by Marc and Julie Anderson
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4: 5-6).
TOPEKA — It started when two pastors got together more than a year ago.
And it culminated in what will hopefully become an annual event. More than 500 people gathered April 29 to promote a sense of unity among Topeka’s area churches at what was called Fellowship of Faith.
The four-hour event featured a free evening cookout of grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, a wine and beer tent, children’s activities like face painting, and music provided by Rewind, a local group known for playing music from the ’60s to the ’80s.
Organizers said the planning began in earnest late last fall, but the idea came much earlier.
In late 2016, Pastor James Bender, the senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Topeka, called Father Greg Hammes, the pastor of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish, to ask him a question.
Although the men led congregations located just across a parking lot from one another, the two had never gotten to know one another. As a result of the phone call, the two decided to meet at a local café.
There, the men discussed the joys and struggles of ministry and asked questions of each other. Father Hammes recalled the pair realizing they had a lot in common.
“It was just really nice,” he said, adding that the two met a few more times as they continued to build a relationship.
During one of those get-togethers Father Hammes suggested the two churches hold a joint event to mark the 500 years since the Reformation. He knew they could not solve any theological issues, but saw an opportunity for the two congregations to come together in a spirit of unity.
“We are neighbors, and I think an event like this gives us an opportunity to be more neighborly,” said Father Hammes. Maybe, he thought, the event “could be a model for the world.”
Pastor Bender agreed.
During their shared opening remarks of welcome, Pastor Bender said, “There’s great common ground in the Christian faith.”
Father Hammes said events like these help present “a common front to the world.”
“Our world needs that,” he added. “We can easily be divided.”
An event of this magnitude required planning and coordination, for which both pastors turned to lay leaders within their respective churches.
Barb Chamberlain, a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary, served as the chair of a committee of approximately 15 core members that began meeting regularly in November. Other committee members included a few couples with ties to both churches, including John and Rachel Bristow and Bill and Julie Haverkamp. The husbands are members of the Catholic Church while the wives belong to the Lutheran church.
The Bristows, who moved here three years ago from Wisconsin, said they were approached by Pastor Bender. At first, John was uncertain as to what he might offer, but Rachel encouraged him to attend the first meeting.
“I’m not a leader,” John protested, but his wife told him they should see what it was all about. After all, the pastor had approached them for a reason.
Although the pair worships together at both churches, they admitted to growing together in their relationship and in their admiration for members of both churches.
“They have done so much,” Rachel said of the various groups within Most Pure Heart, mentioning the Knights of Columbus, in particular. The parish regularly hosts two large-scale events, Stone’s Folly and Summerfest, which attract hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
“They brought their expertise,” Rachel said. “We could not have done it without the support of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish.”
Chamberlain said it was truly a privilege to work with the committee members and the more than 70 volunteers who helped with the event.
“This group was one of the best groups I’ve ever worked with,” she said.
She expects the relationship to continue to grow and flourish in the future.
And that is something Jake Wampfler, Faith Lutheran Church’s associate pastor, looks forward to as well.
“I hope we can start working together more,” he said, and find “more opportunities to show our community how churches can work together.”
Like the organizers, those who attended said they look forward to working with their Christian neighbors.
“I think it’s a fantastic day,” said JuliAnn Mazachek. She and her husband Keith are members of Faith Lutheran and hope “this is just the first of many” such events, as it offered everyone a chance to come together in fellowship, faith and friendship.
Likewise, Susie Stone, a member of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish, said the day offered a chance for everyone to celebrate their commonalities as Christians.
“This is simply wonderful,” she said.