By Carl Stagner
The latest count gives Morton, Washington, a population of just over 1,100. Nestled in the foothills of the scenic Cascades, Morton’s natural beauty is only matched by its small-town charm. While some large churches claim more numbers than the entire town holds, Morton has been given Pastor Bill Shepherd an idyllic setting to reach the lost and strengthen the believer. As he and his wife Sherri have led First Church of God for nearly twenty years, they’ll testify that ministry opportunities are everywhere, including in their own backyard. Though their community is relatively small, this church’s impact at home and abroad has been remarkably powerful.
Morton’s modest size offers Pastor Bill and the church the chance to represent Christ in a wide variety of settings often inaccessible in larger municipalities. First Church of God hosts the annual baccalaureate service for the high school. Instead of meeting at the church building, the church has taken its adult Bible study to the local assisted living facility. Bill also drives the facility’s bus on Sundays to provide transportation to residents that wish to attend worship services. In a display of Christian unity, three of the four local churches come together to host Vacation Bible School—an event for which First Church has been the primary facilitator.
“There are more blessings than challenges, for me, to having a ministry in a small town,” Bill explains. “I enjoy being around people and being involved in the community. I have announced high school sporting events for twelve years. I have been the president of the local hospital foundation for fourteen years. I have been the chairperson for several local school levy and hospital bond issues. I perform many local funerals and marriages for the community. I have been the director of our afterschool program for ten years, and have written stories for our local newspaper.” If Pastor Bill must come up with one negative of carrying out ministry in a small town, he replies, “We have only four restaurants.”
Morton residents have become quite familiar with First Church of God. They know that at the Church of God you’ll find people who really care. This should be no surprise, as over the past twenty years, the congregation has been involved in numerous community outreach activities. The school backpack collection, for instance, provided new backpacks complete with school supplies for more than sixty students at their local elementary school. Many families in Morton fall under a low-income bracket, and they were especially appreciative of the church’s demonstration of love. Several members of the church regularly volunteer at the local food bank, while many of the ladies host an annual tea for Valentine’s Day. Then there is the prayer shawl ministry.
“It is really pretty simple,” Shirley Goble of First Church, who initiated the effort more than seven years ago. “When we hear about a person who could use some encouragement, a prayer shawl is made just for them, or sometimes we select one that has recently been crocheted. Then our church family offers a special prayer for the person receiving the shawl, while someone in our Sunday morning worship service holds the shawl. After this, a copy of our poem, ‘The Prayer Shawl,’ written by Karen Nichols, is attached to the shawl and it is sent on its way.” The ministry involves a great number of the women of First Church of God, and enables the church to have a global impact. Eight hundred have been sent around the world, and in March, six shawls were prayed over and sent to the remaining six United States presidential candidates.
Though God has greatly blessed First Church of God in Morton, Washington, the church and its community can always use prayer. “Please pray for new business to move in. We have two local two-by-four mills, our hospital, and our school as major employers,” Bill explains. “The number of students in our school has fallen from about 500 K–12 students to only about 350. And please pray that our church family will always have as our joy and motivation that of sharing Jesus and his love with others. Thank you.”
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