The Garden Church in West Baltimore and Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia don’t have a lot in common — one is an inner-city church and the other serves in a small-town area filled with commuters of Washington D.C. But the two congregations are connected through a strategic partnership.
Interestingly, both churches have senior pastors who share the same name — Joel.
Joel Kurz is pastor of The Garden Church, and Joel Rainey is pastor of Covenant Church.
Developing cultural awareness
Rainey said he emphasizes global awareness and wants Covenant Church members to experience and be aware of the culture and environments outside of their own. “It’s really easy to isolate,” he acknowledged.
Referring to the partnership, Rainey said, “I’ve known Joel (Kurz) since 2008, and I love what he does. I was in the early conversations that gave rise to One Hope (a ministry of The Garden Church).”
One Hope is church based and church centered with the goal of making disciples through building healthy churches in America’s poorest neighborhoods.
Covenant members, mostly teens with some adults, have been spending time in the summers at The Garden Church helping with Bible clubs and building relationships.
“They spend the other half of the time learning about urban poverty from some brilliant minds such as Stephanie Greer (a life coach for One Hope),” Rainey said;
Kurz noted, “Covenant Church sees inner-city missions as part of their missions strategy. They came on as core partners with One Hope to do that. They’ve been giving and they’ve been coming to help.”
He’s grateful for Covenant’s support. “We’ve had the opportunity to have a couple of teams from Covenant over several visits to run outreach for youth and camps through The Garden Church,” he said.
Kurz said he has wanted the relationship to be two-sided, and part of the goal has been to develop “a real partnership — to become sister churches.”
“This was the first year we sent a team to Covenant,” Kurz added. “It’s cool that our church has been the recipient and now was able to go to one of our partner churches and help them.
“This summer, we helped with their Vacation Bible School ‘Splash Bash.’ We also gave out backpacks and helped with a back-to-school event at a housing project Covenant Church has adopted.”
Brokenness is everywhere
“For our team, it was a great cross-cultural experience in a very different context,” said Kurz, noting they realized that brokenness is everywhere. “It’s not just a Baltimore city problem. There are issues of addiction, cycles of poverty and violence. To be able to reach out to communities to meet a real need is sweet and we plan to continue the partnership.”
Rainey pointed out, “There are marked differences between the West Virginia panhandle and inner-city Baltimore, but some of the same dynamics. Over there it’s crack. Here it’s heroin.”
Anyone who believes the gospel, Rainey said, knows that the root of the brokenness and darkness is sin in the world.
“We may apply the gospel in different ways,” he noted, “but at the heart, it’s the same gospel.”