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Four Newport churches join in Lenten soup suppers and worship

Members of four Newport churches who see each other in business, schools and events have a chance during Lent to talk about their faith over soup Wednesday evenings for six weeks.

Newport Churches Lenten Supper
Cindy sayre and Lois Lunden prepare soup for a Lenten supper.

The American Lutheran Church hosts the first two weeks, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, the second two weeks, and the Newport United Church of Christ (UCC), the last two weeks.  The Mennonite Church assists the UCC church.  A massed choir of 30 to 40 voices from the four churches sings at the fifth and sixth services.

This year the theme for the Soup Supper sermons is, “The Body of Christ.”  Each pastor will discuss different parts and what they mean in the Lenten journey.

The Revs. Janine and Matt Goodrich of the Lutheran church will preach on the eyes and mouth.

Father Frank Bach, who is serving the parish until a new priest is placed there, and John Westover, who will soon be ordained a deacon, of the Catholic church will speak on Christ’s hands and heart.

The Rev. Russ Clark at the United Church of Christ will talk about the knees and feet of Christ.

Agnes Goertzen, an elder at Spring Valley Mennonite, will assist at the UCC services.

Chris DeChenne, secretary of the UCC church, said members have helped prepare two of the six weeks of ecumenical Lenten Soup Suppers and worship services for long enough that they have a notebook on how to set up tables, soup recipes and time lines for preparation.

The United Church of Christ, American Lutheran, St. Anthony’s Catholic and Spring Valley Mennonite churches have held Lenten gatherings every year since about 1994, she said.

“Our unofficial motto is ‘until we eat again,’” Chris said.

 “I know people from practices with the Northwoods Performing Arts Center, seeing them on the street and meeting them at other places in the community,” she said.  “It gives members a chance to hear different preachers and experience the similarities and differences in our worship services.”

Russ, who came to the UCC church in July, is amazed at the number of people who participate and at the level of cooperation. 

He said the pastors know each other because they meet weekly to study the lectionary texts as they prepare their sermons.

 “It makes the journey through the most difficult season of the Christian liturgical year easier,” said Matt.

“We reflect on our brokenness and detachment while we sing, eat, pray and laugh together in an amazing time of fellowship,” he said.  “We are facing the cross with our hands held together, hearing different perspectives in the body of Christ.  It prepares me for Easter, making Easter an exclamation point that punctuates the conclusion of our time of sharing in the suffering and joy.”

He is impressed that the suppers and services have been sustained so many years by the commitment of lay people.  They started years before he and his wife and co-pastor Janine came seven years ago.

“In this day, ecumenism is difficult,” Matt said.  “This experience reminds us that our churches are about Jesus, not a denomination.  It’s an example of what we can do and be.  Who knows where it will lead us.”

In addition to the six soup suppers, the UCC and Lutheran churches also celebrate Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday together.

Sharing in these events is part of these churches’ pattern of encouraging members to go back and forth to each other’s events and fund raisers, as well as to share in community ministries, Russ said.

“We don’t have a common purse, but we each help support Rural Resources and the Crisis Network, which serve the community by helping people with housing, medical assistance, food, clothing and emergency shelter,” he said.  “The Crisis Network began in our church, with members of our church and community people forming it.”

Russ, a graduate of Whitworth who grew up in Colfax, went in 1983 to Lancaster Seminary.  He returned to the area and served a UCC church in Ritzville and then served churches in central Pennsylvania.

“Members of the different churches know each other and work together in the community,” he said.  “The soup suppers give people who see each other in businesses, in the community and in school the opportunity to connect with each other on the faith level.

“Coming together around faith, they can overcome differences and share commonalties,” he said.

Fr. Frank, who served St. Mary’s Catholic when the Tri-Parish program with the former Good Shepherd Lutheran and Resurrection Episcopal churches held ecumenical services, is impressed that this small community draws 125 to 150 people.

“It has a strong impact in a small community,” he said.

While most of the four congregations have many older members, the soup suppers draw a spectrum of ages.  

Sundays, about 85 worship at the UCC church, 114 at the Lutheran church and 200 at the Catholic church.

Each church chooses a charity for the offering collected when the service is at their building. 

Chris, who grew up in Newport, a community of 2,000, returned in 1970 after graduating from Washington State University in music education.  She and her husband, Don, are the piano organ team for the United Church of Christ.

When the UCC church was rebuilding after a fire in 1980, Chris said the congregation worshiped at the Catholic Church. 

During that time, the UCC, Catholic and Lutheran churches began doing a shared vacation Bible school.

For information, call the Lutheran church at 447-4338, the Catholic Church at 447-4231 or the United Church of Christ at 447-4121 or email newportucc@conceptcable.com.