The Abington Ecumenical Ministerium: A history
by Pr. George J. Matthews, Jr.
Published in The Abington Suburban on June 4, 2018.
The seeds for the development of the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium began in the late 1950s as clergy from various protestant congregations of the Clarks Summit area met monthly for breakfast and endeavored to develop programs that would address community needs.
But things dramatically changed in the mid 1970s as a small group of clergy from several churches in the Abingtons decided to gather together for breakfast weekly on Tuesday mornings at the Summit Family Restaurant (now the Silver Spoon) on State Street in Clarks Summit. The primary organizers of the ministerium, which was now joined by Roman Catholic partners, had truly become ecumenical.
These early pioneers of the ministerium included Canon Henry Male of the Church of the Epiphany in Glenburn, Msgr. Joseph Fadden of Our Lady of Snows in Clarks Summit, Pastor Bill Highfield of the Clarks Summit United Methodist Church, Pastor Bill Walton of Trinity Lutheran Church in Clarks Summit, and Fr. Victor Donovan, who served as the chaplain to the Passionist Nuns community at the St. Gabriel’s Monastery on Griffin Pond Road just outside Clarks Summit.
Over the course of the next few years this small group began to encourage other clergy to join with them in the Tuesday morning fellowship.
It didn’t take long for the Tuesday morning breakfasts to include as many as 20 or more participants. Their intention became clear; they were focused upon building relationships with each other across denominational lines for the purpose of offering each other support professionally, to give an ecumenical witness to their own congregations, and to share the message with the wider community that the theological differences that separated them were insignificant in comparison to the common faith which drew them together.
They were convinced that as they, the spiritual leaders of the various Christian faith communities of the Abingtons, became closer to each other and learned to appreciate and respect each other’s faith traditions, these emerging relationships would draw their congregations closer together.
As new and trusting congregational relationships would develop, these pioneers of the ministerium were convinced the point would eventually be reached at which their congregations would join with each other in programs and service projects that would benefit both their congregations as well as the wider community. Their vision was always to develop and implement programs and projects that could be more effectively offered by churches pooling their resources and working together, rather than churches working independently of each other and, in many instances, duplicating their efforts.
Not much time would pass before the group would be given the opportunity to engage in a significant project that would formally call the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium as a corporation into being.
Housing and Urban Development grants were being made available by the Federal Government for the development of living facilities for senior citizens. Recognizing this as a critical need in the Abingtons, the group pursued the acquisition of a HUD grant. They formed a partnership with Allied Services to successfully pursue a HUD grant. Five years of tenacious efforts by Canon Henry Male, Msgr. Joseph Fadden, Pastor Bill Highfield and Pastor Bill Walton that included seemingly countless trips to and from Philadelphia to meet with HUD officials transformed this dream into a reality as the senior living facility on Linden Street welcomed its first residents. The management of the daily operations of the facility continued under the direction of Allied Services.
Over the course of the years to come, the ministerium initiated a variety of programs for the wellbeing of the community that also served to strengthen the outreach of the churches that were associated with the ministerium.
Outstanding in this regard was the development of the food pantry, which has operated from the Dalton United Methodist Church for the past thirty-five years. CROP walks for world hunger were held in these early days; this project has been revived in 2018.
Over the course of its history, the congregations of the ministerium pooled financial resources to assist individuals and families who have become stranded while travelling through our area with overnight accommodations, meals, and gasoline. The ministerium has also sponsored several ecumenical services throughout the year to bring our congregations together and present a common witness to the community.
This is the legacy that the Abington Ecumenical Ministerium has inherited.
As we move into the future the ministerium is committed to always be “emerging” and “reinventing itself” in order to develop cooperative programs and services which enable its member churches to faithfully address the needs of our community.
On a monthly basis through this continuing series of articles, members of the ministerium will be reflecting upon and sharing their insights on particular issues that affect our community and our faith. The ministerium will always continue to eagerly welcome any suggestions from the community for new opportunities for us to yet more faithfully serve the Abingtons together.
THE REV. GEORGE J. MATHEWS, JR. IS A RETIRED PASTOR OF THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA. FROM AUGUST OF 1979 THROUGH SEPTEMBER OF 2016 HE SERVED AS THE PASTOR OF TRINITY LUTHERAN CHURCH IN CLARKS SUMMIT. DURING THE MAJORITY OF HIS TIME AS PASTOR OF TRINITY, HE SERVED AS THE TREASURER OF THE ABINGTON ECUMENICAL MINISTERIUM. A YEAR AFTER HIS RETIREMENT HE WAS ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE MINISTERIUM, A POSITION WHICH HE CURRENTLY HOLDS.