The Pinecrest Church of the Nazarene is making some changes this holiday season.
The church is taking steps to become a place of safety, love, community, acceptance, family, and fellowship — a come-as-you-are no judgment (at least from the congregation and pastor) kind of church.
The church is led by Pastor Randy Porter, who would like to see the church challenge the stigma of what a church is supposed to be like.
“I would like to see the church become a resource for the community, I want the congregation to go out into the community and show what the church is, not just have me tell people what it is,” said Porter.
When Porter came to the church, much of the congregation was older and predominately white. The few children that attended services, spent most of their time down in Sunday school, and the services were all in English.
It is in the latter area where the first major shift is happening.
Juan Ramirez, a member of the congregation, took it upon himself to conduct bilingual Bible study groups.
“Juan’s been really amazing. He started Bible study with just one person participating, now he leads the services in Spanish,” said Porter.
As the Hispanic population in White Salmon has grown, so has the need for more church services to be in both Spanish and English.
For Pinecrest, the shift to bilingual services began in earnest following the Rhine Village fire.
The church opened its doors and became not only a shelter for the victims but a base of operations for the Red Cross.
“It was in that moment where I sort of first thought about the role of the church as a community resource, like a fire department or police department. It’s a safe place for people to be,” said Porter, who is also a volunteer with the fire department.
The church housed victims of the fire for months until they could get back on their feet. It was in this time that the church not only saw an increase in its congregation, but a cultural and generational shift that inspired a second change.
“Like most churches, there is a protocol we need to follow during service, but we can make tweaks to the services as we see fit. Most Nazarene services are very reserved. I wanted to make the services more fun. I wanted to make church fun, especially for kids,” said Porter.
On a typical Sunday, rather than sending kids to the basement for Sunday school, Porter and Ramirez place tables and chairs and kid appropriate snacks and drinks in the chapel for kids to sit and participate in church with their families. Porter’s own children play worship music and run the sound and lights during services.
“Some people don’t like it, they get upset with the kids for being kids, running up and down the aisles, but that’s what we want, to let them have fun at church,” said Porter.
Another thing that the church is doing differently is letting members of the congregation speak during the services, not just Porter.
“Leading from the inside out,” is what Porter called it.