SHIRLEY — One church brings a choir. Another assembles a group of women to perform sign language to music. Another might choose someone to read a poem.
When the Community Ministerial Alliance gathers for a service, all of its member churches are involved. Every minister has a role, such as preaching, praying or reading a Bible passage. Every member church is given a time slot for its “special,” such as singing or poetry reading.
“It makes for a pretty full program, but I think everyone appreciates it,” said Jim Jackson, pastor of Shirley Friends Church and president of the alliance.
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The alliance sponsors community services for Thanksgiving and for Good Friday, rotating the locations among its seven member churches.
It’s one of a number of local ministerial associations that gather larger groups of Christians together for encouragement in a common purpose.
“I think that brings a positive spiritual climate to our community,” said Matt Wickham, associate pastor at Brandywine Community Church and president of the Greater Greenfield Ministerial Association.
Josh Robertson, pastor at New Hope Church of the Nazarene and vice president of the association, said the group’s monthly breakfast meetings at churches and other community sites are a chance for local clergy to pray together and share the struggles and joys of their ministerial experiences.
Robertson tries to also bring that spirit of cooperation into his own congregation’s services. Borrowing an idea from a fellow pastor, he’ll sometimes use the pastoral prayer part of the service to pray for another church in the community, its pastor and its service going on that same Sunday morning.
The association organizes community services before Thanksgiving and on Good Friday, as well as a National Day of Prayer service at noon on the first Thursday of May on the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza.
Offerings over the years have gone to a “Good Samaritan” fund that helps those who find themselves in need as they pass through the community. It’s administered by the chaplain’s office at Hancock Regional Hospital by day and by the sheriff’s department at night.
David Woods, senior minister at Park Chapel Christian Church and longtime member of the association, remembers when the group was simply the Greenfield Ministerial Association, made up of mainly downtown churches. Wickham said about 15 churches are represented at the monthly meetings today, with more on a contact list, and the group is open to adding more churches.
Alice Dove, president of the New Palestine Fellowship of Churches, is also open to more involvement. The group meets three times a year and is made up of a pastor and three laypeople from each member church. She attends New Palestine Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It plans community services for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Good Friday that are open to anyone, regardless of whether they attend a member church.
“We say anybody that wants to come, we don’t care whether they go somewhere else or not,” Dove said.
Offerings received at the services help the group offer a $500 scholarship each year to a young person from one of the member churches.
When the plate is passed in the Shirley area, the Community Ministerial Alliance uses the money to help meet needs in the community, such as a heat bill that needs paid or a little help until the first paycheck from the new job arrives.
“It’s not just us meeting together as church family,” Jackson said. “There are a lot of blessings flowing out into our community.”
There are many moments of collaboration he’s witnessed: Instruction from another church’s sign language team to help him communicate with a parishioner who was deaf. A pianist who jumped in to help another church’s choir at the community service when the accompaniment CD just wouldn’t play.
This coming together is what Jesus wants them to do, he said.
“There’s actually only one church – the church that Jesus started. … We’re all on the same page about the essential things in our worship, about who Jesus is and our need for a savior. …
“I think it makes an enormous statement to the community.”