Local Churches Relaunch Community Initiative


Staff Writer

In a new open letter to the community, a collection of Moore County churches have shared their hope of strengthening the “ties that bind us, neighbor to neighbor,” through reforming the Fellowship of Churches. 

“We believe it is time to reinvest in relationships and strengthen the ties that bind us,” the letter states. “We believe that as our community continues to grow, the resources to love our neighbor in need will continue to grow. Our prayer for this community is that we might remember and relearn the wisdom of that old hymn, ‘Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.’”

Ten pastors across nine churches have relaunched the Fellowship of Churches organization to coordinate resources and address human needs. 

Rev. John Hage, with Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines, said the goal of the revived organization is to shed light on the challenges people are facing and coordinate aid responses.

“Our hope is that as our community grows … our capacity for helping our neighbor will also grow,” Hage said. 

Rev. Dr. Paul Murphy, of A.M.E. Zion Church in Southern Pines, said the group of pastors agreed it was the right time to engage the broader community and show “genuine and organic togetherness.”

“(The group) provides a lens through which others can peer when crisis situations arise, challenges arise, in the community,” Murphy said. “We can all look at it together.”

Retired Rev. Dr. David Helms, who spearheaded the group’s revival, first joined in 1983 when he started at First Baptist Church of Southern Pines. He believes the Fellowship of Churches dates back to the 1960s or 1970s. 

He said it involved all of the major churches in the area, rattling off numerous denominations, including Methodist, Lutheran, A.M.E. Zion, Baptist and Presbyterian.

“It had a major representation,” Helms said. 

Helms said that one of the biggest accomplishments of the Fellowship of Churches was forming the Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care in 1986. The group also helped form Family Promise of Moore County in 2000.

Murphy, who was a part of the Fellowship in the late 1990s, remembered working with the Sandhills Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provided temporary shelter at various churches for women and children experiencing homelessness before Family Promise became a permanent fixture.

And while the Fellowship expanded in the 1990s, Helms said meeting attendance slowly faded as each church began focusing on individual initiatives.

But now, Hage said the need in the community is too big for any one organization to try to handle on its own. He pointed out the “time of division” felt over the last few years.

The letter outlines a few forces that have recently impacted the community, mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic, the Duke Energy power substation attacks in December 2022, and anti-semitic signs hung on U.S. 1 in the same month.

It also notes the 70 percent increase in aid requests the Coalition reported in 2023. The Coalition is named a strategic partner of the group in the letter. 

Helms, Hage and Murphy shared the same sentiment, saying the group wants to show “unity” in the community. 

“I think one of the benefits of it, in a time when our society is so divided, is the Fellowship is a way to bring people together,” Helms said. 

The Fellowship began meeting monthly last May, learning about the community’s needs and working to create a list of resources to share with people. Hage said each month has been focused on a different topic, from homelessness and rental assistance to food needs. 

Hage said the group decided to announce its intentions now because it has built bonds internally and is ready to engage with the community.

“Our community is important to us, and we want to come together to love and care for our neighbor and just be united in a mission a little larger than ourselves in our own churches. And we just want folks to know we can work together, and it’s happening, and we hope to continue to grow that.”

Murphy is optimistic about the future outcomes of the group, saying he sees a “great revival of faith, hope and love.”

The letter, published in today’s edition of The Pilot, is signed by Rev. John Hage, Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church; Rev. Dr. Paul Murphy, Trinity AME Zion Church; Rev. Dr. Jamie Kipfer, First Baptist Church, Southern Pines; Rev. Tommy Sweeley, Southern Pines United Methodist Church; Rev. Debra Gray, Love Grove AME Zion Church; Rev. Emily Davis, Jordan Chapel AME Zion Church; Rev. Austin Vernon, Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church; Rev. Elias Ballew, Southern Pines United Methodist Church; Rev. Elizabeth Doolin, Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church; Rev. Dr. David Helms, Retired; and Stephen Phillips, Executive Director, Coalition for Human Care.

Contact Ana Risano at (910) 585-6396 or ana@thepilot.com.