Faith Leaders Work to Serve, Not to Proselytize

Faith-Based Advisory Committee
Members of the Faith-Based Advisory Committee meet Tuesday to provide updates on committee projects. Pictured, left to right: Rev. John Jefferies, Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston, Hermiston City Councilor Rod Hardin, Samantha Walchli and Pastor Dean Hackett.

About a year before he passed away, Bob Severson approached Pastor Dean Hackett of the Faith Living Church for some help.

The former mayor wanted to get the community’s church leaders together to form a group that could work with the city on common goals. Hackett, pastor of the Living Faith Church, liked the idea but wondered how, exactly, it would function. Many months later, Severson, again, talked to Hackett about forming an advisory group.

“It was a couple of weeks before he died and he said, ‘I really want us to work on this,’” Hackett recalled. After Severson died in December 2012, his successor, Dave Drotzmann, asked Hackett to work on putting a committee together.

“I said OK, but it has to be really broad based,” Hackett said. “It can’t have a particular doctrine or flavor. It has to be representative of the city and we have to keep in mind we’re here to serve the city.”

So Hackett got in touch with leaders of Hermiston’s faith community and asked them to join. Many of them did including Jeff Snell of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Father Daniel Maxwell of Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church; Genaro Loredo, the Hispanic Ministries pastor for the New Hope Church; Rev. Gene Berrey of the Solid Rock Community Church; and Rev. John Jefferies of the Hermiston Christian Center. Rounding out the group were Hermiston City Councilors Lori Davis and Rod Hardin. Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston is also part of the group.

All of them make up Hermiston’s Faith-Based Advisory Committee and since spring, it has been advising the city on issues where city goals cross paths with programs offered by the faith community.

“I’m really pleased at the broadness of the committee,” Hackett said, who serves as the committee’s chairman. Having such a diverse group of people doesn’t always work well, unless there is a common goal, he said.

“If we talked doctrine, we’d be miles apart,” Hackett said. “But we have one purpose – to make Hermiston the greatest city in the Pacific Northwest.”

The committee wasted little time identifying areas where it could help the city: School Adoption, Neighborhood Revitalization and the Community Accountability Board.

“If we can, in the first year, have those three areas in good traction, we’ll feel like this has been a successful year,” Hackett said.

The idea behind the School Adoption program is that a church in the community selects a Hermiston school to serve in whatever way it can.

“We just want to say thank you and give appreciation and honor to the staff and administration,” Hackett said. “If there’s any way we can help, just let us know. And there is no hidden agenda and there will be no proselytizing – we’re there to serve. There is a time and place for proselytizing, but this is not the place.”

The Living Faith Church adopted Sandstone Middle School. Church members volunteer at school events, such as helping pop popcorn and cleaning up after the event. They also conduct twice-monthly prayer walks in which members walk the school grounds after hours offering prayers for the school while picking up litter and other items.

“We ask for blessings and favor on our schools,” Hackett said. “We want our schools to be the best they can be.

“There are huge tasks facing these schools. When you’ve got a child in class who comes from a home where the parents are disengaged due to their own personal issues in their lives and the student comes to school hungry – that’s a huge challenge.”

So far, only Rocky Heights Elementary School and Highland Hills Elementary School have yet to be adopted. But at Tuesday’s Faith-Based Advisory Committee meeting, Rev. John Jefferies said he believes it won’t be long before one of the city’s churches adopts them, as well.

“We’ll be able to find sponsors for them,” he told the committee.

“Awesome,” said Hackett.

“We’re still in the very early baby steps,” said Hackett. The idea is based on Portland’s 11:45 Program. The program involves church leaders volunteering for one year, once a week for 45 minutes (hence, 11:45) in a particular neighborhood that is experiencing gang behavior.

“Chief Edmiston invited me to Portland to see how the program works over there,” Hackett said. “We just knew there was a way we could do this. So when we got back to Hermiston, we talked with the chief and the schools and asked them to point out two or three areas in Hermiston with the greatest need.”

When it gets off the ground, the Neighborhood Revitalization program may involve simply picking up trash, pulling weeds in the neighborhood and prayer walking.

“The power of that is truly amazing,” he said. The hope, said Hackett, is that if folks see that others care about their neighborhood, they will, in turn, take more of an ownership and work to keep bad elements out. The committee is targeting next spring for the launch of the program.

This is an existing program in which parents, the school district and the criminal justice system take first-time offenders and work with them to ensure that their first offense is also their last offense. It’s a diversion program that allows juveniles to avoid the criminal justice system. They are given a sanction such as community service and placed on a probationary period. If they fulfill all their requirements during their probation, their case is closed and their record is clean.

The role that the Faith-Based Advisory Committee has identified for itself is to create a Mentoring Program to help guide the juveniles and keep them on the right path. When the program gets off the ground, it will involve an initial dinner with the juvenile, his or her parents or guardians and the mentor, who will then continue to work with the juvenile and his family.

The committee is in the process of hiring someone to oversee the Mentoring Program.

“We are really excited about how that’s going to work,” Hackett said.

Hackett is pleased with the work the committee has done in the few months since its formation. He also recognizes the uniqueness of the committee and its partnership with the city.

“I don’t know of any other city that has an advisory committee that is faith based,” he said. “This speaks so highly of our mayor, our city administration and the city council.”