News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett Opinion

December 12, 2009

Mark Bennett: Rising waters of 2008 produced a flood of enlightenment for Terre Haute Ministries

Vince McFarland understood what the mayor envisioned.

Several years before, McFarland and a group of local clergy tried to organize an alliance of the more than 200 churches and places of religious worship in Terre Haute. That effort failed.

Now, they were being asked to try again. Then-mayor Kevin Burke invited an assortment of ministers to meet at the Vigo County Public Library. Burke thought by joining together, the churches could enhance their community outreach — a strength-in-numbers concept. Collectively, they could better respond to the needy, disasters and emergencies, in addition to their spiritual mission.

“He challenged the pastors in Terre Haute to basically rally and unify, and start working together, and not each on their own course,” McFarland recalled of that meeting a few years ago.

Burke also saw an opportunity to build camaraderie in the ministers’ ranks, rather than competition. “I felt like they needed to feel more confident, and like they’ve got more comrades in arms,” the former mayor remembered last week.

Walking out of the library after the meeting, McFarland — senior pastor at Maryland Community Church for the past 23 years — polled his colleagues. “I looked at those guys and said, ‘I know we tried to do that several years ago, and it didn’t work. But would you be willing to sit down and rehash this?”

They agreed. Today, Terre Haute Ministries is more than a year old, with more than 40 member churches from numerous denominations. Last Monday, Ike Randolph — director of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives — met with some participating ministers. Their association’s growth and activities impressed Randolph.

“I think they’ve figured out the whole dynamic of the faith-based community working together,” Randolph said.

That enlightenment came at a disastrous moment. Just as Terre Haute Ministries was organizing, the flood of June 2008 hit. The newly bound churches wound up assisting civic emergency-response agencies as rising waters destroyed homes and businesses, and left hundreds of people without a place to live, food and transportation.

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