Home Diocesan News First Friday speaker: Diverse Churches are ‘better together’
First Friday speaker: Diverse Churches are ‘better together’ Print E-mail
Written by Karen S. Kastner, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 22 September 2017 14:41

BOARDMAN – For more than a century, the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches (MVAC) has endeavored to “build bridges” among the region’s diverse Churches because they “are better together.”

Speaking to about 80 people at the Sept. 7 First Friday Club of Youngstown luncheon program, MVAC’s executive director, the Rev. Dr. Robin Woodberry, said she wants the “MVAC to be here another 100 years, continuing to build the bridges through the Body of Christ.”

First Friday Club luncheon programs are held monthly at The Georgetown here. The series explores Catholic teaching and religious thought on current spiritual, theological, moral and social issues. Those attending the September event included representatives of various area Churches as well as Cardinal Mooney High School – Dr. Woodberry’s alma mater

Quoting John 17: 22, Dr. Woodberry, who is associate pastor and administrator of Youngstown’s New Bethel Baptist Church, noted that one of Jesus’ prayers for the faithful was “that they may all be one” – that diverse groups, despite their differences, could come together in harmony.

Although there are various forms of worship – some may kneel, some may proclaim hallelujah and others may remain silent – “we still worship the same God,” Dr. Woodberry noted.

Via a multimedia presentation, the speaker quoted the MVAC’s mission statement that Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull county congregations provide “witness to Christ’s call that His followers be one.”

The statement goes on to say: “Working cooperatively in the Church and the community, we seek to bring about the realm of God on Earth. We value diversity, racial harmony, justice and respect, as we strive for reconciliation within the Church and beyond.”

Simply put, she said: “We are better together than we are apart. Amen!”

The crowd applauded after Dr. Woodberry showed a YouTube video, “The Worst of Harvey Brought out America’s Best,” featuring CBS News journalist Steve Hartman illustrating how a group of hurricane survivors helped victims of the storm and its flooding.

The MVAC has sponsored a series of dialogues in the community on the alarmingly high African-American infant mortality rate in the Mahoning Valley, Dr. Woodberry said. The organization is also sponsoring a new set of talks on racism.

The latter “will partner black and white congregations.” She observed: “Racial harmony does not always work the way it should.”

At the conclusion of the talk, an audience member pointed out that Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., was recently named chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.

Among MVAC’s upcoming events are:

Crop Walk, 2:30 p.m. Oct. 8 near Wick Park at First Unitarian Church, 1105 Elm Street, Youngstown. This event raises money for hunger relief sponsored by Church World Service, which receives 75 percent of the proceeds, while the remainder goes to local organizations, including Fish Samaritan House of Youngstown, Protestant Family Service of the Greater Youngstown Area, and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown. In response to a question about MVAC’s “youth component.” Dr. Woodberry said that, thanks to Crop Walk, which attracts large numbers of teens, young adults, and families, the association is “making inroads” with young people. “They are the ones that will make the changes” that MVAC has been striving toward, she noted.

Sacred Music Fest, 6 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Western Reserve United Methodist Church, 4580 Canfield Road, Canfield. “Everybody likes music. This helps us break down the barriers,” Dr. Woodberry said.

Mayor’s Interfaith Community Prayer Breakfast, 7:30 a.m. Nov. 21 at the Mahoning Country Club, 710 E. Liberty St., Girard.

Interfaith Tea, 1 p.m. Feb. 1 at a location to be announced. Each year, Dr. Woodberry said, a different religious group hosts the event.

Tastes of the Faith, planned for May at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, 7345 Westview Drive, Boardman. “We break bread with the community,” Dr. Woodberry explained, with Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant groups providing a wide range of foods.

This is how we “seek to bring about the realm of God on Earth,” she said.

“We just eat. We sit with our neighbors we would not normally engage with. We are not as different as we think we are,” Dr. Woodberry said, joking that everyone wants to talk about his or her grandchildren.

“We value diversity,” she emphasized, speaking of MVAC. “What makes a rainbow beautiful?” she asked rhetorically. “All the colors of the rainbow. Diversity is a rainbow. It’s beautiful!”

She noted that “the Church has a responsibility to stand up for injustices” because “we represent the voice of God, and we care about the poor and the mistreated, the widows and the orphans. Jesus did. The Church can’t be silent.”

“There is unity in diversity; we have to appreciate diversity,” the speaker continued. “Division is not the way of Christ. I don’t have to agree with you on everything, but I can respect you.”

Drawing from her own experiences as a Baptist, Dr. Woodberry said she attended Youngstown St. Stanislaus School and respected Catholicism.

Likewise, she said, she once served as youth minister at a Methodist Church, all the while valuing Methodist teachings.

The next First Friday Club meeting will begin at noon Oct. 5 at The Georgetown with Catholic author Charlotte Ostermann.


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