January 17, 2024 at 3:30 p.m.
Blurring the Divide: Local Pastors Support Community in Changing Times
Hope Flatrock Hawcreek Ministerial Association (from left to right): Ed Cottrell, Hope Methodist; Andy Kilps, Hope Moravian; John Marquis, Hope First Wesleyan; Johnnie Edwards president of Columbus NAACP pictured here as representative of diversity coalition; Scott Bourland, Grace Baptist; Dennis Chasteen, Hope First Baptist; Ronda Illig, association treasurer. Not pictured: Al White of Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Taken August 8, 2022, on Hope Town Square, downtown Hope, Indiana.
(Submitted Courtesy of the Student's Fund of Hope)
Like many small Hoosier towns, Hope is a close-knit community.
And, rightfully so.
Woven into the delicate Hopian tapestry detailed with faith, family and lineage is a subtle gem known as the Hope Flatrock Hawcreek Ministerial Association – whose community role cannot be understated.
The gifts of faith, fellowship and support the nonprofit organization offers the community may not be easily quantified, but its impact in Hope and its clerical presence is easily palpable – even to the casual observer.
“A lot of your small towns that have this many churches lose sight of what is important and compete with one another,” says Pastor John Marquis of Hope First Wesleyan and ministerial association member. “We don’t do that. We come together and support one another.”
Since joining the association, and after more than two decades in the ministry, Marquis says he’s never quite been witness to anything like it. After all, not too many other communities are able to bring together churches of such different doctrines beneath one umbrella to serve their community, he adds.
“I enjoy it and it’s a lot of fun,” Marquis says.
When the first Hope settlement – known then as Goshen, a Biblical reference to the land in lower Egypt that was gifted the Hebrews – was established in 1830 by Moravians from North Carolina, led by Rev. Martin Hauser, a Moravian Protestant, the original intent was a communal situation – similar to that of other Moravian settlements of the time.
Though the communal ideal fell away, the faith endured.
Since its official name change to Hope in 1834, faith has remained the bedrock upon which the thriving community has established itself as the surprising little town it is today.
And it is that foundation that the ministerial association not only helps to maintain but continues to build upon as a source of strength, support, and resource for all residents of Hope.
“We live in a very divided world,” Marquis says. “And this association sets a great example that just because you might not agree on everything, that doesn’t mean you can’t work together, love each other and care for one another.”
Comprised of pastors from a handful of Hope churches, the many decades-old association offers its members not only the ability to grow in their faith and relationships with one another – but in the community, too.
“All of us have a very close relationship,” says Pastor Ed Cottrell of the Hope United Methodist Church. “You could call this our covenant group. We work with each other and share in ministry strengths.”
The association – which received its 501(c)3 nonprofit status in 2020 – has several programs that it offers in the community.
Funded by the church, grants and other charitable donations, the association supports area residents who are in need of assistance, whether that be help with utilities, food, or other necessities.
Those looking for a greater connection with the church, assistance with matters of faith, and even those looking to volunteer their time and talents in the community are frequently connected with what they seek by members of the association, the pastors say.
“It also helps us in our coordination of each church's individual ministries,” Cottrell says. “This way we do not unnecessarily duplicate efforts.”
In addition to multiple meal-site programs, which have a huge impact in feeding the hungry of Hope, Cottrell adds that the Moravians have a clothing ministry, there’s a community worship service during Hope Heritage Days, and a Blue Christmas service that is done with the support and participation by all the churches under the ministerial association.
The association's pastors also rotate on a weekly basis to lead a Bible study for the residents at Miller's Merry Manor, Pastor Andy Kilps of the Hope Moravian Church adds.
The ripple effects of the association’s growing community involvement aren’t lost on the public, Cottrell and Kilps agree.
“It helps to bring the churches close, as well,” Cottrell says. “Each pastor has their own strength or, as we call it, a gift, in ministry. Therefore, as a group, we reach many different aspects of ministry.”
Describing himself as the “new kid on the block,” Pastor Al White of Chapel of the Good Shepherd joined the ministerial association in the spring of 2023.
The appeal of a smaller community – compared to the missions of urban Chicago where he once worked in association with the Moody Bible Institute – brings the opportunity to reach people in more personable ways, he says.
“There’s a balance between working neighborhoods and working networks,” White says. “Whether you are in Chicago or Hope, it’s the same principles.”
Pastor Scott Bourland of Grace Baptist Church admits he’s never before been witness to the type of community spirit that exists in Hope – which, he credits, in part, to the ministerial association.
“Between the association, the Student’s Fund of Hope and Main Street of Hope, for instance, there is such a strong sense of community,” Bourland says. “It is unique because a lot of times, from the standpoint of the church, you are trying to find your uniqueness in the community; but, here in Hope, it is more, ‘How can I get involved in what is already going on as a minister and with our congregants to further the community spirit that is happening in Hope?’”
When Pastor Kilps arrived in Hope a decade ago, then-ministerial association members Barry Goodman, the late Rev. Mark Walker, the late Carolyn Jane Gernentz and Pastor Warren Kirk were among the first to offer friendship and support during his transition to the Hope community – which offered a different pace from what Kilps and his family had been accustomed to in the New Jersey community they had called home the previous seven years.
Kilps joined the association without hesitation when the invitation was extended, he says.
It is about not having a denominational divide, Kilps says.
“Generations ago that was the case,” he says. “Bit by bit and decade by decade that has been washing away and we are in a much better place than we used to be. It isn’t about the differences; it is about unity, in that we are all brothers and sisters in the same family, and we have the same Lord and have been called to love our community together.”
When Bourland joined the association three years ago, he was definitely pleased to see the association was so heavily weighted towards the good of the community rather than thinking about the individual churches, or the churches collectively, he says.
That dedication to the collective speaks more than any one voice, he adds.
Though it may look different today, at its core, Hope isn't that different from the Hope of 1830, Kilps says.
“Our group knows we are continuing to keep the heritage of faith going in the town," Kilps explains. "And putting forth good news instead of bad news – like what we have in a lot of the world.”
When Pastor Dennis Chasteen of Hope First Baptist Church takes a step back to look at the bigger picture, he sees an opportunity for compromise and understanding.
“A lot of times, in communities, you will have people who are more worried about building their own thing rather than building together,” he says. “That will bring separation.”
Viewing the needs of the community doesn’t require a special lens.
It’s about relating to the community. Genuinely seeing and listening to the community – not simply giving its concerns and issues a cursory glance, the pastors agree.
Moving forward, Cottrell is hopeful the association grows to include more churches and an expansion of current programs and outreach.
It is a matter of continuing to work together as a group, not as a particular denomination, to build community, he adds.
A sentiment Kilps readily echoes.
"We meet you where you are," Kilps says. "There can be meaningful connections and spiritual growth beyond the church walls."