Renewing a spiritual bond

Retreat: 35 pastors and ministry leaders from various Christian churches unite to become one voice in faith.

November 07, 2003|By Lisa Kawata | Lisa Kawata,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As the autumn leaves drifted lazily to the ground outside Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Clarksville, 35 pastors and ministry leaders representing various Christian denominations focused on vitality and unity. The event, called Renovare, attracted church leaders from Howard and Anne Arundel counties and Virginia who were intent on learning how they, as the Christian church, could become one voice.

Renovare, which means "renewal," is a program of personal training for spiritual renewal, according to the event's Web site. The daylong retreat last month was sponsored by One Voice, a group of ordained ministers and leaders from Christian organizations in Howard County who meet monthly to pray and plan outreach activities.

"Their unity is testimony to the validity of Jesus Christ," said Dave Barkley, One Voice's facilitator.

The Renovare program was founded by author Richard Foster and teaches church leaders historical traditions of the worldwide Christian church and how understanding them can bring its followers together.

Based on Foster's book Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith, Renovare covered six streams of faith: evangelical, sacramental, holiness, meditative, social justice and charismatic.

Glandion Carney of Birmingham, Ala., the senior chaplain for the Christian Legal Society and an author and speaker on spiritual formation, led the program.

The retreat helped the spiritual leaders "bust through theological issues," said Mark Scott, senior pastor of Calvary Community Church in Columbia.

Scott started the nondenominational church six years ago with a few members. The congregation has grown to about 350 and meets at Reservoir High School on Sundays. Through Renovare, Scott said he learned the importance of "appreciating the minor doctrinal differences" among denominations, "not just tolerating them."

Rolling Hills Baptist's senior pastor, Clarence Byerly, believes the principles shared at the retreat broadened his perspective of other denominations.

"It's very easy to misunderstand other groups. I'm committed to focusing on what we have in common," said Byerly, who also serves as a chaplain for the Howard County fire department.

At the retreat, Byerly looked more closely at the social justice stream of Christianity, an area he acknowledged had not been a priority for him. "As an evangelical, I'm more focused on sharing the Gospel," he said.

Renovare challenged him to consider how his congregation of about 60 members could help the poor and disenfranchised.

"After all, we are a church that is concerned about our community," Byerly said.

"One Voice wants to support the effort of unity in the Christian church," said Ken Williams, executive director of Christian Counseling Associates in Columbia.

One Voice was established in 1985, when Allen Harris of Columbia Presbyterian Church and other Columbia pastors formed the Columbia Evangelical Pastors Association. In the mid-1990s, participation dwindled.

Rather than see the group dissolve, Randy Reinhardt of New Heritage Church in Ellicott City suggested restructuring the group to focus on prayer and fellowship among pastors. They called it Pastors Pray.

Five years later, participation again began to drop. Searching for direction, the group broadened its focus to include community transformation and an identity change.

The new name, One Voice, came from Don Cox, former senior pastor at Bethel Assembly of God in Savage, who felt the name expressed the group's emphasis on unity, said Barkley, a former print shop manager for Catonsville Community College who joined the group about four years ago.

"We want to see the church really impacting the whole county. It will take all of us cooperating to make it happen," Barkley said.

Knowing that the group risks appearing exclusive to Christian denominations, he said that "we're not trying to put anybody down, we're just trying to be faithful to who we are, unapologetically."

With the group's name change came an expansion of its mission. Prayer and the relationships among members have been the focus, Barkley said. But the members have also added outreach activities to its agenda.

One Voice organized a countywide prayer walk in the spring, when small groups met at various churches to walk through neighborhoods and pray for their residents.

In September, the group sponsored a youth-led "Five Hours of Prayer and Praise" at Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Allview Estates neighborhood. Teen bands and musical groups from various churches took turns leading praise singing. Adults and teens also gave brief talks on the challenges facing Howard youths. Then prayer followed.

"We're not here to point fingers," Barkley said "We want to be a demonstration of Jesus' command, `They'll know you're my disciples by your love.'"

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