Fairfield church sells 'extra' building, focuses on serving community
After merging four years ago as one congregation, Zion Lutheran and First Presbyterian Church—now Fairfield Community Church—had both buildings for sale.
For a while, they alternated worshiping at both buildings, but two years ago chose to worship at Zion Lutheran, where they have a preschool serving 18 children. The previous summer, they worshiped in the First Presbyterian building.
In March, two weeks before Easter, they sold the Presbyterian building to the Stillwater Mennonite Church in Plummer-Worley. Three years ago, six Mennonite families had moved there from Ohio when their original community grew to 25 families. The tradition is that when they have that many, they split and some move to relocate. The group now has 11 families.
"It's interesting how God works," said Paul Anderson, pastor of the combined church that continues to affiliate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian USA denominations.
"We kept it on the market waiting for the right price. The Mennonites bought it for $180,000 cash. It was a good deal for both churches, because it's God's church," said Paul who has served in Fairfield 14 years, his first church after graduating from Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, in 2004.
The Fairfield Community Church now saves on costs of maintaining and heating two buildings, and "the beauty is that the building is still being used as a church and God is being worshiped there," he said.
The proceeds are being invested and 10 percent of the amount was sent to the Synod and Presbytery. Some funds will be used to support the church and some to support outreach.
For the decision to sell the Presbyterian building, the vote was close to unanimous to accept the offer.
"These are faith-walking people," Paul said, "not relying on how they feel, but willing to sell the building grandpa helped build. God is not about a building. Some lament what was, but many are excited about a new experience of being the church."
The process of bringing the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches together continues, including plans to have a new sign.
In addition, they had hanging on the walls at their building, the former Zion Lutheran, confirmation pictures going back to the early years in the 1890s and early 1900s. Members decided those pictures needed a new home.
"Someone's grandmother might be in the picture, but it's not who we are any more," said Paul, who talked to the directors of the Fairfield Museum and History Center.
The museum welcomed having the pictures to display as part of the community's heritage.
With Fairfield increasingly a bedroom community for Spokane, Spokane Valley, Pullman and Plummer—where many work at the casino—there are many new people in the community.
Some new residents have retired, while some long-time older residents are moving closer to town. Young families from the urban areas are also buying Fairfield houses, which are affordable.
Houses in Fairfield do not stay for sale long. Most of those who commute to work also commute to church and shopping.
Paul noted that only one member of the Fairfield City Council has lived there all his life. The others have no roots there.
"Our challenge is to minister outside the walls to new people," he said.
"We are leading folks in a new direction that is Lutheran and Presbyterian. We continue in making transitions, walking by the Spirit and seeking guidance," he added.
One new dynamic has been to meet on 5th Sundays, read the Bible, go out into the community to do service and return for a meal.
Serving the community through the fifth Sunday and preschool have drawn some new people.
Outreach projects have included raking a woman's lawn, cleaning the park at Waverly, cleaning the cemetery and picking up trash along one mile of the highway.
"It's where God is in the community, putting hands and feet to work," Paul said. "People have been appreciative."
The church uses the verse about Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in the temple on a Sunday.
"How does it look to do something out of the ordinary to help someone during the normal worship time?" he said. "We need to think outside the box and still maintain the integrity of worship. How do we move outside the walls? God is always with us."
The October service project each year is the hay ride food drive.
Another regular outreach is calling on people at the Fairfield Care Center.
In June, the church hosted young leaders from Lutherhaven Ministries' Camp on Lake Coeur d'Alene coming to lead an all-day vacation Bible school that drew 69 children.
There is discussion with leaders in Spokane County about starting a lunch program in the church.
Many of the 30 or so who attend the church are still farmers, whose attendance varies with planting and harvesting.
The wheat crop affects the community. It is good this year, but there are uncertainties about the impact of tariffs, Paul said.
"School athletics is hard on church activities," said Paul, who grew up in Newark, Ill., a town of 500 about 50 miles south of Chicago. There the school had a Wednesday church night with no sports—a practice many Palouse communities once had.
Through his years in Fairfield, Paul has connected with pastors of the Seventh Day Adventist church in Fairfield and the United Methodist Church in Rockford.
Other area pastors are part time and don't stay long. The Adventist pastor serves Farmington, Fairfield and Ritzville. The United Methodist pastor is new and part-time. As the only full-time pastor, he serves people living in several communities.
"We are all ministers," he said, "and we are to find ways to share love for God in Christ. We are God's hands and feet. We need to be good followers as God leads and guides us.
"A leader needs to be open to new ways to lead. We look for new ways to do ministry always," he said.
People from area churches worked together after the shooting a year ago in Freeman High School. While there were no students in the church, members were affected. Some went to a vigil in Spokane Valley, but Fairfield Community Church opened that evening as a place for people to come to pray and be together, and 250 came.
"Spontaneity opens us to do ministry in new ways," he said, "so the shape of our ministry evolves and changes."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December, 2018