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Christ Is Our Unity
How ministers from different denominations in the same community came together, built trust and developed an intimate relationship that supports their faiths and ministries.


"I know that if something happens," said Charlie Seed, "all I need to do is pick up the phone and they'll pray for me." Minister for Eastwood and Innerkip United Churches in Innerkip, Ontario, Charlie Seed spoke with affection and confidence about the members of a fellowship group that has become a support for his faith and ministry. "It's fine to talk to your spouse," he explained. "But these men know my pains and struggles—because they're in it too."

The Innerkip group meets the need for both spiritual and personal support to the members …

What started one year ago as a casual off-hand comment of "we must get together," has turned into a vital weekly renewing experience for four ministers of different denominations. Every Wednesday at noon the "fellas" chat over a bag lunch about ministry and community issues, then pray for 45 minutes before returning to their charges within the Presbyterian, Baptist and United churches. Although there were initial concerns about crossing the denominational fences, these men are not "sheep-stealers"—they support each other's church ministries and will soon share a pulpit exchange. When asked about the dilemma of doctrinal differences within the group, Seed insisted: "It's never been a problem. In fact, during an outreach campaign, one of the ministers discovered one of our families was in pain. I was able to help them and they now come out to church regularly. The differences don't matter—we're all working for Christ."

Interdenominational ministerial groups are not unusual but they often have a business or political focus. In order to have an impact on the community, churches have traditionally banded together to press for social action in their neighbourhood. Representatives from different denominations form lobby groups and use their administrative skills to place pressure on the secular community. Although ministers develop relationships they are usually not intimate and rarely spiritual. Para-church events such as Billy Graham's Mission Ontario, which drew 800 churches from 62 denominations, have always been a catalyst for unity, but when the glow of the event recedes most ministers fall back into their own denominational isolationism.

There are several reasons for this. Most denominations view themselves in competition with one another for the same audience. Although biblically we are the Body of Christ, practically there is the human tendency by ministers to feel protective of their own turf. There are also the barriers of doctrinal differences which cause enough controversy within denominations, let alone between them. On the other hand, ministry can be lonely. Congregational members expect "perfect" pastors, and admission of weakness to other leaders within the denomination can be grounds for dismissal or, at the very least, result in less respect and less responsibility. The Innerkip group meets the need for both spiritual and personal support to the members—but it took time to develop.

When Doug Bott, pastor of South Zorra Baptist Church, and the assistant pastor, Gill Watson, suggested getting the group together, one could not blame Chris Little, minister at Innerkip Presbyterian Church, for being suspicious. He called Charlie Seed for support. Bott and Watson had already been part of a Fellowship Baptist group in Woodstock and discovered that when people pray together something happens, but they suggested that the four ministers simply get to know one another better over lunch.

Committed to the kingdom of God not competition

"Though probably most people wouldn't understand why ministers would compete, competition between ministers is natural," admitted Little, "though generally ministers don't sheep-steal. But now [because of the group] we are more committed to the kingdom of God, than competition." According to Little, the Innerkip group had to develop trust and slowly learn to ask opinions of one another. Issues arose that could have divided them but they worked them out. One woman in his congregation was approached by the Baptist church to provide an outreach group in her home. "I thought we would lose one of our people," said Little. "But it didn't happen. The group is in her home but she still attends our church."

As the ministers have learned to trust one another, the people in their congregations are becoming more comfortable with shared ministries. Several women from the Presbyterian and Baptist churches have begun a "Mothers Who Care" ministry to the teachers in the local school, providing lunches for teachers and prayer support. "People know we are not competitive and they really appreciate it," Little said. "We all have the same purpose: to reach the world for Christ."

"Having the same cause eliminates the competition and the threat," agreed Doug Bott. "Our common denominator is the Lord. There was apprehension at first, because we do things differently, but what unites us is the Gospel, and those little things don't matter. Hopefully, as more people realize their pastors are getting together to pray, they will say, 'we aren't isolated from one another, either.' "

"This kind of thing is what can bring about renewal … "

Despite the common goal and the focus on prayer, the Innerkip group still discusses their differences. In fact, Bott believes that their trust and common ground make it safe to look at differences. "We've discussed different modes of baptism, worship, church government—but such discussion comes up naturally. It's not something you can just make happen."

Each member of the Innerkip group gains spiritual encouragement from their weekly meetings. They believe the upcoming pulpit exchange will bring about unity of purpose in the community and a love for Jesus Christ. "This kind of thing is what can bring about renewal," said Bott. "We didn't do this. God prepared the time and the people." His assistant, Gill Watson agreed: "Our group has much in common because of our community focus –sometimes more than others in our own denomination. But there are no denominations in Heaven."

Gail Reid is the managing editor of Fellowship Magazine.

Originally published in the Fellowship Magazine, February 1996.
fellowshipmagazine.org

 

 
 
 
 

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