September 22, 2022 | by JB Brayfindley
Long and winding roads make up the commute between churches in the Mendocino Circuit.
“It’s not so much the distance as the kind of roads that you have to drive to get there,” states circuit leader Rosemary Landry pastor of Willits United Methodist Church. “Fort Bragg, even though it’s only 27 miles away, it takes an hour to get there just because of the twisty, windy roads.”
“But, thankfully with Zoom, we’ve all been able to do really nice job of staying connected,” Landry adds. “So that has been very helpful for us.” Composed of similar smaller northern California congregations but with a range of theological perspectives from progressive to more conservative, the circuit has continued to connect regularly online.
For pastor Kevin Murphy at Community UMC in Potter Valley, “we are a center of prayer for the people in the valley—and we have become beacons of a kind of liberal theology.” The church has returned to its previous attendance and is increasing ministry with children and youth. “It’s always been a community church,” states Landry. “Even though people might not come to church on Sunday morning, they see it as a center for doing community activities.”
At Round Valley UMC in Covelo located next to the Round Valley Indian Tribal office, pastor Roy Piña stresses the idea of servitude in supporting the community’s needs to represent the Christian faith. Piña oftentimes conducts funerals and other rites for tribal members and families. The church hosts community dialogs on pressing social issues including water conservation and most recent the procurement of a mobile dialysis unit. The church recently sold half an acre of land to the Department of Transportation for a walkway from the north part of town to downtown to protect pedestrians from traffic on highway 162.
The largest church in the circuit is Ukiah UMC pastored by Michele Robbins. The church works with a local program, Plowshares Peace and Justice Center, on an outreach food ministry. It developed a recycling program for the entire community. Their website has opportunity for Fair Trade products. “They are focusing on being good stewards of the earth,” states Landry. The church has many small groups including Bible Studies, women’s groups, youth group and outside gatherings including Yoga as well as an Archery program. The church also has other various ‘interest’ groups where “people decide if they have an interest and then they decide if they want to have a group about it,” adds Landry. Both Ukiah UMC and Willits UMC are Reconciling Ministries.
Evergreen UMC in Fort Bragg, pastored by Diana Hunter, does “awesome job of community outreach” states Landry, including a midweek Interfaith Vigil & Holy Communion meditative service and weekly sack lunch ministry. The church also has online Zoom Book clubs, a Lectionary Bible Studies, livestream worship services and children’s video activities. There are monthly activities including women’s fellowship, fellowship breakfast and a Zen Class. “We hope that an evangelical and a Buddhist well along the path to enlightenment would equally feel welcome here,” notes their welcome statement. “Any belief except exclusion and intolerance …we worship through prayer, silence, music, poetry, preaching, reflection and sharing our heart’s challenges and joys—church can happen anywhere.”
“Willits is an unusual community because we’ve got professional, farmers, old family lumberers…” states Landry, pastor of Willits UMC. “You’ll hear a lot of people say they are ‘spiritual’—not religious…” With a labyrinth in front, the church is focusing on that spiritual aspect through a healing ministry. “We see ourselves as a center of healing,” states Landry. “One of our goals is that this will be a place people can come and get a little comfort.” The church serves as a mental health facility weekdays housing Manzanita Services and Tapestry Family Services. The church also has a food pantry and hosts Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and AL anon groups.
Anderson Valley UMC in Boonville and Philo UMC alternate worship service locations between churches each month. The congregation is led entirely by lay people. According to a posting, “We are a place to believe, belong and become.”