GLASGOW, KY (BP) – In Barren County, Ky., at least in the past two years, Easter has become a day of unification among four Baptist churches -- two with predominantly African-American congregations and two with mostly white members -- at a central location.
They come together on Easter morning but the bond that these four pastors have forged make it more than a one-day show for the community. They are partners in Christ delivering the Gospel message together and individually to the Glasgow community.
"Our hope is to expand that with other churches," said Ray Woodie, the pastor of Coral Hills Baptist Church, who introduced the idea two years ago of the four churches coming together for Easter. "We want to be able to see God do something in the body of Christ. The core of all we do is the Gospel."
Woodie said the idea of bringing the four churches together was born three years ago when he invited sister church Immanuel Baptist to worship with them on Easter. The church typically had multiple services but wanted to combine them all on Easter.
Curtis Woods, the co-interim director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, was the interim pastor at Immanuel at the time.
"We worshiped together and had a great experience," Woodie said. "Curtis preached with me that particular service."
It was after that service that God revealed a bigger vision to the pastor. Woodie had a strong relationship with pastors from two predominantly African-American churches in Glasgow -- First Baptist Church and Harlow's Chapel.
"We approached them and they were excited," he said. "We've been working the past few years on being very intentional, not just having services once in a while (with each other) but having a unified heart with the core being of Gospel sharing."
Woodie said it wasn't about racial reconciliation, although roundtables about those issues have sprung up through this partnership. It was about being "united under the cross. That's where we wanted our heartbeat," he said.
Woodie, First Baptist Church Pastor Michael Rice, Harlow's Chapel Baptist Pastor W. Keith Rowlett and Immanuel Pastor Jeremy Atwood have become much more than pastors from the same area. They have forged friendships and relationships that are ironclad. The goal is the same: Spread the Gospel.
"It's a genuine fellowship of pastors," Woodie said. "We dream about what God may do through this fellowship."
What God has already done the past two Easters is bring churches with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds under the same roof with the same goal of reaching a lost community -- and world -- with the Gospel.
On Easter, nearly 1,200 gathered at Barren County High School gymnasium in service full of the Gospel message. The congregations from the four churches worshiped and prayed together, they sang together. Nobody was introduced as being from a particular church, because it wasn't important. The choirs and praise teams were a combination of the four churches and each pastor spoke.
"Here's the cool thing about the Easter service," Atwood said. "You cannot tell there's four churches in the worship service. We have been very intentional not to make it a showcase of four separate churches."
All four churches made the sacrifice of giving up having Easter in their own buildings. But nobody seemed to mind because God was being glorified.
"Last year would have been our first Easter in our new building," Atwood said. "I had just got here. Ray pitched the idea and everybody was 99 percent on board. It fits our vision as a church."
Atwood said when he became pastor he was surprised with the lack of diversity as far as skin color in the church.
"God put it on my heart to be intentional about being a multi-ethnic and multi-generational church," he said. "It fits in with our vision perfectly."
The relationship bond between the four pastors keeps growing stronger and stronger, Atwood said.
Harlow's Chapel had a revival services last week and each of the three pastors were scheduled to preach.
"Each of those guys has been in my pulpit," Atwood said. "To see four guys from four different backgrounds pledge to partner together is something else. I think it has been helpful for the community to see. You don’t have to agree politically or have the same skin color. The Gospel can bring you together."
Rowlett said the service has "brought the community together."
Rice said his church has been blessed by the partnership with each of his pastor friends that is quickly becoming loving relationships between churches.
"I think what we are discovering is that we're more alike than we are different," he said. "What the church does dictate to a great degree what the community does. As people of faith, we work with each other, we dine with each other, we see each other at shopping centers and malls. We are developing relationships outside our culture. The church has a key role in unifying communities and country."
The total attendance of 1,150 on Easter may have been more than the four churches would have had combined, Atwood said.
"People will go to the school that might not go to a church," Rice said. "It's a different kind of setup. They don't feel as pressured. When you come to a church for the first time as a visitor, everybody knows you're a visitor. All we're trying to do is share the Gospel."
Rowlett said his church has their Easter service on Palm Sunday and then comes together for the service on Easter morning with the combined churches. "He said they evaluate the service and decide what can be done better. We look at what we can change. This year was pretty good. We had six or seven songs and four preachers, started at 10 and were out by 12."
Rowlett has been at Harlow's Chapel for 23 years and his vision for the church is for it to be multi-cultural so the combined service works well for him.
Woodie said he doesn't know how, or if, it's affecting the community yet. He said the congregations are learning to trust each other. The pastors are already there.
"We want to impact the community, but the community will never change until the church gets things right," he said. "We have to trust each other and see each other has a heart for the Gospel."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Maynard is managing editor of Kentucky Today (kentuckytoday.com), a news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.