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Area churches reach out to community in new and traditional ways

August 07, 2010|By HEATHER LOWERY
  • Jim Davies, a pastor at Bridge of Life Church in downtown Hagerstown, said the church's free movie nights draw up to 150 people.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Area churches are reaching out to their communities -- to help those in need and to encourage people to check out what they have to offer.

Some churches feed the hungry, while others provide entertainment as a way of getting people involved.

The Bridge of Life Church in downtown Hagerstown, which invites the community to free movie screenings, also wants to help in the revitalization effort of the area, its pastor said.

Bridge of Life opens its doors to anyone in the community to catch a free movie, and partake in drinks and popcorn, every other Saturday of the month.

"We started to ask the question, 'How do we help out our community?'" said Jim Davies, a pastor at Bridge of Life. "We realized most of us take our kids to the movies, and we thought there are people who would want to spend more time with their families, but they can't because of hard times."

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Davies said that as many as 150 people have turned out for the movie nights.

"It's not a church service, but we want to put a face on our church and we want to see the revitalization of downtown Hagerstown, and this is one way we can help," Davies said.

The Interfaith Coalition of Washington County takes a different approach to reaching others. Its members go to area churches to share the way coalition members worship and listen to others explain their worship practices.

The Interfaith Coalition has worked on many activities over the years, and its members, who represent a variety of faiths and beliefs, have been involved in "How to be a Perfect Stranger" events.

"It's a program where we invite people to come to a specific church and describe what their religious traditions are," said Ed Poling, Hagerstown Church of the Brethren's pastor and head of the Hagerstown Area Religious Council.

Poling says the community is invited to participate in all events, including book club and movie nights.

The Interfaith Coalition earlier this month held a family picnic designed to celebrate diversity in religion.

"The goal is to promote tolerance and understanding of religious differences so we can live in peace. We try to create a good sense of openness in our community to diversity," Poling said.

Many churches are involved in helping REACH (Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless).

Davies, from Bridge of Life, takes a youth group to the shelter to help the homeless and to see a different side of life.

"I like to take the youth group over there and allow them to see where hard times and bad choices can get people. It's just to let them see what's going on around them," Davies said.

Hagerstown Church of the Brethren is actively involved in helping REACH, which results in some homeless people attending worship services, Poling said.

The Church of the Holy Trinity, United Church of Christ, aids the REACH Cold Weather Shelter.

"We participate in the Cold Weather Shelter. We send volunteers usually the first week it opens in October," said Barbara Ware, president of the consistory.

The Church of the Holy Trinity is involved with ministries locally, nationally and internationally.

This year, Pastor Timothy Leighton traveled to Honduras for the Honduras Partnership El Progreso.

"We've been doing that for a number of years, but it is something that we do to help out. Sometimes members of the church participate and this year it was just our pastor," Ware said.

Members of the Church of the Holy Trinity also travel to communities around the United States to offer aid. The church is involved in the Back Bay Mission, which serves the poor, and helps rebuild and repair homes in the Mississippi Gulf Coast area.

"We have done that a couple of times. A group went down last year, and another member of our church has participated in missions trips to New Orleans," Ware said.

With an increase in community activities, Poling said he has seen an increase in church attendance.

"We're seeing some growth. It's very slow, but we keep at it," Poling said. "We're in a community where there are a lot of needs, and we welcome folks and try to help them with their needs as they work through them."

Michael Morrell, business manager for Saint Mary's Catholic Church in Hagerstown, said he has seen growth in church membership, but said the church does not pressure people to join.

"We try to attract people simply by having programs that appeal to youth, young adults and adults. We don't actively go out into the community and ask people to come to church or to become Catholic," Morrell said.

There are a variety of programs that Saint Mary's offers to its church family and to the community, including Vacation Bible School, an Ultimate Frisbee league and refreshments.

"Anyone, member or not, can walk in after Masses on Sunday and have free coffee and doughnuts, and think about becoming a member of the church," Morrell said.

According to Pastor Robert Jones of Valley Assembly of God in Hagerstown, there has been tremendous growth in that church family.

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