Rev. Jane in today’s paper — “Local clery share a common ground”
Hi, folks. Deb just called me and let me know that Rev. Jane was in the paper today. What an encouraging story! Very cool. Laura
Published on Saturday, November 10, 2007
Local clergy share a common ground
By ADRIANA JANOVICH
ANDY SAWYER/Yakima Herald-Republic
They appear to have little in common.
He’s in his 70s; she’s in her 30s. He took a vow of chastity; she has a partner and they have four children.
Monsignor John A. Ecker is a Catholic priest, the senior pastor at St. Paul Cathedral, a Yakima parish that’s more than 90 years old. The Rev. Jane Newall is the founding and senior pastor at a 13-year-old Christian church that’s open to people of all sexual orientations.
The two pastors from different backgrounds have worked together in the past on community projects and committees. And they’re working together again.
Newall and Ecker are the co-leaders of the 2007-08 Yakima Association of Churches and Faith Communities.
The association’s members — lay and religious leaders of local churches and faith communities — strive to put their theological differences aside in order to focus on what they have in common, and identify and meet the needs of the community.
“We certainly have different liturgical backgrounds, but we can work together,” the 38-year-old Newall says.
“The more secure you are in your own faith, the less you worry about other people’s,” she says. “I’m secure in what I believe. If someone else believes differently than me, I’m not threatened by that.”
Other members don’t seem to be either. They elected Newall to lead the Yakima association before they broke for their annual summer-long hiatus. Due to time constraints, she wanted to share the leadership role and responsibilities with Ecker.
“I said I would do it if John helps me,” Newall says.
“Our home lives are different. Our faith lives are different,” she says. But, “the variety of skills we have to offer coordinates well in terms of leadership. I have a lot of respect for the man.”
Ecker echoes that sentiment: “We have definite differences in church discipline and the way we worship,” the 74-year-old says. “We don’t talk about dogmatic differences very much; we talk about what we have in common.”
And that’s “a love of people and a love of the community,” Newall says. “Our common goals are altruistic. That’s where we share passion.”
So do other members of the interfaith association, which works to serve the community, Newall says, “without strings attached.”
“We’re not trying to convert anyone,” Ecker says. “We stress our similarities and what we can work on together to take care of the poor and homeless and the gangs in this city.”
The pair have known each other about as long as Newall has been in Yakima. She came here from the East Coast in the fall of 1993. By the following spring, she had started Rainbow Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church.
The association, traditionally made up largely of representatives of mainline churches — a group which includes United Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians — was already here.
But 59-year-old David Helseth, senior pastor of Yakima’s Englewood Christian Church and the out-going leader of the association, says it has evolved over the years and become more inclusive.
A particular emphasis to reach out to other denominations and religions was made after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Helseth says. Around that time, the group broadened its scope even further, loosening by-laws and including “Faith Communities” in its title.
Today, “All of these people are at this table,” Helseth says. “We are a very broad group, and that’s part of our strength and part of our challenge.”
The idea — and the group itself — isn’t new. In fact, the association has been around since the 1960s. Ecker helped start it following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
“There was an opening of doors and windows to work ecumenically,” he says. “That was pretty much the impetus.”
These days, the group meets for lunch and discussion once a month at Yakima’s Central Lutheran Church. About 20 pastors and lay leaders usually attend.
Members pledge to work together in mutual support, respecting each other’s convictions and distinctions and pooling their resources. The latest season of collaboration and cooperation — without compromising beliefs —
began in September.
Many attendees represented local mainline churches. Also at the table: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, and the current president of Yakima’s Temple Shalom. And on the rolls: representatives of the Bahá’í Faith.
Deciding priorities for the coming year was one of the first orders of business. And Newall emphasized the need for more outreach.
“We are such a diverse group it can be challenging to approach issues, especially ones that have any kind of controversy around them,” she says. “We might not agree on the how, but we probably agree on the problem.”
Issues up for discussion included gangs and prevention, family enrichment programs, health and wellness, immigration, and environmental concerns. After the tally, top priorities for this year were homelessness, race relations and cooperation with Yakima schools.
Says Newall, “I really think we can be more pro-active than we have been in years past.”
Traditionally, the Yakima association has been involved with the Yakima CROP Walk, an annual 5-kilometer walk to support the work of Church World Service. One-fourth of what is raised in Yakima stays here. This year, the monies went to Yakima Interfaith Coalition/La Casa Hogar, a faith-based organization that provides emergency services and helps Hispanic immigrant women and children.
Yakima Interfaith Coalition/La Casa Hogar is an outgrowth of the association, which continues to support the nonprofit through donations and offerings collected at interfaith worship services.
It also sponsors interfaith Good Friday and Thanksgiving services and participates in the local Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
Association dues are $50 a year. The money is used to cover administrative costs. It’s also given to other organizations — like Yakima Interfaith Coalition/La Casa Hogar — to help address community needs