Go, Sow, Grow: Sunrise Circuit ministers to local needs

April 20, 2023 | by JB Brayfindley

Go, Sow, Grow: Sunrise Circuit ministers to local needs

Editor's note: Go, Sow, Grow is a prayer initiative that launched early in 2022 in which local churches were invited to pray for one another in order to align our prayers for God's vision of growth and abundance to manifest among us.  As a companion to that prayer ministry, we will be reaching out to circuits across our 5 districts to develop short profiles on the ministry of our local churches and include links for more information and how to get involved. Together, we are the church. #BeUMC

“Our communities have a lot of food insecurity and housing insecurity,” states Rev. Dawn Blundell, pastor of Fallon UMC and circuit leader of the Sunrise Circuit, one of two circuits in northern Nevada. “All of our churches in the circuit do things around food, like food pantries or free hot meals or providing hygiene and other supplies that aren’t covered by SNAP benefits.”
Stretching from the alfalfa fields of Yerington north to the high desert of Winnemucca and then east and south to Ely lying by the Schell Creek range beside Utah, the circuit churches are miles apart forming a triangle of 178 miles by 269 miles by 315 miles. These are rural desert communities whose main industries are farming, mining, ranching, and a wide variety of small businesses.
“We have ALL of our circuit meetings by Zoom,” states Blundell. The meetings are meant to build relationships among the pastors. “We talk about our churches and share ideas and resources, but much more often we share about our personal lives and pray with and for each other.” The circuit hopes to resurrect their annual Fall retreat in Kings Beach to “just hang out together, eat together and enjoy a time of rest and renewal,” adds Blundell. In the past the circuit has sponsored youth and family camps at Camp Kelly near Ely but since it is currently infested with crickets, plans have been postponed but according to Blundell, “we hope to do it again!” The circuit hopes to create a promotional group webpage and, with help from Gary Robbins’ and Tamara Brewer’s puppet ministries, design an online kid-centric video series.
Rev. Judy Robbins and Certified Lay Minister Gary Robbins serve Winnemucca UMC, a church founded in 1869. The focus of ministry is community outreach and support. The church hosts a community soup kitchen with other local churches providing meals on a rotating basis. Their 10 a.m. traditional worship service is streamed online on Facebook and YouTube with bulletin PDFs available to download. Rev. Judy Robbins is involved in leading community mental health support groups. 
Battle Mountain UMC is served on a circuit with Winnemucca by Rev. Judy Robbins and Certified Lay Minister Gary Robbins. Pastor Gary uses a puppet ministry to expand messages to children. They are a small church family of very active, committed Christians.
Antelope Valley UMC in Coleville is led by Certified Lay Minister Clark Roberts. Coleville is a small resort town which has experienced recent fires and people moving away, leaving them with just a few remaining members. But they are deep in prayer, and looking to see where God is leading them.
Carlin UMC is pastored by Judith Donaldson. “It’s a neat small church that is really active in their community and doing a lot of new things,” states Blundell. The church started The Carlin Cupboard food pantry in the church basement and outgrew the space quickly. Now, the church is looking into building something new, looking into grants and partnering with community members who are coming alongside them to expand the program. The church also has a thriving preschool program. Currently, a Lenten study is offered on Zoom.
Elko UMC Fellowship has been serving the Elko community since 1991 and is pastored by Judith Donaldson. “Judith provides a loving, nurturing church,” states Blundell.
Ely UMC is pastored by Rev James Woffinden. “He’s an amazing pastor who loves what he does,” states Blundell, “He is an inspiring transformational leader. The new church building hosts community events like children’s theatre. The congregation is part of a ministry team with other churches in the community, doing special events and hosting a large community food bank together. Pastor James says the historic steam trains are a big attraction in the area, and that back in the day the pastor would take the train to serve Ruth and McGill.
Established in 1875, Yerington Community UMC is served by Nathan Sam-Whistler and is “a strong, vital church,” states Blundell. The community is centered around farming, ranching, and mining with an annual strawberry festival. The church instituted non-food ‘God’s Pantry’ to provide “everything that Food Stamps does not cover,” states Blundell. Because it is not connected to government funds, they are able to pray with folks who request it. The congregation also hosts community dinners, gives out Pocket Prayer Quilts and since 2005, participates in Operation Christmas Child. Weekly Sunday messages are also available as PDF in a drop box on the webpage.
Online and in-person Bible study, Pizza with the pastor, and Friday Evening Prayer are a few of the activities at Epworth UMC in Fallon, Nevada served by Rev. Dawn Blundell. Sunday worship is offered in-person, on YouTube, and on a northern Nevada radio station. Epworth’s free community meal program, called “Fallon Daily Bread,” was founded 17 years ago and has served over 183 thousand meals. The church also hosts a food bank and “during the day the church is open for those folks that don’t have access to running water to take showers and do laundry for free,” states Blundell. “Of a community of twenty thousand, we are the only ones who do this.” Because of the success of these ministries, the Churchill County community health workers hold office hours at the church because “they know that this church is a place to find folks who need to be connected with services,” states Blundell. Now that the roof is fixed (thanks in part to a loan from the Great Northern District Union), the church looks forward to hosting a free, grant funded after school program for children at risk. Last year there were 42 children enrolled. To help transport students, this last year St. Paul’s UMC in Reno donated an 18 passenger van to Epworth.
Grace-St. Francis Community Church in Lovelock, Nevada is a cooperative parish with St. Francis Episcopal church and is currently served by a Certified Lay Ministers Jim and Barbie Hertz from Fallon. The priest, Michael Northrup, recently retired. On Communion Sunday, a local bishop or district superintendent consecrates the elements. The church hosts a thrift store and food pantry, and is starting to see some new faces and fresh excitement under the Hertz’s leadership.
Schurz UMC is located on Walker River Paiute lands in Nevada and is served by Pastor Nathan Sam-Whistler. “He has a beautiful way of blending his Christian beliefs with his Native beliefs, and is passionate about the Native culture and keeping it alive,” states Blundell. 
Smith Valley Community UMC welcomed new local pastor Tamara Brewer this July. The church has weekly 10 a.m. worship, and offers several Bible studies, an active women’s group, and activity groups open to the community. In October, the church hosted several evening informal Paint Parties. In December, they partnered with the local Catholic church to host their annual bazaar, a huge event complete with homemade strawberry jams and jellies, and vendors of all kinds. Church members are very active in their community, leading events and donating to several local causes, and participating in the Yerington God’s Pantry program.

McGill UMC has no assigned pastor.

JB Brayfindley is a freelance journalist.