First Presbyterian of Roseburg, Oregon, helps connect its community
March 15, 2023 by Nancy Crowe
In a town known for timber, a Presbyterian congregation continually finds ways to grow in service and stewardship.
First Presbyterian Church in Roseburg, Oregon, has its hands as well as its historic building in direct efforts to meet the community’s most basic needs. Through the Presbyterian Foundation’s coaching program for pastors, Rev. Vicky Brown developed her knowledge and fluency in supporting this important work.
The work has grown more crucial in recent years. Roseburg, with a population of about 24,000, has seen its economy rise and fall with the timber industry. It’s also weathered a 2015 college campus shooting that killed eight students and one teacher, and a 2020 wildfire that destroyed a total of 109 homes. Then, of course, there was the COVID-19 pandemic. And the recession.
The 165-member First Presbyterian keeps stepping up.
“This is a very faithful congregation that’s been through a lot in the last decade,” Brown said.
Services from the Presbyterian Foundation have helped both the pastor and the congregation meet community needs, Brown said.
Sending hunger packing
First Presbyterian Roseburg was one of several local churches that established the FISH Food Pantry, which it still supports financially and through volunteer service, said longtime church member Mike Fieldman.
Retired now, as executive director of the United Community Action Network (UCAN), Fieldman helped start a food bag program for children who may not have enough food at home over weekends, holidays and breaks.
“This past weekend, FPC assembled about 1,000 bags that were delivered to the school district offices,” he said. The district distributes the bags on Fridays to the kids who need them. The church does this twice a year — three times if the need is high.
“Hunger seems like it’s a constant,” Brown said. “There’s a high percentage of kids who need food.”
School officials began to notice attendance was up not only on Fridays but on Mondays, too, she said. “Kids felt better and ready to come back to school on Mondays. So we could actually start to see an impact.”
Assembling the food bags is a great intergenerational project, too. Preschoolers, octogenarians and everyone in between packed the last round.
To rebuild and recover
In another practical partnership, Umpqua Valley Habitat for Humanity has its office and holds board meetings at FPC Roseburg. Brown is a member of Habitat’s Family Selection Committee.
“We love having our office in the church,” said director Robin Hartmann.
Habitat is working with a woman who lost her home in the September 2020 Archie Creek Wildfire. The new house will be a 1,100-square-foot A-frame on the property where her former home stood, overlooking the North Umpqua Wild and Scenic River corridor.
Hartmann said a generous grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Presbytery of the Cascades allowed Habitat to begin pre-construction on the project. This funding also supports construction of access ramps, well and pump houses and equipment sheds for other area wildfire survivors.
“Habitat is grateful for this opportunity to partner with members of the church, and to be supported by Presbyterians across the Pacific Northwest and the nation to work alongside our neighbors to rebuild or relocate,” she said.
The church and UCAN also team up for the annual Point in Time homeless count. The federally mandated count, held on a single night in January, determines the level of homelessness in communities and nationwide. First Presbyterian Roseburg, as in other years, hosted the 2023 count.
“The church is where many of the people come to fill out the count forms,” Fieldman said. “It also affords them a place where they can receive some services — warm clothing, sleeping bags, a meal, medical services, a haircut.”
Church members prepare baked goods and other food and staff the event. “It also provides just a warm place to be on a cold January day,” he said.
A Foundation for Learning More
Keeping these projects and partnerships going requires not just money but real-world knowledge on making it bear fruit.
When Brown learned about the Foundation’s Church Financial Leadership coaching program for pastors, she asked her Ministry Relations Officer, Rob Hagan, if he thought it would benefit her. He did. She was paired with Sherry Kenney, who previously worked for the Foundation as an MRO. The two met for regular, one-on-one coaching sessions via Zoom.
Serving on nonprofit boards had given Brown experience in reading budgets, but she wanted to learn more about fundraising. The coaching program helped her develop fluency in speaking about financial needs and how to support those needs within a congregation, she said.
“I really appreciated the opportunity to meet with Sherry throughout the year. She was very encouraging and helpful,” Brown said.
The church had begun doing a narrative budget a year or two before, she added, and Kenney gave valuable feedback on that.
Brown encourages other pastors to take this opportunity to develop financial fluency.
First Presbyterian Roseburg has a foundation, established in the 1980s, which is invested through the Presbyterian Foundation. “All the resources (the Foundation) offers are amazing. I’m still learning about those,” she said.
Hagan, MRO serving the Northwest, said Brown grasps the full dimension of being a pastor. “Her desire to build a culture of generosity within First Pres is a passion. The coaching program has fine-tuned those skills to see money as a way for members to express their purpose and intentions to build the ministry in the church.”
Ultimately, he said: “It is not about the church receiving but the giver giving, and for Vicky it is a deeply spiritual way to be a Christ follower.”
A ministry of service
Being a Christ follower can take any number of forms. Fieldman said growing up in the Presbyterian Church led him to a career in human services.
“I had actually thought at one time of going into the ministry of the Word, but decided that was not my path,” he said. “Instead, I followed Christ’s lead in my career paths and choices, which always led me to positions of working with people in need and toward social justice issues.”
Only later in life did he learn that the Book of Order talks about a ministry of service. “So I guess I was led into ministry work after all.”
While his human services work could be quite draining, Fieldman said his church family has provided a constant source of comfort, support, encouragement and renewal.
Lifted in Song
Still more people come through the doors of FPC Roseburg for music, which Brown said is important in the life of the congregation. Built in 1909, the sanctuary is a popular place for concerts, particularly classical, by groups ranging from Umpqua Community College’s orchestra and ensembles to visiting artists from Eugene, the nearest major city. The church’s noontime Lenten Music for Meditation series, featuring area musicians and open to the community, is in its 50th year.
“Music is beautiful in our sanctuary,” Brown said.
Singing in the church choir has been a major source of rejuvenation for Fieldman, not just the singing but the comradeship of singing in a group.
“The church really is a big part of why and how I have been able to do the work I have done all these years,” he said.