We are delighted to highlight this example of interchurch work at a local and regional level. Jim Amstutz is executive director of the Lancaster County Council of Churches, a network of over 130 houses of worship in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Previously he served as pastor of Akron (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church for 14 years. Jim studied at Fuller Theological Seminary and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
Ten years ago I was conducting 20 community interviews as a research project for my studies at Fuller Theological Seminary.
I reached out to the new Catholic priest at the local parish and simply wanted to get acquainted.
His previous assignment was in an academic setting and he was eager to discuss how their parish could widen their participation in local ministries.
Before I left I offered him a copy of the recently published findings document of the Mennonite World Conference and Catholic Church five year dialogue. Akron Mennonite Church had the honor of hosting the last delegation for Sunday worship and lunch when they met at Mennonite Central Committee that final year. With a smile, Father Pat turned to his bookshelf and pulled a copy of the same document sent to him by the Vatican. We were literally on the same page!
Points of convergence was the phrase used in that dialogue document that has stayed with me ever since.
When we engage in ecumenical partnerships we are challenged to stay true to our theological identity even as we look for ways to work together across denomination or interfaith lines.
We agree to disagree on the points of divergence. Yet with a common mission to embrace our community and serve those most in need, we can find creative ways to work together.
For seven years I served on the executive committee of the Akron-Ephrata (Pennsylvania) Ministerium. Together we created a transitional housing ministry, provided weekly community meals, planned the yearly Baccalaureate service for the public high school, hosted the local CROP walk, and supported Ephrata Area Social Services. A significant breakthrough occurred when we all gathered at the Catholic parish for a Sunday evening Unity Prayer Octave.
Evangelicals independents, mainline Protestants, Anabaptists and Catholics gathered to pray for the needs of our community, country and world. Worship and prayer were our points of convergence.
The Lancaster County Council of Churches brings together over 130 houses of worship to provide nutritional food, clothing, transportation and emergency shelter to the most vulnerable in our community. This 68-year-old ministry recently moved to a much larger facility in a more prominent and accessible part of Lancaster City. After 21 years of pastoral ministry, I felt called to pursue this new form of missional engagement. My role as co-chair of the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness for the past two years also positioned me to step into this new role. The Council is a founding member of Hunger Free Lancaster, and I was recently invited to serve on one of the working groups of the Mayor’s Commission to end poverty.
Each day brings new challenges to serve an increasing demand on our services, while also addressing the root causes of poverty, hunger and homelessness. Our goal is to also connect with underserved populations including newly arriving refugees, undocumented workers and those exiting prison.
We cannot fulfill our mission without the ecumenical and interfaith partnerships centered in our collective points of convergence.
Together we are making a collective impact on our community and providing opportunities for our partners to experience meaningful missional engagement.