Too often, the public's view of Christian clergy comes from highly competitive, dollar-hungry TV evangelists.
The Rev. David R. Asplin, pastor of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church in Severn, calls religious divisiveness a scandal. He recently started the West County Ministerial Association, hoping to unify pastors from different denominations.
"Over the centuries we've split from each other into a wide variety of competing denominations. Yet some of us see denominationalism as a black mark on the church of Jesus Christ. The Lord came to bring people together, not to divide them," Asplin said.
It's an opportune time in the history of West County to start a religious coalition, the minister said. A number of new groups have recently coalesced, such as the West County Chamber of Commerce and the Meade Area School Community.
Thousands of new homeowners are expected to move into the West County area in the next few years. For example, the Odenton area alone could increase by 30,000 people as large housing projects such as Piney Orchard and Seven Oaks are completed.
The benefits and difficulties of such growth are piquing residents' interest in their area, some for the first time.
Now it's the ministers' turn to get together, Asplin says.
"The area is relatively new," he said. "As the community begins to attain an identity as West County, the churches in these neighborhoods need to be drawn together a bit more."
The group will not be project-oriented, Asplin said: "From the clergy point of view, one of the reasons we resist organizations is that we might have to get into another project. We just don't have time. This is only meant to be something that creates collegiality and a supportive attitude among pastors of churches in the area."
The Rev. Roy Cole, an Episcopal priest and Executive Director of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, will speak at the association's first meeting this Friday in Hanover.
At least four pastors so far plan to join the group, Asplin said. Clergy serving in the Odenton, Severn, Hanover and Jessup areas are welcome.
Not every minister is going to jump at the idea, Asplin acknowledged, especially since ecumenism as a national religious ideal has waned in recent years. Many churches believe strongly that essential theological beliefs may be undermined by joining organizations with widely different beliefs about God and the purpose of the Christian church.
"We will get that response from some," Asplin said. "I just think we as churches and as clergy lose out on the opportunity to strengthen one another by remaining isolated.
"I also don't think [isolation] fits the definition of what the Christian church is all about. We aren't separate, isolated groups."
Part of the problem for ministers in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., corridor, is an extremely busy lifestyle that forces them to focus inward, Asplin said. "I've lived in central parts of this country where the presence of the church as a group is much more visible," he said.