In an observation that is certainly being echoed by clergy everywhere, Jason Suter, pastor of the Friendship Alliance Church (FAC) in Winthrop, says “There is no chapter on how to lead a church through a global pandemic.” There is not, at least not yet, but Jason and the FAC seem to be steering a course through uncharted waters with grace and compassion, one example of which is the appreciation they recently showed for local teachers in the Methow Valley School District.
“We got the idea before everything went crazy,” Jason says. “I challenged the church to make an impact on the community. We decided to show our love and appreciation for teachers in this valley.”
The congregation started taking up a collection, aiming initially to generate enough funds for gift certificates in the amount of $5 for every teacher, faculty, and staff member in the school district, including all the staff at the bus garage. “We knew that Teacher Appreciation Week was coming up in May. It seemed like a good opportunity to recognize a group of the hardworking people in this community,” Jason says.
“The idea immediately took off and gained momentum,” he says. “The congregation fully embraced the vision. We had a box in the church where people could donate to the appreciation fund, and there was this incredible outpouring of support.” When the church had to close to comply with the governor’s Stay at Home order, Jason says, “People were slipping donations under the door and making online donations.”
The gift certificate idea also allowed the church to support the community at a time that so many businesses were having to scale back or shut down. What began as a $5 per person goal quickly grew to $10 and eventually the FAC donations were leveraged into $18 gift certificates to Rocking Horse Bakery and Pony Espresso in Winthrop, and Cinnamon Twisp, Blue Star Coffee Roasters and Michael’s Espresso in Twisp.
Jason, who moved here from Ohio with his family three years ago to become the FAC pastor, says that the FAC congregation, like community groups anywhere, is craving social engagement. To respond to this desire for interaction, Jason has incorporated a live chat component into the weekly Sunday services, which are streamed on YouTube and Facebook each week. “It’s inspiring to see how the church has responded to change,” he says. “We’re all learning to adjust to the new norms.”