Kennewick church pays it forward

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldDecember 21, 2013 

Grace Clinic donation

Dave Hare a member of the Kennewick first United Methodist Church gives a $10,000 donation from the church to Mark Brault, president of Grace Clinic in Kennewick. At left is Rev. Jerry Poole, a pastor at the church and Bob Kelly a Grace Clinic board member. The late Bill Owens attended Sunday school at the church on West Kennewick Avenue as a boy. Although he apparently wasn't an active member of the congregation in his later years, he bequeathed the church about $970,000, $10,000 of which the church donated to the clinic for computers for electronic records management.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

First United Methodist Church in downtown Kennewick donated $10,000 to Grace Clinic last week.

This week, it's scheduled to make a similar gift to Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels.

More donations to groups in the Tri-Cities and beyond are planned -- a chain reaction of generosity set off by a donation from a Tri-City farmer who died in 2006.

The farmer, John Wilbur "Bill" Owens, attended Sunday school at the church on West Kennewick Avenue as a boy. Although he apparently wasn't an active member of the congregation in his later years, he bequeathed the church about $970,000.

The church received the gift in fall 2012.

Pastor Jerry Poole said church leaders believe God calls his faithful to tithe, and "so we decided we would tithe that gift from Bill Owens and give 10 percent of it away."

The gift to Grace Clinic is going toward an electronic medical records system -- something that will improve efficiency and patient care. The clinic on West Canal Drive in Kennewick offers free medical care and related services to the uninsured in the Tri-Cities.

Mark Brault, president, told the Herald ahead of the check presentation last week that support from groups like First United Methodist Church is "essential to what we do."

For the local Meals on Wheels, the timing of the church's donation is good. The meals program, part of the nonprofit Senior Life Resources Northwest in Kennewick, is facing a budget gap next year that could lead to a reduction in services, and it's reached out to the community for help. First United Methodist Church is scheduled to present its donation to the program Monday.

The church -- which draws between 200 and 250 people on any given Sunday -- dates to 1902, with a distinctive brick sanctuary building that's stood downtown since the 1920s.

Throughout its rich history, the church has experienced periods of growth. There have been hard times too, including during the Great Depression, when the church struggled to make its mortgage payments. Some faithful members of the congregation stepped in, including one man -- C.G. Campbell, who like Owens, was a farmer. Campbell "mortgaged his own farm to save the church," according to a church history provided by Poole.

When it comes to Owens' gift, the pastor said, church leaders feel fortunate and grateful.

"Though it comes from Mr. Owens, I think we see it as a gift from God," he said. "We have an opportunity and a responsibility to follow God's guidance and do some good things with it -- both to encourage our people and the community in good stewardship as well as to help meet some needs in the community and beyond."

w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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