’s love, which leads to genuine reconciliation and peace.
  7. Congregations with healthy systems. Our mission focuses are clear. There is fiscal responsibility and accountability. We have thoughtful decision-making structures. Our leaders and staff enjoy a sustainable balance of work/rest time.

Learn more about vital congregations at pcusa.org/vital-congregations


Learn more

For more information on becoming a Matthew 25 congregation or to access Matthew 25 educational resources, go to pcusa.org/matthew25

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