Historically, it’s referred to as the most segregated hour in American Christianity.
Depending on your time of worship, that’s generally right around 11 a.m. Sunday, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.
And depending on the length of the worship service — that hour can extend to two or sometimes even three hours.
In fairness, that speaks much more to the complexion of the congregation rather than what’s being preached.
But need — especially when approached and accepted in the right manner — can bridge that reality or perception and lead to some incredibly inspiring gifts of understanding and harmony.
That’s the story unfolding inside a World War II built Tudor-inspired area church in Akron’s Goodyear Heights.
A great coming together, you might call it.
Fred Higgins, a member of the administrative board at Goodyear Heights United Methodist Church on Hillside Terrace, in extending the invitation for me to come Sunday for a special Thanksgiving service, shared the following as enticement:
“I am part of the leadership team at Goodyear Heights United Methodist Church. We have recently entered into a relationship with Abundant Faith Ministries that I believe is rather unique.
“Goodyear Heights UMC is an elder congregation that has been on the decline for some years. Our building is larger than we need and we have been, quite frankly, struggling to maintain a ministry in today’s ever-changing faith landscape. We have always kept an eye on ways that we can serve our community through local mission work.
“Earlier this year we were introduced to Abundant Faith Ministries, a newly forming church, which is not United Methodist, but Pentecostal and looking for a home to conduct worship services and Bible study.
“After just one meeting, we became friends! One Sunday, Oct. 20, we began sharing our building — two churches of two different races, two different faiths; one older, one younger, one declining, one growing! We plan on having a joint worship service on Sunday, Nov. 24, with a ‘Get to Know You’ luncheon afterward.”
If you know anything about the United Methodist Church service, then you know its hymns — er, anthems — and sermons are more traditional and, well, rather reserved.
The Pentecostal service, on the other hand, as one member humorously cautioned Sunday, is, well, “rather loud and boisterous.” Much more demonstrative, most would agree.
Understandably, the unknown can lead to fear and trepidation even among learned people.
Enjoying each other
Yet, these two congregations on this day — led by Pastor Samuel Martin of Goodyear Heights UMC and Pastor Kenneth McGraw Sr. of Abundant Life Ministries — took steps outside of their comfort zones, and actually seemed to enjoy the best in one another.
They’ve seen one another in their comings and goings at the church as they were worshipping around the same time but in different parts of the building. But with well-insulated walls, they’ve never really heard one another.
This day was different. Eye opening. And, yes, ear opening too.
Yes, even those foot-patting, shouting hallelujah moments from the Abundant Faith Ministries praise team had some of the UMC members clapping — albeit quietly — when they rendered Lord You Are Good:
Lord you are good
And your mercy endureth forever
Lord you are good...
People from every nation and tongue
From generation to generation
We worship you
We worship you for who you are
And you are Good.
And the Abundant Faith Ministries members lowered their tempo to blend with the UMC hymns.
That mesh of our voices/one message wasn’t lost on the little children from both congregations when they were summoned up front by Martin for a mini sermon.
“Do you know what day this is,” he asked.
“Thanksgiving,” one confident, tiny voice rang out.
“It’s Sunday,” a smiling Martin gingerly corrected, adding another question: “Do any of you know a king?”
“God,” another replied.
Pleased with that answer, Martin told the children that as long as they remember that throughout their lives “nothing in this world can truly hurt you.”
In his larger sermon, Martin — who has led the church since 2009 — reminded the joint congregation of not only what we have to be thankful for as we approach Thursday but also of the Easter message: Jesus’ crucifixion and His pardoning of those who carried it out. Pardoning those — no matter the circumstance — who do ill against us, he reminded, “frees us, helps us to break the chains of anger and resentment.”
He added that we have in each of us the facility to make a difference in the lives of others. Some people have never opened a Bible, “but in seeing your lives, they’re seeing a living Bible.”
Taking a new path
McGraw — who delivered the scriptural lessons— shared earlier his spiritual journey:
“I have been in the ministry for over 30 years, spending the last 22 years under the leadership of Pastor Clarence Jackson at Greater Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ [in Akron]. In February of this year after much prayer and fasting, God directed me to start a new church and gave me the name of Abundant Faith Ministries and a vision to stay in the Akron area... Our first service was held on Sunday, April 7, at the City of Akron’s David Hill [Community] Learning Center with 16 members. We have since doubled in size and continue to look for God’s direction in adding to our church.”
Long story short, that led to a meeting with the governing body of the United Methodist Church and ultimately to Martin.
“The United Methodist Church [with 12 million members worldwide] has been a blessing to our church and has demonstrated the love of God by its willingness to work with us even though we are of a different denomination and culture,” McGraw, a resident of Hudson, continued. “However, I believe this is what God truly meant when he said, ‘To love thy neighbor as thyself.’ ”
Now, that’s not to say that either of these congregations is planning to convert to the other’s faith choice. That’s not what this is about.
Rather, each will maintain separate services, albeit under one roof. But they are free to come together from time to time to acknowledge that, while each prefers a different style of music and preaching, they still worship the same God and they’re both trying to advance His good works here on earth, including by helping those devastated by the typhoon in the Philippines and the tornadoes that last Sunday tore through Indiana.
That’s a plan that Abundant Life Ministries member Vera Seward and Goodyear Heights UMC’s Higgins can readily embrace and be glad in it.
Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.