Portland church involves members, offers healing
Bicycle lanes line most of the roads. Cars are plastered with bumper stickers espousing environmental virtues. Motorists have ample time to affix them while service attendants fuel their vehicles. In Oregon, it’s illegal to pump your own gas.
In this Portland suburb, far removed from the Bible Belt, saying you’re a member of the Metro Church of Christ doesn’t register with most people. It’s likely to lead to a detailed explanation that you’re not Mormon, said John Heck, one of the church’s seven elders.
Locals are more apt to identify Metro as “the church with the heart” because of the bright red heart that adorns the side of the church building.
That suits Metro’s leaders just fine.
“We have a lot of people who are hurting,” said Ron Clark (above), Metro’s preaching minister. In addition to working with Metro’s ministries for those outside the church, members often find themselves ministering to their spiritual brothers and sisters.
“There’s an openness about this congregation,” said David Vaca, one of Metro’s 20 deacons. When people are “caught up in sin, what they get is love, mercy and grace from the congregation – not judging.”
These hurting people may come from other churches of Christ where they felt alienated or ostracized, said Vaca and fellow deacon Jerry Blachly.
Many times this merely is a matter of perception, “but for some reason they come here and they find what they need,” Vaca said.
After spending time in Metro’s “spiritual hospital,” as elder Glenn Cash described it, the church’s leaders often encourage the hurting people to return to the congregations they left behind.
“That’s one of the things that Metro has a reputation for,” Vaca said. “People come here sometimes just to heal.”
REACHING THE UNCHURCHED
The Pacific Northwest is full of “spiritual” seekers, though many are not Christians, Metro members said.
“It definitely made me different,” said Chelsea Jones, one of the few regular churchgoers in her graduating class at a public high school. That distinction led to discussions of faith, she said.
Clark, who came to Metro after ministering in Missouri, said, “There are a lot more inquisitive minds here,” and opportunities to study with non-traditional believers – from atheists to Buddhists.
Many parents are introduced to the church through their teenagers, who find almost immediate acceptance and involvement with the youth group, Clark said.
“It’s in our nature,” said Kierstin Hailey (left), who starts her freshman year in high school this fall. “We know what it feels like to be unwelcome.”
Eric Poole, a college sophomore who grew up at Metro, said that the 60-plus members of the youth group are aggressive inviters, involving their friends in church activities including a “Mocha Motion” coffee house and Wednesday night volleyball.
Metro’s leaders excel at involving new members – or even potential members – in ministry, said Vaca, who first visited the church 15 years ago after moving from a small church in Tucson, Ariz.
“We felt like we were members before we actually placed membership,” he said. “We had this really devious youth minister, Greg Woods, who, I think, would tell you that he needed an extra chaperone when he didn’t, just to get a parent involved. And that’s how I got sucked into the ministry.”
Woods now serves as the church’s family minister, and Metro members described the current youth minister, James Stanley, as “equally devious.”
Church members constantly look for ways to involve new members, Blachly said. “Even if it’s a simple thing like serving communion, saying a prayer … there’s always someone out there who’s available.”
Alleson Muscleman (left), a Metro member who recently graduated from high school, said that the church’s leaders make it a point to interact with and encourage church members of all ages.
“I have yet to come to church and not have one of the elders or one of the deacons come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’m proud of you and I’m praying for you’ – every single Sunday,” she said.
BUILDING COMMUNITY AMONG BELIEVERS
The church’s elders gather at 6 a.m. most Sundays to spend at least one hour in prayer for the upcoming services and specific needs of church members. Each deacon is responsible for staying in touch with seven families to see if needs arise.
“We’re not calling them junior elders, but we’re asking them to do the spiritual work with those families,” Heck said.
The church sponsors many ministries that serve the Gresham community. Though never satisfied with the amount of local outreach, the church’s leaders said that they see an evangelistic spirit planted in many of their members, especially when they leave Metro.
“I feel that we haven’t done well evangelizing here,” said Tom Hamilton, one of the elders, “but we’ve had people leave and work in church plants.”
The church supports missionaries in Albania and Uganda. Many more have roots or strong ties to Metro, even if other churches sponsor their work.
Metro also is the sponsoring congregation for World English Institute, which teaches English using the Bible to students around the world.
Churches across the nation financially support and provide volunteer Bible teachers for the ministry.
Connectivity defines churches in the Northwest. Many ministries supported by Metro are coordinated by multiple congregations – including the Portland Urban Ministry Project and the Great Northwest Evangelism Workshop. Churches also participate in an annual Together with Love in Christ conference.
“My opinion is that there is a great spirit of cooperation among churches of Christ in the Portland area,” said Kevin Kopsa, minister for the Newberg, Ore., church, southwest of Portland. “Metro takes a leadership role in getting church leaders to expand their thinking about the role of the church in the community.”
Kathy Stanley, wife of Metro’s youth minister, said that the church’s members realize that they are part of a larger community.
“The church of Christ is not Metro,” she said, and the message that church members throughout the region hope to communicate to the rest of the country is that God hasn’t forgotten the Northwest.
“The church is here. It’s active,” she said.
METRO CHURCH OF CHRIST
• Location: Gresham, an eastern suburb of Portland, Ore., with a population of about 90,000.
• Demographics: About 500 members. More than 160 (32 percent) are age 18 or under.
• Physical Plant: Built in 1952, the four-level facility that houses Metro is the largest wooden structure in Gresham. More than 28,000 square feet of usable space rest on 3.81 acres.
• Leadership: Seven elders, 20 deacons.
• Staff: Pulpit Minister Ron Clark, wife Lori; Family Minister Greg Woods, wife Dottie; Youth Minister James Stanley, wife Kathy.
• Vision statement: “The Metro Church of Christ is a Christ-focused family, led by the Spirit, committed to living for God, loving each other and leading our community and world to Jesus.”