October 20, 2022 | by JB Brayfindley
In the flat, fertile valleys of the Feather, Sacramento, and Yuba Rivers, churches of the Three Rivers Circuit nourish their congregations and link together to serve their communities.
The churches all participate in a local coalition of 32 area churches called the Christian Assistance Network (C.A.N.). Through the Family Intervention Team (F.I.T.), a foundation that coordinates services between county and non-profits to save time and money, annually the circuit helps provide Christmas gifts and food for more than 100 families by coordinating giving, wrapping, and packaging gifts for the county to deliver. “We each participated in different ways depending on what they were able to do,” states Circuit Leader Rev. Dr. Lois Black. In past years, the circuit provided the high school Baccalaureate services. Before COVID, Biggs and Gridley UMCs had plans to host a Survivor tell-your-story group for those involved in the Paradise Camp Fire. During the Camp Fire the circuit connected with the other circuit leader, Black recounts, “We said, ‘we know everybody is sending you stuff, you tell us what you need,’ and we provided it.” As a circuit, the churches have also held special joint worship events together, participated in pulpit exchanges, hosted various ecumenical services, and made meals for Rise Against Hunger.
Known as “The Adobe Church” due to its structural makeup, Durham UMC is pastored by Lance Smith and promotes community engagement as well as discipleship. The church offers a hybrid Zoom and in person worship service as well as Zoom and in person Bible Studies. The church currently offers a community wide Tuesday night Pray-in and hosts a knitting group. Members are planning both church and community activities for Christmas including hosting a community wide meal and Christmas Tree decorating event.
Karl Coulter, a certified Lay Minister, and retired doctor, serves Gridley UMC with an emphasis on increasing participation in hospital ministry such as providing Emergency Rooms with puzzle books and helping sponsor good Wi-Fi connections. “He has a heart for developing spiritual maturity and accountable discipleship and the ability to deal with the stresses from the last couple of years,” states Black. Gridley also has a food program including a community Blessing Box where people can take what they need or donate.
In downtown Marysville, First UMC is pastored by Rev. Glen Raley and centers on community service. Members volunteer to staff the Outreach Window at the Christian Assistance Network (C.A.N.) and participate in circuit wide programs. The church also has a Hmong Language service. They hosted their first post-COVID potluck recently.
Sutter and Meridian UMCs are pastored by William Oxarart and prioritize community relationships. “Everybody knows them in town,” states Black. The churches host special community wide luncheons and dinners throughout the year. Sutter UMC is especially famous for its Turkey Dinner fundraiser. Both churches participate in a community food program.
Yuba City First UMC served by circuit leader Rev. Dr. Lois Black and associate pastor Rev. Julie Raridan focuses on discipleship and online engagement. “We have really delayed going back in person—waiting to not lose people when we do it,” states Black. “It’s been our lifesaver to be able to connect with people online—so we make sure that almost everything we do in person can be done online” including worship in both English and Punjabi, communion (mailing elements), discipleship programming and a growing First Kids children ministry. The church was recently awarded a Beulah Grant to help create more effective and interactive hybrid online/in person small group experiences. “We’re just seeing this [the online ministry] as being a huge ministry—it’s not the front door—it is our church, and that’s just been massive.”
Rev. Julie Raridan also serves Biggs UMC, located in the center of town and a few blocks from the elementary and high schools. The family oriented church “has a heart for kids” and youth ministries including a once a month youth group event and monthly opportunity for children to lead worship, states Black. One of the many ways the church has reached out to area young people is by sponsoring onsite free pizza lunches for nearby students to get together and talk in a faith setting.
Yuba City Grace UMC is located out of town and surrounded by the orchards south of Yuba City. Pastor Kaloliane Lavalu-Afu aims the church in ministry to the elderly in the area who have limited connections to city services. Recently, the church opened its doors to a Spanish ministry new to the area.