Cross­ing de­nom­i­na­tional lines

Area churches join to­gether to reach com­mu­nity, de­spite the­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences

The Covington News - - RELIGION - By Michelle Kim

When vol­un­teers come to the Com­mu­nity Food Pantry in Cov­ing­ton to sort, buy or de­liver emer­gency food re­lief to fam­i­lies in need, they don’t come just as Bap­tists or Methodists or Pres­by­te­ri­ans or Catholics or Pen­te­costals. They come be­cause they’re con­cerned about fam­i­lies who don’t have enough to eat.

“They’re just good peo­ple,” said Ros­alee Thompson, di­rec­tor of the pantry.

The pantry, which as­sisted over 3,400 peo­ple last year, was es­tab­lished two decades ago when pas­tors from churches near down­town Cov­ing­ton who had run their own food pantries, in­clud­ing First Pres­by­te­rian, Bethel Bara Bap­tist, Beth­le­hem Bap­tist, Grace United Methodist, First United Methodist, First Bap­tist and Good Shep­ard Epis­co­pal, re­al­ized the com­mu­nity might be bet­ter served with one cen­trally lo­cated food pantry. Un­der the aus­pices of the Min­is­ter’s Union, they formed the Com­mu­nity Food Pantry, which runs with help from a plethora of groups such as churches, civic groups, schools, busi­nesses and char­i­ties.

It’s just one of the many projects, or­ga­ni­za­tions and events across New­ton County that came about be­cause churches reached across de­nom­i­na­tional, racial and cul­tural lines for the bet­ter­ment of the com­mu­nity in gen­eral.

Other ex­am­ples in­clude FaithWorks, a non­profit started in 2006 made up of 26 sup­port­ing churches that pro­vides emer­gency hous­ing and util­i­ties pay­ment re­lief for peo­ple in need. “On the Roads With Je­sus,” an an­nual trash pickup project held ear­lier this year, saw the ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of 22 churches across the county. There are also count­less re­vivals, fundrais­ers, wor­ship ses­sions and com­mu­nity events that bring churches to­gether.

“There’s long been the ef­fort and the de­sire of churches to col­lab­o­rate to­gether,” said Pas­tor David Payne of The Church at Cov­ing­ton.

While the con­cept of col­lab­o­ra­tion is not new to New­ton County, what is new is the im­pact of th­ese ef­forts.

The Rev. Eric Lee of Spring­field Bap­tist Church pointed out that the churches that are col­lab­o­rat­ing are do­ing so more ef­fec­tively.

He said that this was in part be­cause of greater re­sources and bet­ter com­mu­nity out­reach.

Ef­fi­cien­cy­was one of the main rea­sons that churches came to­gether for FaithWorks, which was five years in the mak­ing, said Chair­man Bob Fur­nad.

“It’s a more ef­fec­tive use of their money to pool it to­gether and sup­port one en­tity,” said Fur­nad. That en­tity then has the man­power to process all the re­quests for aid that in­di­vid­ual churches sim­ply don’t have the re­sources to do. It’s also eas­ier for the com­mu­nity to have one place to go for aid in­stead of can­vass­ing the in­di­vid­ual churches.

Eastridge re­al­ized, af­ter the first year of hold­ing the “On the Roads With Je­sus” within their church, that the project was too big for one church to tackle on their own, said or­ga­nizer Todd Teasley.

While many pas­tors and layper­sons agree that col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts are ben­e­fi­cial, ac­tu­ally bring­ing to­gether the con­gre­ga­tions can be quite chal­leng­ing.

De­nom­i­na­tional lines, racial lines, cul­tural lines and even fac­tional in­fight­ing can present sig­nif­i­cant stum­bling blocks to Chris­tians from dif­fer­ent churches and back­grounds work­ing to­gether.

“I think more than any­thing, what we ex­pe­ri­ence is xeno­pho­bia,” said Lee. “That’s the fear of peo­ple not like us, the fear of the un­known. It causes us to re­ally sac­ri­fice re­la­tion­ships.”

But the most com­mon dif­fi­culty may sim­ply be that scourge of mod­ern life: a lack of time.

“Of­ten­times it’s not that folks don’t want to work to­gether,” said the Rev. Billy Wade of First Pres­by­te­rian Church in Cov­ing­ton, “but we get so busy within our own con­gre­ga­tion and we think that’s all there is.”

Linda Miller, chair of mis­sions at Eastridge Com­mu­nity Church, agreed. “Churches are like peo­ple. We get in­volved in our­selves and what we are do­ing,” she said.

The ma­jor­ity of the pas­tors of the churches in New­ton County work a job and pas­tor a church, Payne pointed out, and the other pas­tors who are full-time have a lot of that time taken up by de­nom­i­na­tional re­quire­ments.

For Pas­tor Carl­ton Mathis of Mace­do­nia Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, the hur­dles were com­pla­cency and re­dun­dancy. Mace­do­nia Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist is host­ing its first con­fer­ence, “The Crit­i­cal Hour Fam­ily Con­fer­ence,” to­day and Satur­day with the ef­forts of 50 to 65 other churches, in or­der to break that re­dun­dancy.

“I think a lot of churches fel­low­ship with the same churches be­cause we’re used to it,” he said. “We’re very ac­cus­tomed to op­er­at­ing within the walls. But study­ing the move­ment of Je­sus, change takes place out­side the walls.”

Payne ob­served that work­ing with other churches and other de­nom­i­na­tions, while it sends a pos­i­tive mes­sage to the out­side com­mu­nity, might be viewed neg­a­tively within a church as sup­port­ing peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent be­liefs.

And of course, there is the is­sue of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween churches.

“Churches that are on fire about col­lab­o­rat­ing are the churches that have de­cided in­ten­tion­ally to stop com­pet­ing with each other,” said Lee. “Churches that are con­sis­tently grow­ing re­al­ize the prob­lem is too big for any one church,; the com­mu­nity is too big for any one church,” he said.

Be­cause of th­ese bar­ri­ers, a church that wants to reach out and work with other churches has to be very in­ten­tional about it say pas­tors and church lead­ers.

“It’s just a mat­ter of mak­ing it what you’re about,” said Payne.

The lead­er­ship of the pas­tor plays a large role in this in­ten­tion­al­ity.

“I think a lot of the church’s di­rec­tion is de­ter­mined by a pas­tor’s at­ti­tude,” said Wade. “If a pas­tor reaches out to an­other pas­tor, of­ten they can work to­gether and get their con­gre­ga­tions to work to­gether.”

But the push to reach out to other churches can come from lay mem­bers and lead­er­ship as well. “On the Roads With Je­sus” was driven largely by Teasley and the lay mis­sions team at Eastridge, said Miller, and or­ga­nized pri­mar­ily among the lay peo­ple of the par­tic­i­pat­ing churches.

Com­mon, ba­sic needs and is­sues seem to lend them­selves more read­ily to col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts, said Wade and Payne, while Lee feels it’s more of a case-by-case ba­sis.

Draw­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ence with Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity in New­ton County, Wade spoke of what’s been called the the­ol­ogy of the ham­mer.

“We can dis­agree on lots of things, but we can all agree on the need for de­cent hous­ing,” he said. “I think it’s the same with food and the ba­sic needs of folks, that we can cer­tainly come to­gether to meet ba­sic needs.”

But be­sides meet­ing those needs, col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween churches can pro­duce un­ex­pected fruit, such as unity and new re­la­tion­ships.

“Those events build the char­ac­ter of the re­la­tion­ship and help us touch one an­other,” said Lee. “Whereas, if we’re only go­ing to church, we’re only touch­ing peo­ple in our church.”

Of this year’s “On the Roads With Je­sus,” Teasley said, “What we didn’t ex­pect was the bless­ing of the uni­fi­ca­tion that was tak­ing place dur­ing the time of it. God was re­ally uni­fy­ing the churches and grow­ing us to­gether.”

In the Bi­ble, the church is likened to a body, said Payne. “Ev­ery part has a dif­fer­ent pur­pose. My foot does not serve the same pur­pose as my eye. The body has many mem­bers, but it’s one body and we have to work to­gether. That’s the mes­sage of the love of God through Je­sus.”

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Work­ing to­gether: Food Pantry Di­rec­tor Ros­alee Thompson, left, pre­pares a cart of gro­ceries for a Food Pantry client with the help of First Pres­by­te­rian Church of Cov­ing­ton Pas­tor Billy Wade Thurs­day morn­ing.

Mandi Singer/The Cov­ing­ton News

Unity: Eastridge Com­mu­nity Church mem­bers Bob Eric­son, front left, and his wife Michelle Eric­son join al­most 1,000 vol­un­teers from area churches and the com­mu­nity as they hold a group prayer at Homer Sharp Sta­dium in April to con­clude a morn­ing of lit­ter pick-up with the “On the Roads with Je­sus” pro­gram.

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