January 19, 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
Vineyard Circuit stretches 30 miles over two counties from the world famous vineyards of Mt. Saint Helena through Napa Valley to the waters of San Pablo Bay and into the North Bay Area traffic in Vallejo. The four churches of the circuit encompass a wide variety of community and ministry needs.
“Napa Valley is only second to Disneyland in the number of visitors it gets each year,” states Circuit Leader Rev. Marylee Sheffer serving First UMC in Napa, California reflecting on the difference between locations the pastors serve which vary economically and politically as well as geographically.
“I feel like our goal as a circuit is to help one another stay spiritually connected to our call,” states Sheffer. “We’re not a group therapy but we do a lot of listening and a lot of praying and encouraging. That’s who we are.”
“These are challenging times to be a church,” adds Sheffer. “The pandemic has changed us and changed our churches. We’re battered from the pandemic. Each of us is recalculating the direction that we are called to go in after the pandemic.”
Begun in 1853, St. Helena UMC is in “a little historic building,” states Sheffer, “that church has a lot of heart. St. Helena is a very exclusive town… and it is hard to create community when many people don’t actually live in the community or are invested in the community… but they have a wonderful pastor who is creative and ministers outside the box.” Rev. Burke Owens serves St. Helena UMC and has a great love of theatre and art seeing “a real strong connection between those and the life of the Spirit.” Owens hosts monthly poetry reading evenings to draw more people into the church “to experience what we have to offer… a way to reach out to an incredibly secular world where church is not the central value.” One seasonal reading included Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ including cello and piano renditions of various carols. Small church groups include Bible Study, book study, Christian Education and Silent Meditation. The service ministry focuses on supporting affordable housing and has been instrumental in establishing local Stonebridge Apartments and Brenkle Court affordable housing, as well as hands-on support of the St. Helena food pantry. “It’s a massive issue in the area,” states Owens. “People who work here can’t afford to live here.”
Celebrating the 81st anniversary last summer, Fellowship United Methodist church started as a Sunday School for Filipino children and continues to focus on children ministry to this day. “That’s one thing I really like about this church,” states Council Chair Paul Del Rosario, “we continue to be strong with our children’s ministry.” On Sundays, Rev. Allen Yan-Camberlin leads a hybrid worship service with opportunities for zoom sharing of prayer requests and greeting one another. To ensure every age is welcome, the church offers a hybrid, in-person, and livestreaming zoom conference for children as well as youth and young adults. The congregation supports youth involvement in the Christmas Institute (CI) and Youth 2023 in Florida. This fall, the choir presented a Christmas cantata, and the children performed a Christmas Eve skit. Vacation Bible school is a summer priority. During the pandemic, the church began an online ministry. “You really can’t find the church because it’s on a hill…” states Del Rosario, “that’s why we started the website, so you can find us and hopefully we can reach new people.” The church also takes time each Sunday to bless food donations for Transformation Village and recently raised money for Ukraine refugees.
Wayside UMC in Vallejo is the youngest church in the circuit, going on 66 years, and was fathered by now closed First UMC Vallejo. Wayside is a mixed congregation from different cultural backgrounds notes current pastor Rev. Reynaldo Letana. It is “a very welcoming church with extravagant love,” states Sheffer. Layperson Jayn Mercado states, “We strive to do more than being ‘Wayside’. We dream to be ‘Main Avenue’.” During the pandemic the church’s Re-launching Ministry Team took worship online, created visitation teams and debuted a weekly e-newsletter. On Mother’s Day, the team delivered May Day baskets, on Father’s Day a drive-by breakfast and during Advent, kits were given to families. The church collaborates with county Food Banks to deliver up to 260 lunch packs every month to the unhoused, day laborers and senior residents of government-subsidized apartment buildings. “The church prioritizes “exemplifying what ‘service’ means to us, that is, worship as meaningful gathering as well as the responsive action of giving, helping each other and others, and sharing the gospel,” adds Mercado.
First UMC in Napa “is a teaching church with lots of student interns and history of associate pastors going on to wonderful things,” states Sheffer who pastors the church. Six months ago, the church began a once a month intergenerational Messy Church ministry and became a place for other UMCs to observe the program at work. Regular Sunday worship is livestreamed and broadcast on radio featuring music of several choirs including the Bonner Bells handbell choir. Sundays also has a Sunday4Kids program. Weekdays include a Monday Meditation and other small group activities. For 18 years the campus housed a homeless shelter until the services moved to south Napa. Now, the church is working on creating onsite “workforce housing” according to Sheffer. In the 1980s, the church oversaw the creation of Napa Creek Manor, an 84 unit low income housing unit. The United Women in Faith sponsor a Thrift Shop onsite. Napa is a Reconciling Congregation affiliated with The Center for Progressive Christianity.