The Rev. Dr. Robert Berkey, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), participated in an ecumenical thanksgiving service with Roman Catholics. The service, held at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Fenton, Michigan, is one of two annual ecumenical services of worship sponsored by the Fenton Area Clergy.
The bulletin for the ecumenical worship service announced: "The Fenton Area Clergy is a fellowship of clergy who affirm Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and profess one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. We rejoice in our unity as the Body of Christ and strive to serve the community together in His Name." Dr. Berkey, who is Associate Pastor at Tyrone Covenant Presbyterian Church in Fenton, is the President of the clergy association.
Among those participating in the November 24th service were representatives of the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, and Lutheran Church, as well as the Presbyterian Church in America. Two of the clergy were women.
According to Billie Gillespie, who coordinates the ecumenical service, churches which often participate include Presbyterian (USA), United Methodist, Free Methodist, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, Nazarene, Seventh Day Adventist, and Church of Christ. Mrs. Gillespie, who is studying for the United Methodist ministry, works at the Fenton United Methodist Church as the music and worship coordinator.
She indicated that the thanksgiving service is a very traditional one, with readings, choral and instrumental music, and a message, always brought by a guest speaker. The guest minister this year was the Rev. Dr. Isaiah Scipio, from nearby Flint, Michigan. A black pastor, he is involved in community service projects, and the burden of his message was geared to the affluent, mostly white, upper class town of Fenton. Billie Gillespie recalled that Dr. Scipio was concerned to communicate that people who have been greatly blessed should, out of a sense of thanksgiving, share with those that are less fortunate.
The offering received on November 24th was to be divided equally between the St. Vincent DePaul Society and Fenton Area Resource and Referral (F.A.R.R.).
The thanksgiving community service is always held at St. John's, since it alone in the area has the capacity to seat the 700 or so people who attend each year. An ecumenical Good Friday service, which attracts a smaller crowd, is usually held at the United Methodist church building.
Mrs. Gillespie stated that most of the churches in the area participate in the Fenton Ministerial Association. The number of clergy who actively participate in the service varies from year to year. In some years, there may be a dozen or more; this year, there were only seven.
One of the highlights is the choir, which has people from all of the local churches. Among those singing in the choir this year were the Rev. and Mrs. Bob Berkey.
Tyrone Covenant Presbyterian was organized in 1878; about twenty years ago, it left the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and found its way into the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which later joined the PCA. Dr. Berkey pastored the congregation from 1973 until 1997, when he became Associate Pastor.
Not everyone from Tyrone Covenant, however, participated in the ecumenical service. The Rev. James Mascow, who succeeded Dr. Berkey as Senior Pastor in 1997, declined to participate, for reasons of conscience.
St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
508 N Adelaide St.
Fenton, Michigan 48430-1827
Fenton United Methodist Church
119 S. Leroy Street
Fenton, Michigan 48430
The Rev. Dr. Robert Berkey
11149 Foley Road
Fenton, Michigan 48430-9501