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'Ecumenical council' brings St. Helens churches together



SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - First United Methodist Church.A group of ministers from St. Helens churches have been meeting regularly over the past few months, and they plan to bring their congregations together for an ecumenical service on Good Friday, April 3.

At noon, a short service will begin at the First United Methodist Church, located at 560 Columbia Blvd., St. Helens. It will be followed by a light lunch at 12:30 p.m., also hosted by the Methodist congregation.

The other churches involved are the Christian Church of St. Helens, First Lutheran Church and Plymouth Presbyterian Church.

“The pastors thought it would be nice to do something around the Easter season,” said Justin Bruner, who ministers at the Christian Church of St. Helens.

First Lutheran Pastor Joe Strandjord said the churches have been collaborating for a “well-received” ecumenical service in November, which rotates among the churches.

“We already do a Thanksgiving service together, and that’s usually held on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, in the evening,” Strandjord said. “In one of our meetings, we just decided, ‘Well, let’s do a Good Friday one as well.’”

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Plymouth Presbyterian Church.Last year’s ecumenical Thanksgiving service was held at Plymouth Presbyterian. All four pastors of the participating churches joined together as a musical quartet, their choirs combined, and the collection plate for the service was donated to a local charity.

Three of the four pastors, including Bruner, stepped into their roles within the past year and a half.

David Hutchinson, who took over as pastor of Plymouth Presbyterian in December 2013, said his predecessor, the Rev. Marilyn Allen, left him a small piece of paper noting that the church has had a relationship with several other St. Helens churches. He keeps the note in his top desk drawer.

Hutchinson described the renewed relationship between the four churches over the past several months as “a new era with a long tradition.” He and Strandjord met for lunch after Hutchinson started at Plymouth Presbyterian last year, and after the Rev. Michele Holloway became pastor at First United Methodist and Bruner came to the Christian Church of St. Helens last summer, they decided to meet every month as a group.

“The four of us just appreciated being together, praying together and cooperating,” Hutchinson said.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Christian Church of St. Helens.The pastors said they see their cooperation as a way to worship together.

“I think that it just shows that we hold the priority of unity, of Christian unity, and that we’re just a bunch of followers of Jesus that are willing to gather together, despite whatever denominational lines we have, and say that Jesus is what’s most important to us,” Bruner explained.

“We have basically the same mission, and we’re all worshiping the same God. There’s differences among churches, but those two things are not different,” said Hutchinson. “And if we can cooperate and have a good witness to the community, that’s so much better for everybody, I think.”

The churches recently banded together for another ecumenical event.

“We had a wonderful, wonderful World Day of Prayer service March 6th at the Presbyterian Church,” said Ginny Smyres, who works in the church office at First United Methodist. “It was well-attended, and it was lovely.”

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - First Lutheran Church.Strandjord said anyone is welcome to attend the Good Friday service, which he said provides a convenient option for anyone who cannot attend an evening service.

“This is something that someone on their lunch break could go to,” he said. “It’s just another nice option and chance to be together.”

First United Methodist is actually collaborating with another church as well this weekend, according to Smyres. If it doesn’t rain, there will be a sunrise service on Easter Sunday at 7 a.m., in Trojan Park, followed by a potluck breakfast. The service is being co-organized by the Rainier United Methodist Church.

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