Headlines from First Thoughts

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Partnering, Collaborating, and other Ways of Doing Church Across the Street

The ecumenical impulse has never been stronger. The mechanisms, however, have never been more frail. The moment a person joins a church, particularity breeds togetherness. We want to say, "We are not alone," and yet we have programs and benchmarks for our fellowship. With multiple churches, ministries, associations, networks, fellowships, and conclaves competing for theological airspace, how do churches work together to demonstrate how Psalm 133 works: for people to dwell together in unity.

Three sprouts of partnership have blossomed over the last few months here at First Baptist. Most of you saw the first. We loved reuniting in September with our daughter church Mt. Zion Baptist. After the concert was finished, some people had enough freedom and humility to admit, "I didn't know they were once part of us." Togetherness does more than make you feel good; it offers an education in heritage.

Michael McEntyre has forged a partnership called Merge. Here 20 churches (Baptists and otherwise) work together to offer a youth retreat called DiscipleNow in the Spring. It seems that 1,500 or youth worshiping together work better than 50. But they also brought us Parent Merge, where newbies like me could prepare for the adolescent years ahead. At my table were experts like Ron Holcomb and Jim Decker to assure me that they were still learning as well. Parents across churches share the same concerns.

Throughout the summer, the Methodists invaded our building. While our Church Street neighbors renovated their kitchen, their homeless ministry worked with Herman Weaver and his staff to offer a lunch here. They did not want to let improvements shut down ministry during the hot summer. Church Street's minister Andy Ferguson gave us high praise for our hospitality on their television broadcast. We were happy to work with them and pleased to share the space and grace.

Last, six new churches have begun KidsHope programs at area elementary schools. With the work of Carol McEntyre and our Buckner partnership, more students will have mentors through Christ's love.

We might not see this kind of togetherness around a hymnal, baptismal, or communion table. But we surely sense this growth in the places that matter most: united around human needs.

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