January 05, 2023 | by JB Brayfindley
Editor's note: Go, Sow, Grow is a prayer initiative that launched early in 2022 in which local churches were invited to pray for one another in order to align our prayers for God's vision of growth and abundance to manifest among us. As a companion to that prayer ministry, we will be reaching out to circuits across our 5 districts to develop short profiles on the ministry of our local churches and include links for more information and how to get involved. Together, we are the church. #BeUMC
“Our strength as a circuit is that we serve very different groups of people, but we have the same goal,” states circuit leader Lauren Michelle Stevens, “and that has led to very interesting conversations—brainstorming what ministry can be.”
The Diablo Valley Circuit includes five churches in the East Bay along a stretch of 17 miles on highway I-680 in Concord to Walnut Creek and west to Lafayette on highway 24. However, circuit meetings cover more than 350 miles via zoom to connect with Rev. Jim Huang who commutes by plane from Southern California each week to serve East Bay Formosan UMC in Walnut Creek.
“We have a fairly close geographical range,” states Stevens. Three of the five churches are in Walnut Creek. With a church merger and two new pastors on the circuit, the pastors are waiting until Lent to plan circuit wide activities together. “We are talking about what that would look like, but we are waiting until things get settled.”
“We are a very diverse circuit,” states Stevens, pastor at Lafayette UMC explaining that Lafayette would not have been successful hosting a Lenten prayer observance at 4:30 a.m. in the morning but Contra Costa UMC, a Korean congregation, did and it was well attended. “We are really different, but it’s been great learning about it.”
Rev. Mantu Joshi was recently appointed to serve Walnut Creek, First UMC , a reconciling congregation focused on youth and music. “They have a really strong music program and are intentional about integrating music…” explains Stevens noting the church also has specific music classes for children. “They’ve done a really good job at continuing to grow, being good stewards and exploring different ministry avenues,” adds Stevens.
“There’s incredible stuff going on,” states Stevens about East Bay Formosan UMC in Walnut Creek, “really a lot of growth, new buildings… the community center is very much a cultural hub for Formosan people in this area.” The church is starting a massive building project to include a new community center and parsonage. “and they have an expanding children ministry to kids and families that were never previously churched…” notes Stevens who recently shared the name of a ukulele teacher from her church with pastor Jim Huang for one of their new children’s classes. The church also serves as a community support network and, according to Stevens, “a lot of people have experienced and still experiencing persecution by the Chinese government and have a lot of fears for safety. So, having a church community is not just been a Sunday morning thing but an all-family-involved, very cohesive group that has been a great source of support.”
Marie Wilson was recently appointed to Concord UMC. The church focuses on small groups including Christ Care Groups to share life stories, faith journeys, pray and do ministry together. The church is home of the Community Orchestra which is pairing with the church choir for a special holiday sing-along and Hallelujah Chorus for December.
Contra Costa UMC in Walnut Creek is served by Rev. Youngrae Kim and started a new focus on small groups to build relationships including Bible study, Ping pong, and hiking. “Their current emphasis has been on being the church and not just attending church. I think they have had a lot of success in building those connections between people that we lost in COVID—they’ve been creative in different ways to do that now.” The church has English and Korean language services as well as youth and children worship.
Lafayette UMC has a renewed focus on discipleship and small groups. The church is engaged in a four part envisioning process to be completed in the Spring. “We’re looking at different ways to do things,” explains Stevens, pastor of Lafayette, noting how the community around the church looks so different than it did just a few years ago. As the church continues to envision the future, Stevens is looking at launching a “Pub Theology” class at a local brewery to talk about topics of faith and spirituality.