Faith and fellowship
● By Richard Gaw
Ben Quintana, the pastor of Christ Church at the Grove, is the vice president of the Avon Grove Ministerium. Bruce Latshaw, the pastor of the Barn Vineyard Church, is the current president.
By Steven Hoffman
Each month, the religious leaders from 20 local churches gather together to share their faith and enjoy fellowship with each other. The Avon Grove Ministerium has no official membership or organizational structure, but the 24 active members representing eight different Christian denominations in southern Chester County find significant value in these monthly meetings.
No matter how much these men and women enjoy the sacred work that they have been called to do, what they are tasked with day to day can be difficult.
Bruce Latshaw, the pastor of the Barn Vineyard Church, is the current president of the Avon Grove Ministerium, while Ben Quintana, the pastor of Christ Church at the Grove, is the vice president.
According to Latshaw, a typical meeting of the Avon Grove Ministerium includes time for corporate prayer, a light breakfast, praise reports, updates on any business on the agenda, the reading of scripture from one or more of the pastors, and then time for small group encouragement and prayer.
Latshaw and Quintana have both been involved with the Avon Grove Ministerium for about 15 years.
Latshaw said that when he first started participating with the Avon Grove Ministerium, he found it very beneficial to get to know the other pastors in the area.
Quintana echoed the sentiment. “The relationships are very good,” he said. “I get to know these people. I’m able to rejoice with them because I know them. We care for each other.”
That encouragement and prayer between peers is invaluable because ministers shoulder numerous burdens that few people fully understand.
“It’s a very rewarding job,” explained Quintana, “but it’s also a tough job.”
Church leaders are expected to have the management skills of a CEO, but the versatility of a real jack-of-all-trades. They need to be a counselor in times of trouble, a comforter in times of pain, a cheerful friend at other times. Then there’s that little matter of providing spiritual guidance to an entire congregation. The burden is heavy, and the pastors come to rely on the fellowship the Avon Grove Ministerium provides, and rejoice in the faith that is demonstrated during the meetings.
“We almost always have small group prayers, and that creates a sense of cohesion,” Latshaw explained. “It’s a real spiritual family. Many ministers can have times when they feel alone. When one of us hits a rough spot, we can receive counseling and help.”
During the meetings of the Avon Grove Ministerium, the similarities between the members always prevail over their differences. On matters that might be controversial, the leaders of the different denominations agree to disagree. They create a supportive environment that is built on the bedrock of purposeful prayer and focused, always, on Christ.
“For me,” said Quintana, “it is very gratifying to see the individual ministers praying for the community. It’s a prayer-based group.”
The seeds were planted for the Avon Grove Ministerium by the Avondale Presbyterian Church more than two decades ago. Alice Dripps, a member at that church, had a property in Chatham, and envisioned it as the future home of a Christian retreat center. Dripps would host monthly meetings of church members so that they could pray together and share ideas.
“It was a time for fellowship for Christian ministers,” Latshaw explained. “Sometimes, they would have a speaker.”
Today, the Dripps’ property is home to the Stillwaters Presbyterian Church. Those meetings of pastors in the area evolved into the Avon Grove Ministerium. In addition to the monthly meetings for church leaders, the Avon Grove Ministerium unites local churches for the community Thanksgiving service, the Good Friday service, the Baccalaureate service, and other events as decided on each year.
The Avon Grove community has undergone significant changes during the last few decades, and the Ministerium is a way for the churches to meet the changing needs of the community.
Latshaw founded a church with his wife, Lynn, when they were still students at the University of Delaware nearly 40 years ago. The original name of the church was the New Ark Community Church, and members met at first in a campus apartment, and then in a townhouse in Newark, Del. In 1980, the church’s name was changed to the Newark Christian Fellowship Church. Latshaw worked as a teacher in Delaware, but it became evident to him that his true calling was to lead a church. The church eventually relocated to a newly built barn on a 21-acre property in Landenberg, and its identity continued to evolve. When they first moved to the Landenberg property, the building was an actual working barn with animals, and it was slowly converted into a space with offices and a spiritual meeting place. The name of the church became The Barn Vineyard Church. The church was formally adopted into the Association of Vineyard Churches, USA, in 2003, the same year that a new church building was constructed on the property. Today, the Barn Vineyard Church has four full-time pastors caring for and serving approximately 500 members. Latshaw described the church as “an informal, charismatic, contemporary, community of Christians.”
Quintana grew up in Avondale. He graduated from Avon Grove High School in 1977 and was involved in social work until he became a pastor. The Christ Church at the Grove was started eight years ago. The Avondale Presbyterian Church opened its doors to the new church during its first year. Then the Christ Church at the Grove met at the Church in the Vineyard for about five years. For the last two years, the Christ Church at the Grove has been based out of the former New London Presbyterian Church, an historic building, on Newark Road.
“We’ve been a church in transition, and all the churches here have been so supportive of us,” Quintana explained.
He described the Christ Church at the Grove as an independent Christian church that is contemporary in presentation, but conservative in its values.
Members of the Avon Grove Ministerium, like pastors and ministers everywhere, must learn how to navigate the changing tides of society.
Latshaw said, “One of the substantial challenges that pastors face is this: What is the prevailing understanding of what regular commitment is to a church? Is it twice-a-month Sunday attendance? There are many more things in the world now that compete for the time, money, and energy of people than there was twenty years ago.”
Quintana added that the societal changes regarding authority, commitment, and values are something that all pastors must address with their congregations.
The Avon Grove Ministerium is open to any religious leaders of churches in the area. Two of the churches that participate are from the Kennett Square area, and there are also four para-church ministries that are co-sponsored by churches in the Ministerium. This kind of collaboration that doesn’t have geographic or denominational boundaries was precisely what the founders of the Avon Grove Ministerium had in mind.
“It was always meant to be an opportunity for all,” Quintana explained.
“We’re welcoming and very open to participation by all Christian leaders in the area,” Latshaw explained.
Quintana added that the Avon Grove Ministerium has ethnic, racial, and gender diversity, which is very important as the group works to meet the needs of the diverse community.
Latshaw and Quintana both agreed that the Avon Grove Ministerium is a blessing to them.
“It’s a connection to the larger Christian community,” Quintana explained. “We know that we’re a part of something a little bit bigger.”
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email firstname.lastname@example.org.