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Banding together in Christian harmony

Gordy Moore/Daily Globe The Worthington Area Ministerial Association has four officers, including Jonah Beckermann (left) of First Baptist Church and Kris Stewart (right) of First Covenant Church.

WORTHINGTON -- A group of area ministers truly practice what they preach when it comes to working cooperatively, ignoring others' foibles and striving to help people -- with a true spirit of Christianity as their backbone.

The Worthington Area Christian Ministerial Association (WACMA) has functioned for decades as a means of allowing ministers from local Christian churches to share common problems and perform specific functions best handled by ministers.

"WACMA certainly gets us as pastors in the community on the same page, and helps us understand what is going on in each other's churches," said Jonah Beckermann, senior pastor at First Baptist Church and WACMA's current president. "It's not about competing but about doing ministry together, and that's really positive.

"We have good relationships in the ministerial overall, and I really appreciate that."

Fifteen or more churches are represented in WACMA, with the group's self-defined duties including the following:

• Providing weekly services, year-round, at South Shore and Crossroads Care Centers

• Providing bimonthly services, year-round, at local retirement homes (the Meadows, Okabena Towers, Golden Horizons)

• Providing on-call chaplain services at Sanford Worthington Medical Center

• Delivering devotions via KWOA radio

• Offering prayers at three ceremonies and services each Memorial Day

• Organizing a National Day of Prayer service annually, usually at City Hall

"Those are the main things we do on a regular basis," explained Kris Stewart, secretary of WACMA and co-pastor of Worthington's First Covenant Church with her husband, John Stewart.

"Obviously, we do have some differences, but we work together to provide care for different aspects of community need," Kris Stewart continued. "We set aside our denominational and theological differences - and it's nice to know there's somebody we can call who understands the peculiar challenges of being in the ministry."

WACMA members meet monthly from September through May, with members taking turns hosting meetings at their churches.

"We don't just get together to vent or complain about churches," Beckermann stressed. "In fact, members of WACMA who have been part of similar organizations in other communities say we have a very positive, generous kind of environment here, with a team approach and mentality that is not always the case everywhere else."

Besides general discussion and scheduling considerations, monthly WACMA meetings sometimes include presentations from area non-profit organizations that wish to update WACMA members on their work and needs.

Beckermann, who has been in Worthington and part of WACMA for about the past four years, said one tangible development to grow out of WACMA was Love In the Name of Christ of Worthington, a program that began operating here roughly three years ago.

"Seeing Love INC launched is one of the biggest things we've been a part of," Beckermann said. "A number of churches in Worthington worked very hard together to get that off the ground, but the impetus was from our ministerial group.

"Love INC has been a huge area of focus for us recently."

John Stewart, one of the three WACMA pastors who initially began investigating the possibility for Love INC to come to town, concurs.

"Love INC is a good example of the cooperation that pre-existed in WACMA," he said. "It came out of us wondering, 'Is there a better way to build bridges within the community for people in need? Is there a more efficient way to find help for people?'

"We thought there must be an organization out there to help with this - we didn't want to reinvent the wheel - so all these local churches have united to assist with these common needs, which is great because being divided doesn't seem to help anyone."

Love INC's executive director, Brian Frodermann, previously worked as a youth pastor and hospice chaplain, so he is right at home with the WACMA crowd - so much so, in fact, that this past year he was elected vice president of the organization. (Pastor Richard Ricker of First Lutheran Church is WACMA's current treasurer.)

"WACMA seems unique in that there isn't just a desire to meet and update each other but to actually work together," observed Frodermann, who reiterates that Love INC's motto is "helping churches help people."

"It's amazing and wonderful to see so many churches working alongside each other in a community, and really putting action into their thoughts," he added.

Another initiative WACMA recently undertook was discussion about statements and conviction on marriage.

"We talked about who we would perform marriages for, how we would approach things like pre-marriage prep, our theological convictions and understanding where different pastors in the community stood on those things," detailed Beckermann.

"We even talked about if someone called a pastor from a different church to marry them that we would agree to check in with the pastor of the couple's home church to be sure that was OK," he said. "We all place a high priority on wanting to see families and marriages work well, and to be Godly here in Worthington, so that discussion helped us get on the same page."

John Stewart notes WACMA would welcome participation from additional Christian churches and ministers, and one of the organization's goals is to involve more pastors from Christian churches that are not primarily English-speaking.

"We don't discuss our differences a lot but try to look at what's common, and specifically what's common for ministry here in Worthington," John Stewart shared. "That's the spirit I've seen - we all come from different denominations but are pretty focused on what's best for the community."

Beckermann agrees.

"Yes, there are certain theological differences within our denominations," he mused. "But there's probably more we hold in common that we can work on together, and we choose to highlight those things in our meetings and in our communication with each other."