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Group unites parishes in worship

Charles Landen Jr.
ROCK ISLAND -- It began in 1961 as the Council of Churches of Rock Island and Scott Counties and has progressed to represent 130 churches of over 20 different Christian denominations in the greater Quad-Cities area.

``We are a channel for the community,'' said the Rev. Charles Landon Jr., executive director of Churches United of the Quad City Area. ``We bring in a perspective that churches can do -- among many other things, we handle money sparingly, we use volunteers and we have a commitment to the community. We believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.''

Rev. Landon, an American Baptist, serves as the third director of the group, having come into the position in 1992. The first executive director was Donald Bautz, an American Lutheran, followed in 1973 by Thomas Kalshoven, a Presbyterian, who retired in 1991.

Churches United, in an updated mission statement in 1995, focuses on cooperative ministry, witness, advocacy, growth through study and dialogue and celebration in worship and as that group, called upon to be an ethical and moral voice to the community.

``Churches United is governed by 25 persons on the board composed of a president, president-elect, past president, and 22 directors-at-large, 11 from Iowa and 11 from Illinois. Eight members are clergy. We meet on a monthly basis,'' Rev. Landon said.

The board tries to be as widely ecumenical as possible and include people from a variety of church situations: urban, rural, various sizes, suburban; and seeks males and females of all ages and various ethnic groups from a variety of vocational/professional backgrounds.

``At the present time, our local issue is getting welfare recipients to work and working on ways to assist with the procedure,'' Rev. Landon said. ``In the past, it has been the church community that has adopted families.''

Two special promotional events stick out in Rev. Landon's mind:

-- See You in Church put on by Churches United was ``strictly local,'' said Rev. Landon ``All of us (participants) agreed on one thing, being in church is good.'' The 1998 See You in Church Weekend this year will be Oct. 10-11.

-- Church Secretary Day was started in 1993 ``for a special group of people who really run the church when pastors are out of the building, on vacation or busy with other church details,'' Rev. Landon said.

``The food pantry and meal sites are the fondest to my heart; I see the food programs as a parallel to spiritual hunger,'' Rev. Landon said.

Churches United is funded by contributions from member churches, gifts from individuals and groups, grants from denominational agencies (usually for ministry and justice) and occasional foundation grants.

In order to participate in Churches United, ``the church body must have a letter indicating they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord,'' Rev. Landon said. ``We ask for their support in prayer, to take part in activities offered and to contribute as the congregation is able. Some churches can afford $100 per year while other churches provide our budget with $8,000 per year.''

``The Churches United group has integrity and we can take a stand,'' Rev. Landon said. ``Tom (Kalshoven) built a good reputation and we've tried to build even more on that. We've been a trustee for several other funds. I believe that says a lot for our reputation, especially since the uprising of certain national church officials and their financial practices which are under public scrutiny. We want to continue to see good things happen.''

The Churches United Ministries include:

-- Food pantries -- Over 40,000 individuals from over 12,000 families receive over $300,000 worth of food annually through 18 food pantries located throughout Scott and Rock Island counties and coordinated by Churches United.

-- Churches United meal sites -- Every evening except Sundays the hot meals are served to more than 30,000 people at the Davenport Salvation Army Family Service Center. A second meal site opened in 1996 at the Oak Grove Community Center in East Moline which provides free hot meals three evenings a week.

-- Jail chaplaincy ministry -- Forty volunteer jail chaplains contact inmates in Rock Island and Scott county jails every day or evening. The chaplains practice active listening and bring the Gospel of Jesus to inmates.

-- Inspirations -- A short meditation ends each weeknight programming on WQAD-TV Channel 8 as given by local pastors.

-- CROP Walk -- On the first Saturday of October, people gather to walk for the hungry. In 1996, almost 700 local walkers earned over $40,000.

-- Oak Glen Nursing Home services -- Coordinating worship services on Sunday afternoons with about a dozen congregations participating.

-- Emergency Assistance Fund -- A program working with member church pastors to provide special financial assistance for emergency needs.

-- Supplemental Emergency Assistance Program (SEAP) -- meets emergency needs for which there are no other resources. Churches United manages the fund for over 30 Quad-Cities nonprofit human service agencies.

-- The ARC -- Ecumenical publication sent monthly to over 2,300 individuals, churches, agencies and others. The publication lists Churches United activities, programs and news of area churches.

-- Directory of churches -- Updated on a yearly basis, the directory lists area churches and staff and can provide an updated mailing list for a nominal fee.

-- See You In Church Weekend -- Into its fourth year, one weekend is set aside in the fall to invite people to worship in over 70 churches.

-- Representation/advocacy -- Churches United representatives speak on behalf of the Christian community in planning events for a Christlike lifestyle.

-- Judy Meirhaeghe (February 2, 1998)

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