Ministers association provides backbone of faith in West Point

Sarah Fearing
Contact Reportersfearing@tidewaterreview.com

WEST POINT — There is an underlying common denominator among volunteers at the West Point mobile food pantry, nurses at Riverside Convalescent Center and children at the Creative Critters Learning Center.

Although kindness is also a common theme, members of the West Point Ministers' Association are often working behind the scenes to support these services.

The association, which was founded in the 1960s, includes close to a dozen leaders from West Point's churches. Denomination is not a hurdle for the community-oriented group, which also plans collaborative events.

"We give each other a hard time, that's one of the qualities of this particular group," said the Rev. Bill Palmer, laughing. "We acknowledge our theological differences, but don't allow that to stand in the way of the work we do together."

The Rev. Matt Cox, of the West Point Christian Church, said the ministers association discusses how to get people more involved in church at every organization meeting. People have strayed away from attending church in the past 20 years, he said.

"The simple answer is people are just too busy," he said.

The association, however, aims to bring people back together.

The group "underscores the sense of community in really positive ways," Palmer said about bringing the community together for certain events.

One of the group's largest services is the Good Neighbor Center, which provides food, clothing, furniture, appliances, toys and other financial support to West Point residents in need.

The service was established in 1970 by association members and operates out of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church school building on West Euclid Boulevard.

The center also provides funds for rent, utilities, prescriptions, eyeglasses and heating fuels. The association writes checks directly to landlords, pharmacies and utility companies.

The Good Neighbor Center is supported mostly by donations of money and other needed items.

The association's revenue has remained stable for several years, Palmer said. A document outlining the Good Neighbor Center's services shows revenue for 2008 was just under $41,000.

In 2009, the Good Neighbor Center served around 80 people. Since then, the number has risen to over 120 clients, according to Palmer.

Palmer said that the rising number of clients means the center has to more work to do, with the same amount of money. Without volunteers, the Good Neighbor Center would not be nearly as effective, he said.

"The number of people served also continues to rise, which I fear says something troubling about the economic status of our community," Palmer said.

The' association also plans multi-church events for specific occasions, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Easter and baccalaureate events for West Point's graduating seniors.

On Feb. 28, the churches in West Point will hold a Black History Month event at the United Methodist Church on Main Street

The event is a follow up for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day service in January, which was canceled due to snow.

The association will also hold a Soup and Sermon event every Wednesday during Lent, the first of which will take place Feb. 17 at the St. John's Episcopal Church, at 916 Main St.

Different ministers of the group will preach or lead the worship, then attendees will have a light Lenten lunch together. The church will also take offerings, which will go to support the Good Neighbor Center.

Through collaboration and planning, the minister's association also makes sure that certain programs and services in West Point are supported by the group.

At a Feb. 10 association meeting, the religious leaders arranged to volunteer at the community events. At least one minister volunteers at the Mobile Food Pantry, sponsored by the United Way of Greater Williamsburg, during its monthly visit in West Point.

Members also pay visits to the Riverside Convalescent Center to give support to the elderly residents. At the meeting, the Rev. Gordon Meriwether, of the United Methodist Church, opened a discussion to ensure residents at Riverside were receiving enough attention from the religious leaders.

Palmer said that although similar groups exist in other localities, the West Point Ministers' Association is fortunate to have been so successful in staying together over the years.

"We're extremely grateful for it," Palmer said.

The Good Neighbor Center is open from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays and from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesdays.

Fearing can be reached at 804-885-0042.

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