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Changing faces of Quincy change the face of ministry there

As the faces and numbers of Quincy residents have changed through the years, new ministry issues have emerged in the community.

Ginny Johnson

Ginny Johnson

Since the Rev. Ginny Johnson came to serve St. Paul Lutheran Church eight years ago, the community has grown from 3,500 to 5,000 and shifted from about 60 percent Anglo to about 60 percent Hispanic.

The church is also changing.  The early European immigrants settling there were Germans from Russia who came about 100 years ago as dry-land farmers.  They started St. Paul’s as a preaching point about 1903 and formally organized it in 1907, the year the town also incorporated. 

After World War II, there was an influx of Asian and Japanese farmers. 

Dams brought irrigation to the Columbia Basin in the 1950s, and the community grew from 300 to 1,000 people.  Children began to take over their family’s irrigated farmlands.

Hippies and older people with RVs came to pick fruit.  In the late 1960s, the seasonal workers came from Mexico.  At first they migrated from area to area following the harvest opportunities.  Then they began settling and building new lives in Quincy.

St. Paul Lutheran

St. Paul Lutheran

The Lutheran congregation built a new church in 1953 and added a wing with an office and Sunday school rooms by 1963.

“Like Lutheran churches in other communities then, it was the center of community social life, along with the Presbyterian, Catholic, Congregational and other churches,” Ginny said.

Now attendance averages 75 at Sunday worship.  In the summers, families are working on the farm or playing.  In the winter, the older people—snowbirds—leave for warmer climates, and families are in church.  In the fall and spring, about 100 attend worship, because both families and older members come.

As the daughter of a Lutheran army chaplain, Ginny had “lived around ministry in small towns and large cities coast-to-coast from the first grade to college years.”  Her family moved to Tacoma in the 1960s when her father went to Korea and Vietnam.  Then her grandparents moved there, and Washington became her home.

After studies at Pacific Lutheran University in 1977, she married and worked as a secretary.  She went to seminary at Vancouver School of Theology after divorcing.  She completed theological studies in 1994 at Lutheran Northwestern University in St. Paul, Minn., and worked as an associate pastor in Tacoma before she was called to serve in Quincy.

Her first goal in Quincy was to establish trust. 

“Before I came, it had been years since the congregation had a long-term pastor,” Ginny explained, noting that she faced hurdles and quizzing initially as the first full-time woman pastor in the community.

Accepting that testing, she found that once she showed up when someone was sick or helped someone in crisis, the questions ended.

Quincy fountain

Quincy fountain

Now she encourages the congregation to discover what it means for them to be in ministry there. 

Recently, when area Lutheran rural pastors and others in Rural Ministries Resources visited Quincy, she took them on a walking tour of the community to see the changing faces of stores and of people on the street—to see the setting for ministry.

When she moved to Quincy, Ginny faced one of the community’s ministry issues:  housing.

grain elevator

Grain elevator in Quincy

Landlocked by farmland, housing is limited, but some farmland has been converted for development, she said.

Ginny moved into newer housing on the outskirts of town.  New low-income housing near her home stirred controversy at first.

“We needed new housing, but everyone said, ‘Not near me,’” she said.  “Even though people did not want the six four-unit low-income housing buildings near them, the related crime many had feared has not materialized.

 “The housing is monitored well,” she said.  “The buildings are kept up, and people are trying to move up the economic ladder.”

The language barrier is another ministry issue in Quincy.

Rachel Sanchez and Ginny Johnson

Rachel Sanchez and Ginny Johnson

Ginny, who wants to learn Spanish, said it’s hard for people to become acquainted across the English-Spanish barrier. 

So when the church offered to transport children by bus to Sunday school, it was hard to break through the mistrust.

“We passed out fliers in Spanish and English, but few came.  I rarely see adults.  Neighborhood children play together, come on Halloween or to sell things for school projects.

“We are still a small community, so because we have some teachers in our church, I can chat with children on the playground, letting them know I know their teacher.  They speak English.”

Spanish sign

Spanish sign

When some church members questioned why the new residents did not more readily drop Spanish and learn English to fit in, some members of Ginny’s congregation said they remembered when services were in German.  They changed to English during World War II.  Minutes of church meetings in the 1940s and 1950s were in German or English, depending on who recorded them.

“People remember grandparents who never learned to speak English,” she said.  “It takes immigrants a long time before they speak English.  Their children and grandchildren learn English.  Some speak no Spanish.”

Until recently, the Lutheran church housed an after-school program and a summer camp for children of Hispanic families.

Quincy First Presbyterian and the Spanish Assembly of God churches build bridges among their churches by offering a joint vacation Bible school.

Racism, another ministry issue, relates to the language barrier.

While there are a few mixed families in the Lutheran church, many are cautious about the new residents, Ginny noted.

“For some, it does not matter. For others, it is hard.  As a church, we want to welcome anyone, but we worship and conduct our meetings and gatherings in English, so it is hard to be welcoming,” Ginny said.

“How can we be God’s people and extend God’s grace into a community that is changing?  What does it mean?  We are much like an inner city church looking out its doors and seeing the neighborhood changing,” she said.  “Some are in denial.  Some are in pain because the church and community are not what they used to be.”

Some church and community members have participated in recent “Dismantling Racism” workshops hosted by the Presbyterian pastor, the Rev. Ann Hinz. 

“The church is not as large as it once was, so it’s important to equip people to do ministry here, to deal with racism, to minister to the community that is here,” Ginny said.

Cultural and economic dynamics also affect ministry.


Quincy Market

Quincy is 39 miles from Moses Lake and 35 from Wenatchee.  A few people come from there and some go there for work, but the community has jobs for most people in town. 

Quincy is still an agricultural area with orchards and farms, despite the “crunch” on farms.  There are processing plants for potatoes, apples and vegetables, plus a fertilizer plant.  Other businesses include a bank, an insurance agent, a real estate agent and a financial advisor.

There are Mexican businesses in the downtown core. While some stores cater specifically to Mexicans, most carry items for Mexican shoppers and many have Spanish signs and staff.

The street looks like both a small U.S. town and a small Mexican town,” Ginny said, “with a mix of shops, signs, languages and products.  One shop specializes in white dresses for Mexican girls’ 15th birthday parties.

“These celebrations are held in the Catholic Church, which is a mixed congregation.  Recent priests have been from Colombia, serving both the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking congregations,” she said.

Farm economics also influences ministry.

Quincy area field

Quincy area field

While some farm children do not return after college because of farm economics, other children come back to teach, she said.

“Many farmers are struggling, caught between the rising costs of fertilizer and labor, and falling prices for their crops,” Ginny explained.  “Many farmers who employ Hispanic workers seek to be just employers and give them fair wages. 

“Many face turnover in workers, because they do not know if those they hire have legitimate Social Security numbers.  In picking season, they hire those  who come.  Occasionally, the Immigration and Naturalization Service sweeps through the community, taking illegal workers.

“Mexican families have settled here to build a better life for themselves and support their families here and in Mexico.  While there are still many single migrant men, those with families settle in the community and find better jobs,” Ginny said. 

Many go to Mexico in the winter when they are not working, so it’s hard on the school system.  Children begin school, leave for two or three months and return for the end of the year, she said.

Ecumenical relations are another factor in ministry.

Many larger churches have two congregations—Spanish-speaking and English-speaking. 

There are 22 churches in Quincy.  The Ministerial Association includes the United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assembly of God, a nondenominational church, the Free Methodist, Four Square Gospel, Spanish speaking Assembly of God and Catholic Anglo and Hispanic congregations.

They  cooperate to identify and address the ministry issues.

For information, call 787-2824

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © June 2005