Not Just a Fifth Sunday Thing
By Carl Stagner
They only come around about four times each year, but when they do come, you can be sure there’s a church somewhere planning something special. In the southwest corner of Missouri, you’ll find four Church of God congregations that use these extra Sundays as an excuse to get together—not that they need such an excuse! First Church of God (Granby), Scotland (Carthage), Grand Avenue (Carthage), and Southside Community (Joplin) place great value in the fellowship of the saints. For these churches, getting together on a regular basis reminds them that they are not alone in ministry, inspires them to keep pressing on, allows them to worship together in unity, and offers them the opportunity to celebrate what God is accomplishing among them.
Ashley Edgemon, pastor of First Church of God in Granby, is grateful for the unity services held each fifth Sunday. “This custom has helped to remind our people that they are not alone in this Christian journey, and that there are other brothers and sisters in the Church of God movement that are nearby in southwest Missouri. It is up to the hosting congregation to decide how each unity service will flow, but there is usually a sermonette or devotional thought, corporate singing, and special music selection from each church, followed by a time of fellowship and food.” When planning these unity services, Edgemon reviews the upcoming calendar year and e-mails a proposed schedule to the neighboring churches. The fifth Sunday designation makes it easy for everyone to remember.
“By gathering with the pastors and people of our sister congregations we are reminded of the ‘big picture’ regarding God’s kingdom,” Edgemon explains, “and that we belong to a fellowship of Christians all over the world that are sharing in the mission of living out God’s Word and spreading his message and love to all who will listen. The people of our congregations have become more acquainted with each other. I have heard of times when members of our sister churches have run into each other in public, recognized each other, and offered encouragement and brief fellowship. That is always a good thing!”
Though these fifth Sunday events have become a tradition, uniting together for worship and fellowship is anything but rote, and it is never forced. Rather, their tradition has led to deeper relationships with one another and a desire to fellowship beyond the fifth Sunday. The men of the churches join together for regular breakfasts at which they encourage each other, pray for each other, and network. The pastors of the four churches also aim to connect for lunch each month, and the churches recently came together for a joint Christian education workshop. In the summer, they share together in times of refreshment and spiritual rejuvenation at the regional camp meeting. A newly formed SHAPE group has only furthered the opportunity for their pastors to connect for support and pastoral health.
“We have discussed everything from how things are going in our respective churches, to how our kids are doing in school,” Edgemon adds. “We’ve talked about what has worked and what hasn’t worked so well in our experiences of pastoral leadership. As the proverbial wisdom says that ‘iron sharpens iron,’ we have each been able to benefit from each other’s varied strengths.”
In southwest Missouri, the fifth Sunday thing isn’t just a tradition fueled by “the way we’ve always done it.” These unity services and gatherings are purposeful, empowering, always refreshing, and altogether wrapped in unity and holiness.