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May 1, 2007 > Church begins after Sunday services

Church begins after Sunday services

By Steve Warga

"I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way." (Edgar Guest, 1891 - 1959)

They call it "marketplace ministering." As opposed to the more traditional pulpit ministering on Sundays, certain church groups in the greater Tri-City area believe church begins on Monday along with most other businesses and services. To the members of Evangelical Churches of the Hayward Area (ECHA), marketplace ministering means direct involvement and participation in community affairs.

All over the country and world, groups like ECHA are taking their faith to new levels of active involvement in the secular world. They've set aside theological hair-splitting in favor of "walking the talk, rather than talking the walk." The various pastors and group leaders believe the daily ministering of their flocks is making a difference in their communities. Though such differences may not always be easily quantified, ECHA co-founder, Pastor Chuck Horner of Calvary Baptist Church in Hayward points to some specific accomplishments.

"We've been meeting with civic leaders-on their turf-and they're responding positively. We met with Hayward Police Chief Lloyd Lowe to ask how we could help. He gave us some ideas, then conducted a tour of the facilities. I can tell you too, that the chief is taking steps to establish a chaplaincy for his department."

Horner also tells of a meeting with Hayward Unified School District Superintendent Dale Vigil. After exchanging ideas, Horner suggested a private prayer session with the beleaguered superintendent. About a week later, Horner says Vigil described the moment as "one of the most affirming and encouraging experiences" of his life. ECHA steadfastly supported settling the recent teacher's strike in a way most favorable to all sides. In this, ECHA was joined by the mayor and city council, along with nearly all concerned citizens.

Little more than a block away from school district headquarters, ECHA members gathered on April 11 for their monthly fellowship, held this time at Community of Grace church on Elmhurst Street. Rodney Hogue, church pastor, hosted the gathering and provided a quick sketch of the group's history.

"We got started back in the mid-'90s, after the 'Promise Keepers' movement took off. Unlike the Moral Majority and others, we've worked hard to resist creating a political agenda. That's not why we're here."

Hogue described how a group of pastors in Modesto pioneered the notion of jointly tackling a specific civic problem: one of the highest divorce rates in the country. "They got together and signed a covenant that they would not marry any couple until they first received counseling."

This sort of proactive exercise of beliefs produced dramatic results. Divorce rates plummeted in the Modesto area. The idea of coordinated outreach spread to other San Joaquin Valley cities, then outward from there.

Attendees at the April ECHA meeting watched a video depicting the fruitful efforts of a similar organization in Minnesota. In the small farming community of Elk River, a loosely affiliated group of churches confronted their own, severe problem: a frighteningly high rate of teen suicides. Church leaders joined parishioners in reaching out to business and community leaders of the town in Sherburne County. With the full cooperation and support of the mayor and other civic leaders, the group established counseling services for troubled teens, encouraged direct intervention in schools, and promoted public awareness. They now claim the lowest teen suicide rate in the country.

From tasks mundane as cleaning the streets and scrubbing graffiti off schoolhouse walls; to the challenges of mediating civic disputes; to the more traditional religious exercise of devoted prayer; the members of ECHA, some 47 groups strong and growing, are following the advice of Edgar Guest, "The People's Poet." They're proving with their actions that they too "would rather see a sermon than hear one any day," including those crucial times between Sunday go-to-meetin's."

ECHA members invite the public to join them in celebrating the 56th Annual National Day of Prayer, Thursday, May 3. Be ready though, after you're finished praying, they might well hand you a scrub brush or broom and a pair of work gloves. It's market ministering time once more.

To learn more, or to join Evangelical Churches of the Hayward Area's efforts, visit http://churchofhayward.org.

For more information on National Day of Prayer, visit www.ndptf.org.

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