By Susan Brooks Thomas
On Sunday, July 10, more than 145 Christians from two churches in the Northern Neck of Virginia gathered under a tent on Northumberland Highway in Heathsville for a picnic. St. Stephen’s Anglican Church hosted First Baptist Church of Heathsville, reciprocating in a second annual “Brotherhood Sunday.”
The Northern Neck is a rural area near the Chesapeake Bay, known for its wetlands, fisheries, farming and aquatic recreation. In many ways, things have not changed much there since the 1950’s. The Rev. Jeff Cerar, Rector of St. Stephen’s, likes to say that today there are only three traffic signals in Northumberland County. There were none when he and his wife Lynne arrived in 1996. Rev. Cerar says, “There still is a lot of work to do on racial reconciliation in our area.” This event, bringing together a predominantly African American congregation and a predominantly Caucasian one, is an important one. The two churches have been working on this partnership for nine years, having put on a “Save the Community Crusade” together for five year, and held numerous pulpit exchanges, worship and social events.
This particular Sunday, the two congregations met “under the Big Top.” Breezes brought some relief from the heat, drinks were cold and the camaraderie was warm. A large team, led by Ward and Judy Le Hardy of St. Stephen’s, handled the planning and preparations. A buffet ‘Pot Luck’ spread was delicious and plentiful with more than six different versions of pasta salad, numerous side dishes, fried chicken and grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. Among the homemade desserts, a variety of outstanding cakes, cookies and brownies satisfactorily completed the meal.
Songs of joy and praise filled the air as choirs from both churches offered selections praising God for “…seeing the best in me.” Young and old all joined to sing the timeless classic, “Jesus Loves Me.” Sung as a round, with echoes and chorus covering the grounds and nearby highway, it was a truly moving experience and flawlessly captured the spirit of the afternoon. Lyn Conley’s solo, “Statue of Liberty,” reminded us that we are all Christians first and then Americans or Virginians or Northern Neckers. It was a timely and honest tribute to the foundations of our County.
After lunch, the Pastors of both congregations took the stage to participate in a “Meet the Press” question and answer period. The Reverend Tad DeBordenave served as moderator, asking questions centered on “Does God Have a Plan for Your Life?”
[Joy Gwaltney photo: L-R, The Rev. Jeff Cerar, Dr. John Fountaine, The Rev. Canon Tad de Bordenave.]
For First Baptist Church, Dr. John Fountaine’s perspective was “How awesome is it that we all came to America for different successes. No matter how we arrived or if we came here from the other side of the earth, we are all here for a Divine purpose. And God did not make us to be ashamed of each other. ” Commenting on the surprise that God’s plans often hold, Dr. Fountaine marveled at how God had put together himself, a former businessman, and Rev. Cerar, a former attorney, as good friends and country pastors.
“What could bring such a diverse conglomeration of people together for laughter, understanding and worship on a hot, humid July afternoon? Only God’s Love for us and our Love for God. God is infinitely creative, He does have the Master Plan and He knows how to enlist us in His purposes,” emphasized Cerar.
The two congregations describe their partnership as an important bridge across denominational, cultural and racial barriers for the cause of Jesus Christ. One member observed on Sunday, “Today we celebrate as one tribe.”