Colville pastor has long been involved in ecumenical, interfaith advocacy
For the last two years, Jim CastroLang, part-time pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Colville, has found an outlet for his call to ministry at the intersection of faith and advocacy through serving on the Faith Action Network (FAN) Board of Directors.
Involvement in ecumenical and interfaith advocacy is not new to him. In the 1990s, he was on the board of the Washington Association of Churches, which merged with the Lutheran Public Policy Office in 2011 to form FAN as a statewide interfaith movement to promote the common good.
"We leverage the influence and passion of the interfaith community to advocate for a just society," he said. "Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims and people of other faiths comprise a growing network of more than 140 communities and more than 6,800 individuals across Washington that believe advocacy and justice work are part of our religious calling."
Jim said FAN provides "a persistent moral voice and visible public witness committed to compassion and inclusiveness, improving the quality of life for people in the state."
While it receives some denominational support, FAN relies on donations from individuals, businesses and local churches, so he is organizing an Eastern Washington opportunity for people to learn about and support FAN by streaming a live feed of FAN's Annual Dinner, which raises a third of its budget, to the Glover House in Spokane. In Renton, nearly 500 supporters will gather at 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18.
In Spokane, Jim expects 30 to 50 will hear the keynote and other speakers there, as well as local speakers.
Live streaming technology brings Jim's computer and tech savvy into play. He attends many bimonthly FAN Board meetings by Zoom video conferencing. He is committed to making online meeting tools more stable and training people to include those who are not in the room.
Bringing FAN's Annual Dinner to Spokane is part of an effort to expand to Eastern Washington what happens on the West Side to influence the State Legislature in Olympia and to educate people on community and state issues.
Jim said FAN is different from the early ecumenical model of sharing faith to find unity.
"We honor our faith traditions, and assume our faiths call us to be involved in common work to affect legislation in Olympia, to help people connect their faith with what is happening at the state and federal levels," he said.
"It's important for the faith community to be at events, to stand beside people who care, to do community organizing," he said. "We partner with organizations working for the same goals. We can advocate for and endorse initiatives and bills, but cannot give financial support."
Jim said that FAN has always been involved with issues related to poverty and people who live on the edge.
"We are involved with immigration issues," he said. "We work quietly behind the scenes as well as in the spotlight. We engage people to empower them to be part of action."
FAN also has a presence at gatherings, discussions and marches, Jim said, so the goal is to have a more visible presence in Eastern Washington beyond activists who participate in fall and spring clusters and summits to help shape the issue priorities.
He represents FAN on the planning committee for the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference organized with The Fig Tree, Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington, the United Methodist District, the NAACP, Earth Ministry and others.
"That's now the biggest moment of FAN visibility on this side," Jim said.
He is also FAN representative on Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience, which organized partly around the Poor People's Campaign.
"People are engaged through their faith communities because their religious traditions compel them to go into society to make it a better place for everyone," Jim said. "We partner because we believe God created the universe and humanity for the common good. When a group or individual is denied opportunities, it is our moral responsibility to right that wrong."
FAN programs educate people on issues of economic, racial, social and environmental justice; build relationships to organize communities; monitor and advocate for local, state and national legislation; join in public witness with coalition partners to stand against injustice in the public square, and share resources statewide.
Jim has been in ministry since his ordination as a Catholic priest in Colorado. In 1992, his ordination was recognized in the United Church of Christ.
"All I do in the political realm is out of my passion and commitment as a person of faith," he said.
When he lived in Olympia, he chaired the Associated Ministries of Thurston County Board, and in Nebraska was on the Nebraska Council of Churches Board.
"My faith compels me to work across religious traditions to make this a better, more just society," he said, noting that the "centerpiece of the UCC goal for maturing in faith is not to seek to be in heaven in another world but to make real the heaven God intended here in our midst on earth."
Growing up, Jim lived in New York City, Baltimore suburbs and Southern California. He moved to Denver when he was 15, was in seminary after high school for eight years before being ordained as a priest in 1981 in the Archdiocese of Denver.
In 1982, while struggling with leaving the priesthood, he was drawn to the Northwest by the ministry of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen in Seattle. He and his future wife, Andy, came to Seattle for "space" to discern.
Jim was in Concerned Catholics, advocating for Hunthausen while the Vatican investigated him from 1985 to 1987. In 1985, he and Andy, whom he had fallen in love with in Colorado, were working in lay positions in Catholic churches. Then they began attending the United Churches of Olympia. They married in 1985.
"After finding the UCC, we haven't looked back," said Jim, who was mentored for more than a year by a pastor on the UCC Committee on Ministry.
Andy went on staff with United Churches of Olympia, and decided to go to San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1995. After a year, Jim and their two children moved to the Bay area, where he was half-time interim pastor at South Berkeley Community UCC and worked with an internet security startup company, becoming vice president of operations in two years.
Jim, who had his first computer in 1984, had worked at an Apple Store in North Seattle.
In Olympia, he worked six years with the Department of Social and Health Services information systems, digging into use of technology with real people and organizations.
While Andy served four years as a pastor in Nebraska, he continued to consult with the Bay area internet company.
Since Andy was called as pastor at Westminster UCC in Spokane in 2002, Jim has found various opportunities. He was interim pastor two years, commuting to First Congregational UCC in Walla Walla. For two years, he was interim pastor at Zion Philadelphia UCC in Ritzville, worked for a year-and-a-half at a cell phone store, covered during a sabbatical leave for Veradale UCC's pastor and, for nine years, has been part-time pastor at Colville.
The Colville church, he said, has been a church in transition, identifying as a progressive church and voice in town, and learning how to be that voice without alienating people.
Now "semi-retired"—working 16 rather than 20 hours a week in Colville—Jim fills his calendar with the FAN Board, the Stewardship Committee of the Pacific Northwest UCC Conference, and child care as grandpa one day a week.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, October2018