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Colville pastor retires to ministry with refugees

Jim CastroLang, who retires in December after 13 years as pastor at First Congregational UCC in Colville, has begun a new ministry as operations manager of Thrive International’s program in a former Spokane motel that is now housing Ukrainian refugees.

Jim Castrolang begins work with refugees.

The church will hold a farewell Dec. 18 and his last service will be on Christmas Eve.

Jim’s ministry began as a Catholic priest in Colorado, but his roots are in New York City and Long Island, where his father grew up in an Italian and Greek neighborhood and his mother grew up in an Irish neighborhood.

Three of my four grandparents were not born in this country,” he said of his connection to refugee work.

His family moved to Baltimore, Southern California and then to Colorado when he was 15. After graduating from high school in 1977, his college and seminary studies were at St. Thomas College and Seminary in Denver, where he earned a master of divinity. After serving two years as a priest in the 1980s, he saw no future for himself in the Catholic Church.

Jim had met Andy, a Catholic lay campus minister whom he later married. In 1982, he moved to Tacoma, then Seattle and then Olympia.  He did odd jobs and lay positions in the Catholic Church while he figured out what was next.

In 1986, he spent nine months in broadcast school to become a producer of morning news and do a talk show on KING-TV. Then he worked for the House Democratic Caucus in Olympia and did information systems with the Department of Social and Health Services.

In Olympia, Jim and Andy became involved with the United Churches of Olympia, after the church asked her to be youth minister. They joined as UCC, appreciating a non-hierarchal church.

“I found the Catholic power structure often conflicted with the theology of God’s unconditional love,” Jim commented.

“My life has had two tracks, the ministry track and everything else I have done,” Jim said. “While I left the priesthood, I did not leave my calling to ministry. In 1992, I received privilege of call in the UCC.”

He served the South Berkely Community UCC from 1996 to 1998, while Andy was in seminary. While there, he also worked with a startup security software company, and continued consulting with them after they moved in 1998 to Nebraska, where Andy served two small churches. For two years there, he did children’s ministry at one of them.

In 2002, Andy accepted a call to Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane.

Jim’s ministry and jobs varied, including two intentional interims from 2002 to 2004 at First Congregational in Walla Walla and 2005 to 2007 at Ritzville Zion-Philadelphia, plus a three-month sabbatical interim in 2007 at Veradale UCC.

He has served the Colville church since 2009.

“Like many churches it struggles with finances and numbers, but I helped the people grow spiritually and theologically, and understand why we are in the UCC,” he said.

“Now they hold each other together as a church that believes in unconditional love in the midst of a world of churches that exclude people. They want to be part of a community that has open doors,” Jim said.

Many of the 15 committed members travel to visit family and grandchildren, so Zoom helps keep them connected.

“We are the oldest church, and the most progressive, inclusive church in town,” he said.

In 2012, when the church became open and affirming, members received hate mail. 

“It scared some, but now they are glad they made that decision,” he said.

Over the years, Jim has been involved with the PNC. While in Olympia, he was on the Board of Directors. For six years in the 2000s, he was on the Church Development Committee. He also served on Worship and Spiritual Life.

For five years since 2014, he coordinated communications and “tech stuff” for PNC Annual Meetings, and two years did the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference on Zoom during COVID.

In Colville, he put the church on Zoom before COVID, so when COVID came and they already had a laptop connected to a big screen.

“From all on Zoom, they moved to have just the pastor, music and lay leader do worship in the sanctuary. Two who did not have computer access could sit in the back,” he said.

Jim has served on the board of the Faith Action Network (FAN) for five years and started FAN’s Spokane Dinner in 2018.

“We share interfaith stories and learn respect. We make decisions based on the common faith we bring to make more compassion and justice for people,” Jim said. “When faith communities act together there is a unique power base motivated by faith perspectives.”

When Andy decided to retire from Westminster in August 2022, he decided to leave Colville to be in Spokane more.

Then he read an article that Mark Finney was leaving as director of World Relief and seeking to help refugees for more than three months.

Thrive International opened transitional housing in June in a motel near downtown, where refugees gain stability so they can thrive.

Jim offered to help.

The center started with Ukrainian refuges, because funding was available.

“They are grateful to have a place to catch their breath after experiencing trauma in the war,” said Jim, who became operations manager.

Even though it is an administrative role, he hears their stories of trauma, not just from the war but also from leaving behind all their belongings, their culture and family members.

“We provide three to six months of housing. The first two are subsidized, then they pay a portion of their rent. In mid-September, some moved to permanent housing and others on the waiting list moved in.”

Forty families are on the waiting list.

Thrive now has some city funds to use with any refugees, so Jim expects the community will become more diverse.

In the midst of knowing their experiences, he values their smiles and gratitude.

For information, call 509-998-7203 or email


 Winter Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News © December 2022


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