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Couple retire from ministry, development to embark on overseas venture

Kerri and Paul Rodkey prepare to leave for 27 months serving in the Peace Corps in Botswana where they will do organizing and education on HIV/AIDS.

By Mary Stamp

As Paul and Kerri Rodkey retire, they will pack up their skills to see what applies as they are assigned through the Peace Corps in Botswana.

Paul has been pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church and campus minister at Eastern Washington University.  Kerri’s career with the State of Washington and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program (SNAP) has been in community development, micro-finance and financial stabilization with government and nonprofits, helping communities improve and individuals emerge from poverty.

After a retirement party from 3 to 6 p.m., Saturday, June 11, at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 2607 S. Ray, they will leave July 31.  Paul’s last Sunday is June 12.

They will educate and organize around HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in communities where large swaths of generations have died.

Paul will help schools give children life skills and hope, so they can grow up to create their own lives and dreams. Kerri will organize nonprofits. 

The first three months, they will live with different families, learning the culture and language while they are trained in youth life skills for Paul and local government and civil group dynamics for Kerri.

They will learn what has been done, what has worked and what has not.

When they are assigned, they will share an apartment.  They are taking two solar panels to hook up to a car battery to charge phones, laptops and a CPAP for Paul’s sleep apnea.

The Rodkeys are both excited and anxious.  They are renovating the house they recently moved to in Spokane after living since they married in 2000 at Deep Creek, 20 miles west of Spokane.  There, he was near his children, while they lived with his first wife.  They will rent their new house while they are gone for 27 months.

Paul served more than 44 years in ministry, nearly 30 years at Bethany Presbyterian in Spokane. 

“In the midst of the church evolving, Bethany has had a graceful, loving way of being an alternative church in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” said Paul, who earned a bachelor’s degree in social science in 1974 at Whitworth.

He worked in Tacoma for a year, volunteering at a church and spent three years at First Presbyterian Church in Kelso as youth director before earning a master of divinity at San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1982.

He and his first wife served as a clergy couple at First Presbyterian in Madera, Calif., until 1987.  He came back to Spokane where he found a call at Bethany as interim and then led the Inland Northwest Presbytery’s Larger Urban Parish that also included Westminster and Mission Ave. churches.

Paul stayed at Bethany as “stated supply,” working half-time.  From 1995 to 2015, he also worked half-time in campus ministry at Eastern Washington University with United Ministries in Higher Education (UMHE), an ecumenical campus ministry.

“I saw campus ministry go from the old model of college groups to flexible meetings with people,” he said.

“I witnessed a devolution of the faith community and churches on campus as many groups became engaged in marketing-entertainment evangelism,” Paul said.  “Mainline churches supporting UMHE were less involved, so the ecumenical aspect faded.”

His low-key approach of one-on-one meetings with administrators, teachers and students made church participation harder.

“We talked about faith and theological questions, addressing the limited awareness of good Christian theology in contrast to an evangelistic approach that turned many people off from Christianity,” Paul said.

“Narrow definitions of faith by some led others to conclude they were not Christian.  I sought to present a responsive, gracious faith that engaged people in conversations, brought speakers, held dinners, offered study series and worked with groups, like the Lutheran campus ministry.

Bethany’s ministry evolved when, in its 100th year in 2009, it sold its building at Third and Freya to the Department of Transportation for a freeway interchange, shared a building for two years with Bethlehem Lutheran on Ray, and bought the former Assembly of God Church across the street.

“Our congregation offers an intellectual, progressive, gentle faith,” he said.

About six of the 140 original members are among the 65 who now attend.

Divisions in churches in recent years over sexual orientation brought unneeded damage, he said.

“The culture has shifted, but many churches struggle with change,” he said.  “Negative ethical stands have wounded church members and turned them from living the great commandment of loving one another.

“Few youth seek blind doctrinal obedience, but instead seek more conversation on how Jesus loved outcasts,” Paul said.

Bethany’s outreach includes the Inland Northwest AIDS Coalition, the Spokane AIDS Network, Crosswalk dinners for street kids, Liberty Park Child Development Center, Alternatives to Domestic Violence at the YWCA, the Shower of Stoles exhibit with stories of gay clergy, Odyssey, PFLAG and PRIDE.

When Bethany sold its property for $820,000, it tithed—gave 10 percent—to the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest for The Future Church Project, to help churches break out of their treadmills and have tools to engage in ministry differently, Paul said. 

Bethany has a sign ministry.  In each location, its outdoor signs have shared thought-provoking quotes with a twist of humor.  A colorful digital sign now displays such messages as: “God expects spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.”

“We use the sign to convey loving, progressive messages,” Paul said. “People email ideas. A committee decides.”

After Paul completed a certificate in spiritual direction two years ago at Gonzaga University, Kerri said he began to soften his anger about conservatism and churches.

Paul appreciates “the compassion, grace and gentleness” she brings to Bethany’s outreach and education.

Kerri grew up in Spokane Valley, graduating from Central Valley in 1974 and starting studies at Eastern Washington University in sociology.  Raising two children in her first marriage, she took nine years to complete a degree in sociology with a minor in urban and regional planning in 1984.  She earned a master’s in urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1986.

For two years, she lived near Steptoe while working with Whitman County’s Regional Planning Council a year and then with the Washington Department of Commerce with five rural communities—St. John, Lacrosse, Garfield, Oakesdale and Tekoa—on strategic plans, leadership development and community building. Her next role was development coordinator for Davenport, Odessa and Ritzville, helping with beautification, events and business recruitment.

After that the Department of Commerce hired her as Eastern Washington’s economic development specialist in Spokane, traveling to Okanogan, Republic, Metaline Falls, Tri-Cities, Clarkston, Pomeroy, Ritzville and Othello, consulting with private and public sector groups on parks, downtown revitalization, education, microenterprise lending and social enterprise projects.

Mediation she fostered between the timber industry, environmentalists and local government in Okanogan County built understanding to reduce timber cutting and increase productivity.

In 2001, Kerri started at SNAP, developing a microenterprise program and classes on how to start a business.

“We provide financial education so people can open bank accounts.  Without accounts, they cannot cash checks and may lose money,” she said.

About 80 percent of SNAP clients have had no bank accounts or credit.  Working with credit unions eight years ago, she helped people open savings and checking accounts, education funds and credit cards, so they could establish credit to buy houses.

Four years ago, Kerri started the Home Ownership Program, helping 22 homeowners in or near default refinance to avoid foreclosure.

The Finance Stabilization Core Services helps people learn how to manage money and rise out of poverty.  The Women’s Business Center offers loans to businesses and for mortgages.

“I appreciate SNAP’s nurturing environment that let me partner inside and outside the agency to create new programs in order to make lives better for low-income people,” said Kerri.

Recently she was a nominee for the Spokane Citizens Hall of Fame and a finalist in the economic development category.

Kerri, who grew up in Opportunity Presbyterian Church, left church when she left home. 

“In the pain of my divorce in 1991, I started attending Unity Church and reconnected with God,” she said. 

Seeking more in faith, Kerri became involved in the mission and Latin American outreach at First Presbyterian.  She helped the Presbytery develop a partnership with Guatemala and went with the first delegation in 1999.

Leading a second delegation in 2000, she met Paul.  When she went to Bethany to listen to him preach, she found theology and mission integrated in an open-minded faith.

When they were married they decided that when they retired they would work overseas in a different culture.

“We both love being in different cultures and learning from different people,” Kerri said.

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