Sharing Struggles: Alliance of Ministers Serves Community, Each Other
By Mark Butzow
As the new school year resumes in Muskogee, Oklahoma, you can believe the teachers there feel the support of the community’s churches because of a gift they received at the start of summer. Twelve churches worked cooperatively to create a “night off” gift bag for more than 900 teachers in the Muskogee and Hilldale school districts.
“We enjoyed working together,” said Gary Underwood, pastor of Eastside Community Church, Church of God congregation in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He and another pastor in the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance decided their group should spearhead something at school’s end, especially since they weren’t able to do as much during the national Teacher Appreciation Week because of the pandemic.
“We had teachers send some notes back to the church,” he said. “My kids’ teachers sent word that they appreciated it.” The gift bags included snacks, chocolate candy, and Redbox code cards, which allowed the recipient to rent movies or games at no additional cost.
At about $5 each to prepare, it would have been too much for most churches to tackle this project on their own. It was a natural for the decades-old Muskogee Ministerial Alliance. The group of pastors meets regularly, and that provides opportunities to get support and seek advice about issues and challenges in their churches. They also gauge each other’s pastoral health and can help in that area.
“If I’m struggling with something at my church, it’s difficult to talk about those things with someone in the congregation,” Underwood said. “To have other ministries alongside of you outside of your current ministry context is so valuable. Galatians 6:2 tells us to carry one another’s burdens,” Underwood noted. And that applies to the community as a whole, too.
The alliance has a reputation in the Muskogee area for community engagement. Last year, the city asked alliance members to appear in video shoots about COVID-19, discussing how to behave and be responsible. “A few years ago, the area suffered a massive flood,” Underwood recalled. “We collected supplies and created a centralized collection spot.”
And this year, it was a movie night in the form of a free rental and free snacks for the teachers from seventeen schools—teachers who were completing an unprecedented year of handling social distancing restrictions, cases of exposure, virtual learning, debates over mask-wearing, and other challenges the pandemic brought to them.
“If there are needs that arise in the city, we try to respond,” Pastor Underwood said. “One of our core values at the church is ‘serve big.’ We have the guidance of how Jesus served others. He healed people and fed people, and that was an avenue to giving the kingdom message. So, if we serve people and take care of their needs, it’s a way that some of them may be exposed to the love of Jesus.”
In that same vein, the ministerial alliance also helps its own members.
“When you’re doing life with ministers and you are friends with ministers, you can talk confidentially with them to share ministry, family, and personal struggles with one another.”
Last year, Underwood helped the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance arrange an hourlong livestream conversation about “racism, justice, the church, and how can help engage those around us like Jesus!” See our story on it at www.jesusisthesubject.org/muskogee-pastors-create-space-for-dialogue-seek-racial-reconciliation/. View the June 9, 2020, conversation at www.facebook.com/MuskogeeMinisterialAlliance/videos/3029478297128301/.
Mark Butzow operates Mark My Words Ink, a freelance writing and editing service, and is a former journalism instructor, broadcast journalist, newspaper reporter, and copy editor. He lives in Madison County, Indiana, with his wife Lisa, an elementary school teacher at Liberty Christian School in Anderson.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Eastside Community Church’s lead pastor, Gary Underwood, center, is grateful for the friendship of fellow pastors in the Muskogee Area Ministerial Alliance.