BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
PLEASANTVILLE – There were people from different countries and even different faiths at Mount Zion Baptist Church last Saturday (Sept. 8), but all arrived with a unifying message of fellowship and inclusion – along with some of delicious meals.
The International Cross Culture Day of Unity, organized by the Fellowship of Churches of Atlantic City & Vicinity, was created to have attendees learn that they had more in common than not. From the roughly 100 people who attended the inaugural event, it appeared to have succeeded.
The event was the passion of Rev. R. Fulton Hargrove II, who has been president of the Fellowship of Churches for the past three years. Hargrove spent time at the booths of the 11 countries, along with the United States and Crow Indian Nation, represented with documentation and food, making sure they felt at home and other visitors got a chance to stop at every station.
“My first year as sitting president, we tried to administrative structure the fellowship and create a model of remembering the past and reaching for the future,” Hargrove told FrontRunnerNewJersey.com.
“When you look at the body of Christ, the past is the vision and the future is unity. Then, the challenge was how do I unite the body. I went to seminary in Atlanta and we had something called International Day. The premise was based on this foundation.”
China, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Haiti, Israel, Korea Liberia, Nigeria, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia were all represented with along with the U.S. and Crow Indian with food and a message to the attendees.
“The Bible says where there is unity there is strength,” Hargrove said. “Anytime we can come together in one accord is dynamic. It is dynamic and it’s good for our community. When I was growing up in Atlantic City, I knew everybody that lived on the block and around the corner, in the front and the back. Today, people don’t know who live across the street from them, because they go in their basement and (play video games and watch television).”
Ari Hauben, with Chosen People Ministries, represented Israel at the event. He said as a Messianic Jew, he believes events like the Day of Unity are crucial to bringing people together across racial, cultural and religious lines.
“As a Jewish, born again believer in Jesus, unity and diversity is very dear to my makeup, identity and role that I want to help impact in the larger body of believers in the church,” Hauben said. “Different gatherings like this that are celebrating a variety of culture, we realize that we’ve all be saved by grace.
“It is a gift from God that we can actually be able to honor and see that God is glorified even more among the diversity of believers, because we are unified in our relationship. Wanting to promote that unity through diversity in the body is something I would happy to go and celebrate,” he added.
Pastor Joanne Martinez, of Soaring Diamonds in Absecon, shared meals at the Puerto Rico table.
“It’s important for the community to get together and exemplify unity not only in the us at adults, but to be an example for young people,” Martinez said. “What better opportunity is it to come together with our food and show that even in all of our differences, there are many other things we have in common.”
Hargrove said that he believes the event was one of the best examples of what the Fellowship of Churches is all about and believes that it will only expand in the future.
“That’s a great question because the only thing I want to say is I live up to our name, The Fellowship of Churches,” Hargrove said. “Whether it be Dominican, whether it be St Lucia, whether it be Indian, whether it be Jewish, just let us live up to our name.
“We are the Fellowship of Churches. One of the things we discuss in our meetings is that this effort opens our eyes so we can accomplish more together than we can independent, and that is building God’s kingdom,” Hargrove continued.
At the U.S. table, Deacon Sheldon Barnett, from Hargrove’s own Cathedral Faith Family Church, treated the attendees to traditional soul food recipes.
“We’re here to serve not only for our church but for the community,” Barnett said. “We want to bring all the different cultures together and unify under one God, so we’re not always separated together. We’re all one people. We all bleed the same blood, but we have to be unified to make the world a better place.”
Hargrove said that he hopes that event will lead to not only a better understanding of different cultures but an appreciation of what they bring to the community.
“So let’s respect everyone for their culture,” Hargrove said. “We should not have to drop our culture to be who you are. We should be able to be who we are and unite with you without dropping who I am, and that’s what we are hoping to accomplish. That Haiti can still be Haiti and come to an American church and America can still be in America and go to a Dominican church. We’re just trying to cross culture but without losing our identity.”
All photos by Meredith Winner, CEO, Mer-Made Photography