Arizona isn’t so far from Javier Olivares Jr.’s native Texas, except that he came to the United Methodist Church of Payson via New Jersey — at least most recently.
Olivares served the Methodist Church in west Phoenix from 2000 to 2006 and then was sent to Jefferson, N.J. He was appointed to serve in Payson and began his work at the church July 1.
While Olivares was born in Texas, he grew up in Mexico and entered the ministry there, serving the Methodist Church of Mexico. He says the ministry is not the family business, but his grandfather, an uncle and a cousin are all ministers. His wife, Alma, also holds a master’s of divinity degree and could serve as a pastor, but right now she is taking some time off to raise the couple’s two children, Natalia, 14, and Esteban, 8.
“I didn’t want to become a pastor until I was about 19,” he said, adding he was drawn to the service by passion and compassion for the people.
The move to Payson from the small town and church he and his family served in New Jersey was a bit of a culture shock, he said. However, the congregation has been very generous and welcoming.
“They embraced me and my family without knowing us. They were very supportive in our move,” he said.
The members of Payson UMC helped Olivares and his family find a house, get the children registered for school and more.
“They made sure we had a comfortable, smooth transition,” he said.
Olivares said he had been impressed with how involved the congregation and church are with the community. He said UMC helps with the Payson Area Habitat for Humanity program, the Time Out shelter, Payson Community Kids, the Tonto Community Concert Association and the Payson Choral Society.
The church and congregation also made a commitment to serve Payson through its day care program.
Just as Olivares and his family are still transitioning to life in Payson, he said the church is in a time of transition too.
“We are trying to redefine our mission. We want to bring younger families into the congregation,” he said.
Among the ideas he and the church leaders are exploring are perhaps doing a service during the week designed to appeal to younger people with music and technology.
“If ASU becomes a reality, we hope to build a ministry with the students,” he said.
In the meantime, with the holiday season approaching, Olivares and his congregation are busy preparing for a number of special services.
First, the church will have its annual Stewardship Banquet at 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 7.
The service for the banquet will include a discussion of where the church’s missions have been successful and those that need help, and the congregation will be asked to pledge financial support for a variety of things.
The following Sunday, Olivares said he and the members of the congregation are going to start a conversation about where each of them is from. He said the goal is to help ease some of the tensions arising from the immigration debate.
Later in November, Olivares and the UMC congregation will host the ecumenical Thanksgiving service with members of the Community Presbyterian, Mount Cross Lutheran and St. Paul’s Episcopal churches. The choirs of all the churches will participate, along with hand bell choirs. The service is planned for 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 23. He said the church would also have a Thanksgiving dinner for those with no one with whom to share the holiday.
When not at the church, Olivares said he enjoys playing soccer with his children, walking the family Chihuahua, going to see movies, getting out to stores in the community and going to the park and library.
He is also working on his master’s of divinity degree, taking online courses and occasionally going back to New Jersey for some intensive training. Olivares hopes to have earned the remaining 15 credits by May 2012, he said.
To learn more about the United Methodist Church of Payson and its upcoming special services, call (928) 474-0485.