Local churches practice what they preach when it comes to service

Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 4/7/19

Churches heavily involved in community

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Local churches practice what they preach when it comes to service


EVANSTON — Most religious organizations do more than serve and minister to their own particular congregation. Each denomination has planned activities and projects that reach out beyond their own doors to help others.

What types of outreach do some of the Evanston churches participate in?

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Evanston Wyoming Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been led by Stake President Craig Lester, First Counselor Eugene Platt and Second Counselor David Smith for the past four years. 

Lester said they have a website, JustServe.org, that shows a variety of community organizations and opportunities for members to volunteer and provide service outside their church family. With approval of Relief Society President Elizabeth Williams and her committee, any group, regardless of religious affiliation, can post notices about community projects on that site.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, members of the church volunteer as bell ringers for the Salvation Army. Their Boy Scout troops have a food drive for the Lord’s Storehouse, and baskets are kept in the church hall for anyone to donate food.

Lester said there are 12 bishops in the local community, and each month a bishop takes on the role of “transient” bishop, who receives the calls from people in need. Branch President Eric Robinson is currently assigned to provide Sunday service at the local jail. The church also provides a Bible lesson group for inmates. The local Relief Society also visits regularly at the jail. 

“When people get out of jail and have no place to go but have to stay in town for their court dates, there really needs to be a shelter or someplace for them to stay. We need something in this town to meet that need,” Lester said.

Lester and Platt said the church has a Bishop’s Storehouse, which is separate from the Lord’s Storehouse. Even nonmembers can purchase items in bulk for a reduced price. The church at large also has canneries in Ogden, Utah, and Salt Lake City, where anyone can take produce and can it. It’s run by volunteers, and some of the canned produce is taken to the Bishop’s Storehouse to be given to the needy. 

Lester said one way the LDS church involves an even larger community is in its handcart reenactments. Last year, 10,000 people from all over the world participated, and reservations for future events extend out four years. 

“Our stake will participate this year and the missionaries are building the handcarts,” Lester said.

 The stake center on Morse Lee is also home to the Evanston Family History Center. Anyone is welcome to come and use their premium genealogy sites for free to gather information on their ancestors. The center is open at various times Monday-Friday, and appointments can be scheduled by calling Philip Kennedy at (307) 789-4741. 

When the new stake center is completed on West Cheyenne Drive near the high school, the one on Morse Lee will be abandoned. The Family History Center will be moved to the Bishop’s Storehouse building on Elm Street.

Evanston Alliance Church

Senior Pastor Marc Trujillo of the Evanston Alliance Church has led the congregation for five years. The Alliance Church has been active in Evanston since 1981, when it took over an empty building on 235 Overthrust Rd. Trujillo mentioned many projects that his church members are involved in.

Each October they invite the public to a harvest party, where they play games, have refreshments and hear Bible lessons. During the Christmas season, they write letters to military service men and women, they participate in the Angel Tree project, they make care packages for Operation Christmas Child in cooperation with the Calvary Chapel Church and they produce a public play called “How Can You Return the Gift?”

Members of the church sing once a month at the Rocky Mountain Care Center and Trujillo goes once a week to visit and pray with the residents there. In 2017, they traveled to Cleveland to work with refugees. A group of members are planning to go to Paradise, California, in June to help that community rebuild after the devastating fires. The AWANA children’s group of the church collects food for the Lord’s Storehouse.

Church of the Nazarene

The Church of the Nazarene has a new pastor. Jarid Hundley came three months ago from Iowa to lead his congregation of 25 members. Hundley was in the Marine Reserves for 10 years and an Iowa police officer for seven years. He said he is excited to be in Evanston and has plans to become involved in the community.

In the past, his congregation has collected food baskets and given them to people in need who would come to the church. Hundley said he would like to get involved with the local food bank. The church is in the process of restructuring and he said he has a vision for outreach projects. 

Hundley said he wants to start a dialogue with the local LGBTQ community. He plans to hold a public forum where that group will feel comfortable sharing stories, needs and problems and their perceptions of the church. 

“Where it will go from there, I’m not sure,” he said, “maybe a support group. We also want to expand on the 12-step program and ‘Celebrate Recovery’ to include any addiction problem, not just alcohol and drugs.”

Union Presbyterian Church

The Union Presbyterian Church at the corner of 10th and Center Streets is led by Pastor Larry Turpin who has served there for almost five years. The church has a dedicated membership of 60, who are very active in outreach activities.

They help at the Lord’s Storehouse with a monthly food donation, an annual money donation, and with volunteers every week. The church gives a semi-annual donation to the Sexual Assault and Family Violence (SAFV ) Task Force, which is a fixed part of their budget.

The Presbyterians volunteer with the Parks and Recreation program at the Bear Ice Ponds to pull weeds on an annual basis. They also volunteer with the Salvation Army as bell ringers in the cold and wind outside Walmart. Every week someone from the church will go to Rocky Mountain Care and Tender Heart to visit with the residents, and they also sing carols at Christmastime. Members help with the Angel Trees and gifts for needy children at Christmas. 

Members also participate in a National One Great Hour program that has been around for 50 years. When the city of Lusk flooded, the Evanston congregation sent money there to help. Last summer, Turpin took some of the youth group volunteers to New Orleans after Hurricane Harvey hit and helped with local projects. The trip was supported by the church’s offering during Lent.

College students who are members of the church are given blankets, and at spring break receive a basket of snacks and goodies to take to school.

Member Mary Boal runs a drug court program where she provides life skills training, and Turpin teaches mindfulness. They first meet with inmates at the jail and then when inmates are released, they continue the training at BOCES. The church also hosts weekly meetings for two NA and AA groups. 

Members from St. Paul’s Episcopal, Trinity Lutheran and Union Presbyterian combine to provide a Vacation Bible School for children every summer in June. It is open to all children of any faith. Last year, 40 children attend. 

Volunteers among the members have for years held an annual rummage sale, and the proceeds go into the church’s general fund.

“A rummage sale helps the needy by providing nice things at a low price and helps the rest of us to unload [some of the] many things we have,” Turpin said.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is one of the oldest churches in Evanston, with records showing a congregation forming in 1873.

Presently, Priests Steve Aaron and Pam Bright serve 35 loyal attendees. Aaron has served as a Priest at St. Paul’s for 15 years and Bright was ordained in June 2018. 

“Part of our mission is one foot in the church and one in the community,” Aaron said.

Both said they feel the needs of the people and know that many service organizations are underfunded. Aaron’s past experience working in the county attorney’s office and Bright’s former employment in public health give them firsthand knowledge of the special needs of many people in crisis. 

“God comes to some in a loaf of bread, especially to marginalized people,” Aaron said. “We see many travelers who need help and we give bags of food items which also contain contact information for the Salvation Army and 211 Wyoming for help throughout the state. The local Salvation Army personnel use our facilities and we also have funds to help. People sometimes walk in on Sundays and we have a message machine that we check three times a week.”

Members help with the Lord’s Storehouse by donating money, food and volunteering and Angels Among Us when they experience a shortfall. They donate to the Festival for Families, volunteer with the backpack program and connect with local schools and gather school supplies, coats and clothing for children. They also give a donation to the senior center and help other organizations.

“Our youth group collects toiletries and makes bags to give to SAFV and to the Lord’s Storehouse. We keep our eyes and ears open for those who need help,” Bright said.

Aaron said the church has received poverty grants from the Wyoming diocese to help the needy. The church has given donations to the Department of Family Services (DFS) for passes for people needing transportation and gas cards to get to medical and other appointments. Aaron said they try to fill in the gaps in the system and find the greatest needs.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, they took volunteers there to help rebuild houses.

“People are happiest when they are helping others,” Aaron said. 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church buildings have been a gathering place for many different local organizations. Sagebrush Theatre meets at their hall often, a local Quilt club uses the parish house (Rectory), NA and AA meetings are held weekly in the hall, and Salvation Army meets with people in the Rectory twice a week. Aaron said the Rectory has also been used for corporate retreats. Book and Bible study groups, open to anyone, also use the Rectory on a weekly basis. The church also has a booth at Santa’s Workshop, a fundraiser for Boy Scouts.

“We are also very proud of the start-up loans we give around the world, especially to women who are supporting their families,” Aaron said. “We received what is called a Mustard Seed Grant from the diocese in order to provide these loans. The women start businesses and then pay the money back to help another woman, and it has been very successful.”

Aaron pointed to the many pictures, on two large bulletin boards in the hall, of the women in countries all over the world who had received their loans. One board was full of pictures marked “loan paid back.”

Trinity Lutheran Church

Trinity Lutheran Church has been without a full-time pastor for years. Since the liturgy and services of the Episcopal and the Lutheran denominations are very similar, the members of the Lutheran church asked Steve Aaron if he would provide services. Aaron and Deacon Stephanie Aaron Ludwig alternately officiate at Sunday services there.

The 20 loyal members have kept their church very active in the community. Their building provides a home for a preschool, the Lord’s Storehouse, and the props and costumes for Sagebrush Theatre.

In a phone interview, Cheryl O’Harra, church member and organizer and teacher of the preschool at Trinity Lutheran said, “We may be small, but we are mighty.”

The preschool was started 12 years ago by O’Harra, a certified Montessori teacher. It’s a nonprofit, and currently has 55 enrollees with a three-year waiting list. No religious instruction is allowed, and the students come from all backgrounds. 

O’Harra is a member of Trinity Lutheran’s church council and said that because their building is located so close to Yellow Creek Mall and the highway, they get a lot of transients and people seeking help. The Lord’s Storehouse located at the church gives food to at least 150 families a week. 

“We don’t make judgments about people or their circumstances; we just do the best we can to help them,” O’Harra said. 

There is a youth group made up of young people from Trinity Lutheran, St. Paul’s Episcopal and Union Presbyterian. They do a variety of community projects including signing cards for shut-ins during the holidays, taking 300 articles of clothing and blankets and serving food at a rescue mission in Salt Lake City, helping to make quilts and health care kits for local people in need and for those who have suffered environmental disasters. 

“The new reformation brings churches together,” Aaron said. “Fresh expressions is a new way of looking at things, meeting people where they are at and making connections. We (Trinity Lutheran, St. Paul’s Episcopal and Union Presbyterian) do many projects as a team.”

St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church

St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church has a new priest, Father Augustine Carrillo. The church is one of the oldest established churches in Evanston. The original structure was wood and burned down in 1938. It was reported that the whole town came together and built the existing church. Union Pacific even laid the corner stones and the Machine Shop was used for some of the construction.

Church secretary Pat Preston said once a month the collection taken during services is designated to help the poor and needy to pay rent, utility bills, groceries and medical needs.

Preston said from October to April, the church sponsors Wednesday night bingo and many people from all denominations attend. The proceeds go into the church’s various building projects. 

Kay Rossiter, member of St. Mary’s since 1984 and head of the Lord’s Storehouse, provided more information on the outreach activities of the Catholic congregation. Rossiter said the church membership is around 250 families.

Some of the women have a “prayer shawl” ministry, where they make blankets and afghans for people who are sick, hospitalized or have other needs. 

Rossiter said the church takes up a special collection several times a year and that money is sent to Catholic Relief Services and other international aid organizations. 

As supervisor of the volunteer group of 30 who work at the Lord’s Storehouse, Rossiter said that organization was started in 1987 by a group of local churches. 

“We were an orphan organization for a long time and were moved around a lot. We were in the Catholic church free of charge from 1992 until 1998. Then we moved to the Yellow Creek Mall, then to the Highway 150 complex and finally to Trinity Lutheran, where we pay rent,” Rossiter said. “God takes care of us and donations come in all the time. Our operating budget is $30,000 a year so we are blessed with people who care.”

The Lord’s Storehouse uses part of the Lutheran Church basement for storage and the upstairs general meeting area for distribution. In 2018, Rossiter said they served 95,000 meals, just from a Walmart donation. They also receive government commodities from the state of Wyoming. Many of the local churches give financial donations and volunteer time. Local Scout troops gather food donations twice a year. The Uinta County Democrats donate once a month to the Lord’s Storehouse in Evanston and once a month to the Bridger Valley food bank. 

The Lord’s Storehouse is part of a state organization located in Casper. They have to report all transactions to the Wyoming Food Bank of the Rockies located in Denver. The food bank has to meet Department of Health requirements and have regular inspections. Food is distributed beginning at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday mornings. This all-volunteer organization provides a much needed service to the people of Evanston. 

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army in Evanston is headed by Roy Walworth, who is also an Episcopal pastor. The Salvation Army began in England in the 19th century. Its mission is to focus on helping the needy. It provides soup kitchens in many locations.

The local chapter of the Salvation Army has been active in Evanston for at least 25 years, and Walworth has been an active volunteer since it began. He said Julie Jett and Robin Whitmore of the Episcopal church are responsible for organizing the volunteers for the Red Kettle Bell Ringers during the holiday season. Those volunteers come from many different churches and nonprofit organizations in the community. 

Walworth maintains office hours for people seeking help from the Salvation Army on Monday and Thursday, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., at the Rectory of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. They give emergency assistance to people needing help with paying their rent, utility bills, prescriptions and other health needs.