Round Valley United Methodist Church: Service in action among Native Americans

May 19, 2022 | by JB Brayfindley

Round Valley United Methodist Church: Service in action among Native Americans

After serving as Lay Leader, Roy Pina became a Certified Lay Minister at the Round Valley United Methodist Church to pastor the community in Covelo, California including members of the Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT) whose tribal council center is next door to the church.

Covelo is located 30 miles east of Highway 101, an hour north of Willits on highway 162 in the Yuti Wilderness of the Mendocino National Forest on the Round Valley Indian Reservation.

Thought to be the original Paleo-Indians of California, the Yuki have lived in Round Valley, the heart of Yuki territory, for more than 10,000 years. Over 162 years ago, neighboring tribes were forced into Round Valley (then known as the Nome Cult Farm) with the Yuki including the Pomo, Pit River, Nomlacki, Concow and Wailacki tribes forming the confederated tribes of the RVIT reservation today.

Pina’s grandfather attended an Indian boarding school in Round Valley after his mother died. The old boarding school no longer exists but the commissary of Fort Wright, built in 1862, remains and has been made into the sanctuary of the United Methodist Church where Pina’s family attend.

“It was our feeding place. This is where the Indigenous people of Northern California that were brought in here were fed; this was their feeding place,” explains Pina. “And in 1869, the government put it into the hands of the Methodists. So, we’ve been in existence that long.”

Since that time, the church has added an entryway, restroom, and kitchen. A parsonage with an apple and pear orchard also sits on the original 7 ½ acre church plot located within the reservation boundaries on the north side of Covelo.

“In Indian country the traditionalism still holds really deep in a lot of the spiritual culture, but Christianity has a hold of it also,” states Pina. “So, even though [some] may not attend, they do support, and they do rely on the church.”

When the church opened in 1869, four hundred people were converted to Christianity as Methodists. The church remains a mainstay of the community through Sunday worship services, participation in town festivities, hosting forums, conducting funerals, and offering summer programs for children.

During the pandemic, the church moved services outside until the health center and tribal council restricted all group activities due to COVID. For the first time in years, Easter sunrise services were held outside last month.

“We stayed in compliance,” states Pina, noting that all activities in the valley including Indian Day’s was shut down and people were isolated from one another, “but we also stayed in contact. We moved our Intervening Prayer Sessions we are involved in with all the churches in the valley … to conference calls—that’s one way we stayed in contact.”

Today, the church and other groups in the valley are slowly rebuilding ministries. Pina stresses the idea of servitude in supporting the community’s needs and representing the Christian faith.

“We have several issues in the valley,” states Pina who is often asked to host meetings in the church sanctuary to facilitate discussions. This month, he opened the church doors to community members wanting to talk about bringing a mobile dialysis unit to the area.

The number one concern in the valley is water conservation says Pina. The church plans on being a part of the conversation, hosting forums and helping develop and teach curriculum.

The Department of Transportation recently purchased half an acre of the church’s property to put a walkway from the north end of town to the downtown to protect pedestrians from traffic on highway 162.

“This is what we do for the service of the people,” sums up Pina. “We stay active and supportive of our community.”

The church also brings a historical factor to Round Valley supporting Indian Days and other tribal festivities including opening the church as a rest station during the annual reenactment of Nome Cult Walk. The church strives “to let our young people know the history of the valley—and to keep both the parish and community informed.”

Pina is also involved with the UMC Western Jurisdiction Native American Ministries, Native American International Caucus, Native Comprehension Plan, and is the California-Nevada Committee on Native American Ministries Great Northern vice chair. For years, Roy Piña worked with the Forest Service and later in education. In 2006, Pina became a Certified Lay Minister to keep the sanctuary in Covelo and be an agent of reconciliation in the political upheavel of the time alongside Derick Rainbow and Kevin Murphy.

“I am helping from behind,” says Pina about his various roles, “and being a voice.”

JB Brayfindley is a freelance journalist.