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Women in Silver Valley church help feed 30 children in Uganda

A small group of elderly women in a small North Idaho church with little money now help feed more than 30 children each day in a school in Nambirizi, Uganda.

Through an exchange of emails with the school’s coordinator, they learned the children have little food.  For five cents a day, a child can have millet porridge. 

At first, the women sent $50 four times a year, then $50 bimonthly and now $50 a month with the help of the diocese, other churches and individuals.

Jane Nelson-Low
The Rev. Jane Nelson-Low

Through storytelling and connecting with people, the Rev Jane Nelson-Low has introduced women in Wallace and Kellogg, Idaho, to people around the world, opening their eyes to common concerns and experiences.

“For many small churches, outreach seems too big to handle, but there are ways to be involved, because money goes further in Uganda,” she said.  “It opened the world to people here.  They are excited about the project and feel good about the church.

 “My neighborhood is large,” she said.  “It includes Uganda, Palestine and South Africa.”

Her neighborhood also includes women she met last February and March at the 2007 United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in New York City.  She attended as part of the 80-member international Anglican delegation that participated in the non-governmental organization (NGO) events held simultaneously with the official meetings.

The congregation has been interested to learn what Jane learned about “The Girl Child,” the 2007 theme—such issues as child marriages, girl soldiers, prostitution, trafficking and mutilation.  She plans to go to the 2008 session on fair trade and microfinance.

“What makes things real is to tell stories of a particular woman, not discuss general issues,” she said.  “For example, an African woman told me how hard it is for a girl in her village to stay in school because girls and women spend much of their day going to get water.  They don’t have time for school or studies.

“I work their stories into sermons,” she said.  “In small communities where people have spent most of their lives, few are aware of what is going on in the rest of the world.  Part of my job is to help make them aware.

“Women in the Silver Valley have stability from having friends since grade school.  That stability can mean resistance to change, but it often fosters tolerance for the ‘eccentricity’ of people they have known for years,” she said.  “There is understanding and patience, accepting people as part of the community.”

In 2004, Jane started as supply pastor for Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Kellogg and Holy Trinity Episcopal in Wallace.  Then she served part-time.  At first, the combined congregation traveled alternate weeks to Emmanuel and then to Holy Trinity. 

Since October, she has been full-time pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Silver Valley, which now worships in Wallace.

Work to merge the churches led to sale of Emmanuel on Oct. 14 to All Nations Christian Center in Spokane.  The last service at Emmanuel was Oct. 26.   Funds from the sale made it possible to call her to serve full time.

Having worship in the same place each week means the church can attract newcomers and more parishioners.  Previously, some were unsure where services were.

The church is adding an 8:30 a.m. Sunday service, plus holding a 2:30 p.m. service Wednesdays at Mountain Valley Care and Rehabilitation Center in Kellogg.

Holy Trinity, founded in 1885, is in a Kirtland Cutter building built in 1910.

Most of the 40 members have lived in the Silver Valley a long time.  Most are elderly.  Younger members  are in their mid-50s. 

The congregation draws people from Cataldo to Mullen along I-90.  Shoshone County has a population of 12,000, Wallace, 1,000, and Kellogg, 2,500. 

For a long time, the Silver Valley was a mining area.  Most mines shut down in the 1980s and the focus of the economy shifted to recreation.  With the price of heavy metals up, mines are becoming active again and have hired staff.  Silver Mountain, once drawing winter recreation only, is planning a water park, a golf course and bike trails on old rail lines.  As a result, real estate prices are up and there is a shortage of workforce housing.

In an area often viewed as conservative, Jane brings a commitment to social justice as integral to the Gospel.  She has introduced it slowly, in small ways.

She is the only woman pastor and the only mainline church pastor in an area where evangelical, pentecostal and independent churches predominate. 

From 11 years with her former husband in Kenyon City in Eastern Oregon, rearing three sons in a home heated with wood, tending livestock and a big garden, she understands rural living.

She moved back to the Portland, Ore., area, where she had completed pre-med studies at Linfield College in 1970 before living in Kenyon City.  She found a job at Good Samaritan Ministries, which “shares unconditional Samaritan love with the world through education and counseling.”

Four years later, Jane decided to study at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.  She did field work with the Center for the Christian Study of Urban Ministry and for the Catholic Charities AIDS division.  She also served an Anglo-Catholic Church with people affected by AIDS.  Jane began to focus on justice and outreach.

After graduating in 1991, she spent seven years as associate at Christ’s Church in Lake Oswego, Ore., doing adult education and outreach.  She volunteered at an AIDS hospice.

In 1995, she went to Uganda to a school the church’s outreach committee started.  She also helped the church sponsor a Bosnian refugee family and made two trips to the West Bank and Gaza.

She worked briefly with World Vision and served two years at a church in Scottsdale, Ariz., before coming to the Cathedral of St. John in Spokane in 2000.

Bringing those ties and concerns to the Silver Valley, her connections have helped personalize those commitments.

Since Good Samaritan Ministries matched the church with the Ugandan school, the congregation’s commitment has grown.

In addition to the mission project, Jane has introduced a women’s study group to issues raised at the UN’s 1995 Conference on Women in Beijing.

“Recently they discussed women’s health in other areas of the world, learning that many women lack access to health care.  Then the women discussed local access, telling of friends unable to afford pap smears and mammograms, lacking consistent health care and going only when there is an acute problem.  They told of church and community members who have no health insurance or Medicare,” Jane said.  “They discussed how hard it is for low-income people to be insured.

“We start by looking at an issue in a far-away place, interweave Scripture, look at the issue in general and realize it’s in our own community,” she said.

Then they pray about the concern and ask what they will do as a result of their new awareness.

On hunger, they talked about far away places where women and girls are the last to eat, eating only if there is enough.  Then they discussed local hunger.

Unequal access to education, violence against women, effects of conflict on women, economic disparities, and inequalities in decision-making are other topics.

At the UN gathering on the status of women, Jane learned that the U.S. government has ratified neither the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) nor the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Both passed the UN and most member nations ratified them, but not the United States, even though U.S. representatives helped draft them.

Jane submitted a resolution at the Diocesan Convention in October at Post Falls, calling for churches to discuss the UN conventions on women and children, and asking members to urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve them.  The resolution passed.

For information, call 208-752- 7031 or email jnlow@usamedia.tv.