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Ecumenical ties lead Colfax pastors to assist people in need

By Jeannette Solimine

Pastors in 12 churches in and around Colfax may disagree on theology, but they come together to pray for one another, discuss faith issues in the community, promote ecumenical events, build faith awareness and provide assistance to people in need.

Members of the Colfax Ministerial Association agree that people in need of assistance should receive it, and they work together to provide as much assistance as is possible in their effort to follow the message and ministry of Christ.

“We work together toward unity of the greater body of believers,” said the Rev. Richard May, pastor of First Baptist Church for more than five years.
He is also the president of the ministerial association for this community of 2,900 in the heart of the Palouse, where the North and South Forks of the Palouse River meet.  

Rich believes that “in the kingdom of heaven, there won’t be denominations and divisions.  There won’t be separate areas for all of us.  God intends for us to work together in a unity of spirit.”

The ministerial association gathers clergy from churches ranging in size from 30 to 300 members and ranging in theological diversity from Catholic to Bible, from mainline Protestant to Latter-Day Saints in Colfax, the Whitman County seat, and from surrounding rural communities. Clergy serving in non-pastoral roles also attend.

The Travelers Fund they have is one way they combine resources to serve the larger community.  The fund assists people who are passing through Colfax and find themselves in dire need of food, gas or shelter. Churches are still the first place people go when they arrive in a community in need of financial assistance. 

None of the Colfax churches has resources to meet the needs of people who are passing through or in need of shelters. So pastors decided they could both help more people and screen out grifters—drifters who make their living as con-artists—if they pooled their resources and asked the sheriff’s chaplain to administer them. 

If someone comes to a church, the pastor sends the person to the sheriff’s office to see the chaplain. The person in need may be able to walk there, but often the pastor will give the person a ride.

The Rev. Ron McMurray, who is both a reserve deputy sheriff and the sheriff’s chaplain, is responsible for the distribution of the funds.  He is also the current treasurer for the ministerial association. 

His life and work experiences have taught him how to deal with people in crises, emergency situations, accidents and life-changing experiences.

Ron also checks on outstanding warrants on people requesting assistance and then provides vouchers for the grocery store, gas station or local motel, depending on the needs.

Working together, Colfax’s communities of faith believe they can help more people in a more significant way.

“It is a wonderful time for all believers to come together and see, not the theological differences, but how we share in the work of Christ.  It gets us out of looking at our individual ministries to see how God is working through all of the churches in Colfax,” Rich said. 

However, the association continues to find that there is more need than there are funds.

Most of the churches make regular contributions to the Travelers Fund, but the main fund raiser is the offering at the Community Thanksgiving Service held every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Churches rotate hosting the evening service, which is usually attended by 100 to 150 people.

In addition to hymn singing, a prayer and the offering, each church provides either a musical presentation or a testimonial to express gratitude to God. 

Last year, Ron offered a testimony on how his life had been changed when he was nearly killed on the job earlier that year. 

He was standing behind his patrol car on the side of Highway 195, when a woman who was being pursued by authorities rammed into his car.  His car hit  and threw him, breaking bones and causing extensive injuries.

Among other things, he spoke of how he learned about the power of prayer by being the recipient of prayers from people around the world who didn’t know him, and his gratitude for that prayer reminded many of how much there is to be grateful about.

All the offering, which is usually $400 to $500, goes to the Travelers Fund.  This year’s service at Colfax Baptist Church raised $501.

Because the amount does not fill the needs, churches take other offerings during the year to supplement fund.

The churches consider the distribution of these gifts an expression of the generosity of the community’s desire to aid strangers in their midst as part of their faith commitment. 

“The Travelers Fund existed before I came to Colfax,” Rich said, “and will probably continue to exist long after I am gone.”

For information, call 397-4676.

The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2004