CommUNITY: Churches set aside denominational differences to help Winchester
Published 9:54 pm Sunday, November 19, 2017
1 Corinthians 12:25-26 says, “So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all members rejoice with it.”
There are many references in the Bible about God’s desire for His people to work together, to be united in Christ and to act as “the body of Christ.”
Along with those guiding messages, God provides a very clear command to His people in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it — Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
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With those messages in mind, a group of Winchester-Clark County’s faith community has gathered to put aside their differences, working together to give back to those in need in the community.
The Winchester-Clark County Association of Churches was formed more than 50 years ago, although longtime members say they haven’t been able to find a specific date the organization was founded.
“My recollection is that there was a need to try and address community issues that we are all concerned about, but we can’t all address individually,” Forrest Hahn, a 19-year member of the AOC and pastor of Christview Christian Church, said. “We want to support the faith community be also want to be inclusive in that as well — to get everyone involved who can be and wants to be, working across denominational lines.”
The primary mission of the AOC is to encourage churches, pastors and lay people to put aside their denominational differences in order to serve the community, much like God commands in 1 Corinthians.
“We have a motto, ‘Growing together in unity, serving together in our community,’ AOC member of 17 years Wayne McNiel said. “We want to break down the barriers that exist between denominations. It’s been said that we (Christians) agree on about 85 percent of the things in our doctrine and disagree on about 15 percent. We want to focus on that 85 percent we agree on. Those numbers are sort of pulled out of the air, but you get the thought behind it.”
McNiel, who is an elder at Fellowship of Believers, a non-denominational congregation of about 70 people who meet at the old Becknerville School, said Christians can often become hung up on particular doctrines, creating division among God’s people.
“I think in general, in majors and minors, we see a particular doctrine become more important to some people than understanding just what Jesus meant when he prayed that we would be one even when he and father were one,” McNiel said.
Reaching out to the community
For the AOC, the goal is for the faith-based community to address the needs of people in the community without focusing on those things they may disagree on doctrinally.
“We want to be impactful in our work with those who are hurting,” David Douglas, a 20-year member of the AOC, said. “The Lord tells us that when we lend our hand to the poor, we are lending to the Lord himself. We try to be there for those who are times of need, maybe because of loss of life or loss of property, or so forth.
“We just try to minister reconciliation, particularly in the area of racial divide. We are trying to make sure we keep purity of heart and purity of motive in our churches.”
In order to minister to the community, the AOC actively supports and works alongside a variety of service-based organizations.
Some of those organizations are faith-based and others simply do good work in the community, McNiel said.
“The AOC is not just for ministers,” McNiel said. “It’s for lay people and other faith-based service organizations. We are big supporters of Clark County Community Services, which was actually started by the AOC. We also work with New Beginnings pregnancy care center and the Clark County Homeless Coalition. We’re beginning to get more involved with Habitat for Humanity and the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center — others that are not faith-based but serve people.”
By supporting Clark County Community Services, the AOC helps provide meals for the hungry, warm clothes for the cold and other assistance for household needs like utilities.
New Beginnings helps new mothers and families navigate caring for children, works to emphasize the benefits of abstinence and also helps provide basic needs like formula and diapers for families in need.
The Clark County Homeless Coalition provides transitional housing for homeless individuals and families in Clark and surrounding counties. The agency offers guidance on finding jobs, saving and budgeting money, parenting and other life-skills to help clients become self-sufficient.
So, through involvement with these agencies, the AOC is helping reaching many of the underserved, distressed or in-need people in the community, which according to McNiel is the calling for Christians.
“Jesus said, you’ll know you’re Christians by the love you have for each other and I believe that’s true,” he said. “If people look at us and see us allowing our differences to divide us and keep us from doing good in our community, they they will say, ‘He must not be a Christian,’ or ‘Look how he treated his brother or sister down the street.’ That’s not a good witness.”
Beyond helping the various service agencies in the community, the AOC has established many of its own ministry programs.
The AOC offers a Good Friday service and Cross Walk, where participants take turns carrying a cross down Main Street in remembrance of Jesus’ walk to Calvary before his crucifixion, each spring and an annual Thanksgiving service in the fall.
The group also funds the transient ministry administered through CCCS. That ministry offers assistance to people traveling through Clark County who might be experiencing car troubles or may not have the money to fill their gas tanks. Often, people are able to get a hotel room through the ministry while they wait for maintenance on their vehicles.
Most recently, the AOC was active in establishing the Upward 40391 program in Clark County, which offers a youth basketball league through a partnership of various local churches.
Beyond the church walls
While the AOC focuses heavily on removing denominational divides, the group also has a focus on breaking down other barriers in the community. Those barriers might be racial, ethnic or socioeconomic, but it also might mean reaching people who aren’t Christians.
The group talked at the beginning of the year about the various people they wanted to help or issues they wanted to address in the community. From that, the AOC established goals to reach youth, men and families, establish ministries outside the church walls and cooperate for unity services (like Good Friday and Thanksgiving).
“Upward was born out of our desire to reach out to the youth perhaps through a sports program,” McNiel said. “At approximately the same time, the YMCA closed, so there was no basketball program other than Civitan. In kind of an interesting coincidence we figured it was time for us to establish this program.”
The faith-based basketball program has approximately 850-900 young athletes registered as players or cheerleaders, and churches are cooperating by either providing gyms for practices and games or volunteers for coaches, administrative duties or other responsibilities, including various fundraising activities earlier this year.
“Formation of the Upward sports league is a powerful example of what can be done when our churches come together to break down barriers of race, class and denomination in order to serve the kids of our community and our community at large,” said Mike McCormick, AOC president and pastor of Calvary Christian Church.
While the program focuses heavily on teaching quality basketball skills, it also presents an opportunity for the AOC to minister to the hundreds of young people and their families in the process.
“We will share a devotion at every practice and we will have a huge celebration together at the end of the season,” McNiel said. “But we can also set an example by how we work together and respond to each other throughout the season.
“As Christians, our mission is to share the gospel. This is another way for us to do that. There may be people involved in this program that have never gone to church or may not have heard the gospel any other way. Hopefully it won’t just be a matter of them hearing it, but also to see it through us.”
The opportunity to share the gospel also present an opportunity to dispel negative perceptions of the church, Hahn said.
“A lot of times, the negative perception of Christianity is based on experiences with individuals,” Hahn said. “Perhaps we’ve earned that perception in some ways. That largely came through individual encounters that can be very hurtful and make it difficult for some people to continue in their faith. But, if we are able to sense a purpose beyond that encounter, it makes it easier for us to overcome that hurt.
“I hope that’s something we can do. Christians are not perfect people, never have been and never will be in this life. Until then, our relationships can be strained, but beyond those encounters, there’s a larger transcendent cause and purpose that we can’t lose sight of.”
Hahn said what draws people in these days are authentic relationships.
“Our goal is to build those authentic, trusting relationships with the community,” he said.
Two are better than one
So much of what the AOC is able to accomplish and what they hope to achieve relies on the willingness of people and churches to work together.
Moreso, the collective pastors and other members believe unity is not only beneficial or even necessary but a requirement from God of his people.
“In John 17, Jesus talks about the importance of unity,” Hahn said. “If we don’t come tougher, then that is going to hurt our witness and hurt us evangelistically. I don’t think people will be attracted to that.”
Hahn noted findings in the recent survey of Clark County by the Harwood Institute for The Greater Clark Foundation.
“One of the things that came out of that survey was the perception that the churches only care about themselves,” he said. “I don’t know if that is accurate, but it’s certainly the perception of some people in the community. By working together, we can give a sincere, honest picture of our desire to work together. People aren’t attracted to disunity.”
That unity means the AOC is able to accomplish more, too.
“As individual churches, we aren’t able to do everything we would like to do,” Douglas said. “We’re called to make a difference, but we can do more if we partner with other churches. If we stay in our own little world, we might think can’t make a difference. But we can if we work together.”
By setting an example of what can accomplished by cooperation, McNiel believes the AOC can help relieve friction in other areas of the community.
“If we already have bonds built across the churches, that can ease some of the friction,” he said. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It facilitates harmony in the community rather than setting up any kinds of barriers.”
Goals of inclusivity
The AOC is able to accomplish its mission using funds gathered by dues-paying members along with volunteer hours and fundraising efforts.
The group meets the second Tuesday of each month at 11:30 a.m. for lunch and a business meeting. The location rotates through various local churches.
Dues-paying members are given voting privileges when it comes to how to spend money or other ministry decisions.
Churches or individuals who can’t or don’t want to pay dues are still invited to participate and those who have financial constraints can still work out ways to have voting privileges.
“We have intentionally chosen to meet together each month to share ministry ideas, get to know each other, work on a few projects together and to pray for each other, “ longtime member Judy Crowe said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the pastors and key lay people in our community. Although we are a flexible, ever-changing group, we believe that a relatively small number of righteous believers can make a huge difference in our community when we unite and work together on some common goals. This is what motivates us to continue meeting for the past 50 years. It is a beautiful thing to see pastors from different denominations work together to accomplish important ministries in Winchester and Clark County.”
The goal is to be inclusive with hopes of increasing membership and by default, the potential to make a difference.
“We would love for other churches and pastors to be involved,” Hahn said. “We have tons of room to grown and we are working very intentionally to be inclusive. The mission is to be unified to accomplish our common goals, we can’t do that if we can’t get more churches involved.”
To learn more about the Winchester-Clark County Association of Churches or inquire about membership, visit the group’s Facebook page or contact President Mike McCormick at email@example.com or Vice-President Forrest Hahn at firstname.lastname@example.org.