1200 combined members of Shawnee UMC and Philippians Baptist Church joined together on Jan. 31
Story by Nick Kellis
Heartland Image Foundation
LIMA – It was a unique Sunday, as Sundays go in Lima Ohio. Two congregations, typically separated by more than just the few miles between their churches, came together to worship and sing, laugh and applaud. As the combined group literally reached across the aisle to hug and join hands, they made a statement about racial solidarity and collaboration in Lima/Allen County.
A combined 1200 total members and visitors filled Philippians Baptist Church, where the predominantly African American congregation was joined by a robust showing from the predominantly Caucasian congregation at the Shawnee United Methodist Church. The combinedSunday service was the culmination of the efforts of Philippian Missionary Baptist Pastor Dr. Brian LaMont Monford Sr. and Shawnee UMC Pastor Bryan Bucher.
“Two friends brought two different communities together, two churches together, to celebrate one God. So it was a beautiful day,” said Philippians Baptist member Crystal Dillard. “Awesome choir. Also met some new friends. It is possible, regardless of your race that you can come together in unity.”
Her husband Darrick Dillard added “It’s important for the community because, where there’s unity there’s more understanding. There’s more forgiveness. There’s more acceptance. It was an excellent day. We haven’t been this packed since Easter.”
Pastor Monford explained “We’re doing what we call ‘One Worship’, a combined worship that’s an opportunity for people from two faith traditions, two different cultures and ethnicities to come together and mirror what God wants us to be.
“Bryan (Bucher) and I are friends. I think today came to be out of a relationship that organically became this fellowship.”
Pastor Bucher chimed in “For me it’s about a shared love of community. We both grew up here. We both eat Kewpees. We have a lot of shared experiences and deep love in the history of the community and that’s a part of our friendship.
“We’re here because of the graciousness of this man (Pastor Monford). He offered hospitality to us and opened the doors of this awesome church to our Shawnee UMC congregation. So it’s a great day!”
As guest pastor, Bryan Bucher delivered the sermon to the combined congregation.
Visiting Shawnee UMC member Ellen Rovner said “As Bryan said in his sermon, this is the typically the most segregated hour of the week in America. Sunday morning, the black and white communities do not usually come together. So it was very unique.
“I think Pastor Bucher’s message was right on point and Pastor Monford said the same thing,” Rovner added. “There’s no reason our community can’t come together. I wasn’t uncomfortable here. We purposely wanted to sit with people we don’t know. That’s the purpose of this. Come together, meet people you don’t know.”
Ellen’s husband, Dr. Marc Rovner said “We all took a risk because it hadn’t been done before. We met people that were strangers and now they’re not. It breaks down barriers. Different, but together.
“Different doesn’t mean frightening. We make a lot of our decisions based on fear. You make a difference when you can bring people together with different viewpoints, different ideas, different ways of thinking and accept them for who they are. And we did that today.”
The combined service will again take place on November 20, this time as the congregation from Philippians Missionary Baptist Church is invited to Shawnee United Methodist Church. “Next time, Pastor Monford will give the sermon and I’ll get a break,” said Pastor Bucher.
“But long before that, we’ll be continuing what we started here today, this fellowship, starting with lunch today,” added Pastor Monford. It was a sentiment Pastor Bucher had already expressed to the combined congregation, when he challenged members of both congregations to not only make a new friend from the other church, but take them out to lunch. “You can even go dutch!” Bucher added, to punctuate his point.
After the ceremony, members of both congregations lingered and fellowshipped in the lobby of Philippians Church, including both the Dillards from Philippines Church and the Rovners from Shawnee UMC, who had attended the service with their daughters.
“I thought it was really cool. This is something that I would not ever imagine happening,” said seventeen year old Shawnee High School student Sidney Rovner. “In school we’re usually not really connected at all. We have our own groups. And even at church, typically, we sit where we usually sit. But here, today, it proves that anywhere we go, we’re welcome, in the face of God.
Sixteen year old Lima Senior High School student Akeyla Dillard said, simply, “Its church! Church is for fellowship. Coming together to worship the Lord!”
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