CAMAS — Camas Mayor Scott Higgins honored the Camas United Methodist Church with the Mayor’s Volunteer Spirit Award this week, thanking Pastor Richenda Fairhurst and her congregants for sponsoring the city’s annual Movies in the Park event for the past 10 years.
It was the first time that the volunteer spirit award has gone to a church and Rev. Fairhurst says she is honored by the award because it helps shed light on her congregation’s efforts to serve the greater Camas community.
“Here we are in this lovely community … and we get to ask, ‘How can we serve the community, the families in this area?’” Fairhurst says. “We are one of the smaller churches. We’re more intimate … but we do what we can for the community.”
It’s easy to become so tightly enmeshed with your church family that the needs of the outside community get lost, Fairhurst explains, but people who attend the historic Camas United Methodist Church — one of Camas’ very first churches — seem to thrive when they’re helping others in the Camas community.
“Service to the community was really what Christ taught us,” Fairhurst says. “And we want to live by that example.”
In fact, Fairhurst says, the Camas United Methodist Church is known for the number of “movers and shakers” it seems to attract.
“The people who find their way here seem to have so much energy, so much heart. Giving back to the community is a big part of the culture here,” she says.
Byron Boyd, a lay leader at the church, agrees that the small congregation, which totals 132 members but usually attracts about 55 people to its regular Sunday services, has something special when it comes to community service and the feeling of being a part of something special.
“I’m from Seattle, so I was used to big, downtown churches there and in Portland,” Byron says. “When I first came here, I thought, ‘Wow, it’s so small’ and I wasn’t used to it. But there’s a feeling of being in a family here. You feel safe. Like you could leave your kids with another member of the church and not have to worry about them. It’s so different from the big churches I was used to.”
Tatiana Kolchanova, a church congregant and world-class musician who spent most of her life in Moscow, Russia, where she earned her doctorate at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory, before moving to the United States 10 years ago and finding the Camas United Methodist Church a little more than three years ago, agrees with Boyd’s assessment. She says the moment she walked into the United Methodist Church’s sanctuary — constructed in the 1950s to amplify sound, making it a perfect space for a lifelong musician, she knew she’d found her church home.
“It’s hard to find your church,” Kolchanova says. “When I came here, I knew. And I work on Sundays … most musicians work on Sundays … but I can always feel the church in me on Sunday. This church is so different. I love the environment here.”
Fairhurst says Boyd and Kolchanova are perfect examples of the types of people who find their home at the Camas United Methodist Church. They both volunteer their time and talents to help the community — Boyd helps plan the Friday night Movies in the Park each August, a city event that draws hundreds of local families out for four to five evenings each summer for a night of free, family-friendly fun, complete with arts and crafts, food vendors and, of course, a movie on a giant screen once the sun goes down. Kolchanova runs a community orchestra that meets weekly at the church and brings together musicians from across the region, musicians of all levels and ages who play together and learn from each other.
“They have big hearts,” Fairhurst says of her volunteer-oriented congregants. She credits other members, such as Stan Smith and Diana and Chad Sterle for helping the church sponsor the Movies in the Park event each year for the past 10 years; and points to the church’s annual blueberry pancake breakfast, which takes an extraordinary amount of volunteer-power to serve up hundreds of blueberry pancakes, made with blueberries from congregant Vicki Duchesneau’s Valley View Blueberries farm, in order to raise money for the annual Movies in the Park event.
Boyd says a large part of the credit for the church’s volunteer award should go to Fairhurst. A history-book author turned pastor, Fairhurst is relatively new to the Camas Methodist church. She has been pastor there for three years, but Boyd, who was a part of the church congregation for nearly four years before Fairhurst arrived, says the new pastor brought a sense of can-do energy to the church.
“She gave us focus through her love, her wisdom and her perspective,” Boyd says of Fairhurst.
The pastor smiles and shakes her head at the compliment: “It’s a God thing,” she tells Boyd. “God made me with a big voice and a long arm span!”
“She’s humble, but she’s responsible for this,” Boyd says of Fairhurst.
Kolchanova agrees: “I’m always lifted and inspired by her,” she says of Fairhurst. “And she won’t tell you, but she has a lovely singing voice.”
Thanking her church family for their compliments, Fairhurst gets serious. She says she feels lucky to be a part of the Camas United Methodist Church and that the congregation was ready to expand their reach into the community when she arrived three years ago.
“We’ve done a lot in a short time,” Fairhurst says. “But they were so ready to make a difference.”
This weekend, at 3 p.m., Sat., Oct. 22, the church will host its fourth benefit concert event to help raise money for its children’s ministry programs, including the summer drama program, which teaches children the art of storytelling, and Project Transformation, a literacy and meal program for children struggling to meet grade-level reading benchmarks.
Kennedy Violins, a Vancouver shop offering violin sales, lessons, rentals and repairs, sponsors the church’s twice-annual benefit concerts. This year’s Autumn Benefit Concert features the Grazioso Duo, a musical group comprised of Kolchanova and Nilda Curtis, a graduate of Cuba’s Conservatory of Music, and special guest artist Liberty Broillet, a Portland native and principal flutist for the Portland Columbia Symphony. Together, the three women will perform a variety of classical works by composers such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
There are no tickets required for the concert, but donations are gladly accepted to help fund the church’s children’s ministry programs. The concert is open to all ages and childcare will be provided for younger children who, Fairhurst says, may love the sound of the music, but be too energetic to sit through an entire concert. Parking is often limited, so Fairhurst encourages concertgoers to come a little early if they’re hoping to find a good parking spot.
The Autumn Benefit Concert is at 3 p.m., Sat., Oct. 22, at the Camas United Methodist Church, 706 N.E. 14th Ave., Camas. For more information, visit www.camaschurch.org.