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Man of the cloth - and mountain

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Adam Jenkins, the new assistant minister at Gresham United Methodist Church, will work to bring youth into the church. If you saw young Adam Jenkins with his long, curly hair, neat beard and jeans at the local coffee shop, you might size him up as an app developer, graphics artist or maybe snowboard instructor.

On that last count, you’d be correct, but you’d also be missing a key element: Jenkins’ new day job is ministering to the faithful at Gresham United Methodist Church.

The 27-year-old Virginia native was recently named assistant minister for the flock of about 250 souls at 620 N.W. Eighth St., Gresham.

“He’s very smart and he has the entrepreneurial skills and creative imagination to build programs,” said Dr. Steven Lewis, senior minister at Gresham United Methodist. “This is a growing congregation and there is a lot of excitement around that.”

In addition to expanding programs at the Gresham church, Lewis and Jenkins are also working to create the Rockwood Center at the Rockwood United Methodist Church. Lewis hopes the new neighborhood center will get some financial support from the city of Gresham and will house multiple community services such as a coffee shop, preschool and day care and an instrument loan program for children who want to participate in school music programs but can’t afford to buy or rent instruments.

“His title is assistant minister and he will assist with everything,” Lewis said, including the new Rockwood Center. “He’ll be working with me here to keep the congregation vibrant.”

Jenkins jokes that he grew up a “Bathodist,” attending both his mom’s Methodist Church and his dad’s Baptist church. “I went back and forth. But that started me thinking about theology,” he said.

Why did one congregation say certain prayers, believe certain things or sing certain songs and the other didn’t, he wondered.

His interest tipped toward Methodism.

“I’ve always been very active in the Methodist church,” Jenkins said, noting he went to the national annual Methodist conference at the tender age of 14. “People kept coming up to me and asking me to speak” at Methodist events. “I was more interested in mission trips. I wanted to do the work of the church out in the world. But people kept saying ‘You’d be a good pastor.’ I always ran from that.”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Jenkins, in his windowless church office, discusses what drew him to the ministry. Winning combination

Jenkins attended undergraduate school at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., majoring in economics and business. But he couldn’t let go of the spiritual wondering. So he also got two minors, one in ethics and another in religious studies.

David Brat, a Randolph-Macon economics professor and Virginia congressman who also has a divinity degree, pulled Jenkins deeper into contemplating his calling.

“He got me thinking,” he said. “I always loved philosophy. While I was running from the ministry, it was really speaking to me.”

Jenkins decided to get away to clear his mind after graduation. A self-taught snowboarder, Jenkins moved across country to California and perfected his riding skills sufficiently to teach snowboarding while he contemplated his future.

After taking in some brisk mountain air, he settled on Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, Calif., where he earned his graduate degree in divinity.

“I always felt called to Southern California. I was attracted to the religious diversity,” he said.

Jenkins has enjoyed spiritual travel for years. When he was in high school he went with a group to Corrymeela Community on the North Coast of Ireland. He was moved by the peacemaking community, which believes people can learn to live and work well together. Jenkins did two mission trips to Cambodia in 2010 and again in 2015.

Jenkins has a steady girlfriend, Abbie, and the relationship exemplifies his appreciation of religious diversity. Abbie is Jewish. The couple met in graduate school, and she will join him in Gresham after she finishes a stint as a hospital chaplain in Tacoma, Wash.

Jenkins said they complement each other spiritually and help each other work on knotty problems that pop up in their work. Jenkins enthusiastically attends Jewish Shabbat services with her on Saturdays.

Reverend Lewis also considers the diversity a strength.

“It is a very beautiful interfaith relationship and an added blessing for us as a congregation,” he said.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Assistant minister Adam Jenkins is a certified snowboard instructor. Climbing the mountain

Jenkins’ first gig as a minister was a year-long assignment as the sole pastor at First United Methodist Church in The Dalles. Lewis explained that First United is a teaching church. Beginner ministers spend a year there and then move on. After his year was up, Lewis hired Jenkins.

“Real-world ministry is the most important thing to me,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins conducts the normal Sunday services when Lewis is absent. He preaches the sermon on some Sundays. He works on church projects and frees Lewis up to do the same. Jenkins is teaching an adult class on religious symbolism. He also is working on becoming an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church, which he describes as “a long and involved process.”

Jenkins also leads youth groups at the church. He understands that his youth and hip demeanor should be exploited.

“I can reach out and bring young people into the church,” he said.

He is working on putting together activities that children would be interested in. He plans some service projects and an end-of-the-school-year bash with a big bonfire that students can feed with their old-school assignments. “And, there will definitely be a snowboarding trip,” he laughs.

For Jenkins, snowboarding and ministry go hand-in-hand.

“Getting outside in creation helps me define my Christianity,” he said, noting there is nothing more sacred than “playing in God’s creation.

“The mountain is a very spiritual place for me to be.”