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Archives Gouverneur churches work, pray together
Family support coordinator helps create link between denominations

January 17, 2024

In the basement of Fowler Baptist Church, located just a few miles outside the Village of Gouverneur, representatives from different denominations gathered on Jan. 11 to pray together, share a meal and discuss plans to expand the unity they’re trying to create.

“We started working on this in September, and we’ve been meeting since October,” said Family Support Coordinator Michele Lallier, who serves at St. James School in Gouverneur. “As a family support coordinator for the diocese, I knew people came to St. James Church to look for help. I thought people probably did that at other churches in the area, too. I talked to Father Jay (Seymour, pastor at St. James Church), and I asked him if it was ok if I reached out to pastors of the other churches in the area to let them know about my position and how I might be able to help people with needs who go to them.”

Father Seymour gave his approval to the idea, and Lallier began calling churches around the Gouverneur area.

As a result of those discussions, pastors and representatives of the area churches decided to start gathering monthly to better their cooperation and community.

“This created an opportunity to get to know pastors in the surrounding churches for fraternity and to become more familiar with their traditions,” said Father Seymour. “It’s also an opportunity to coordinate our efforts so we’re not duplicating services. When we’re helping people, whether it be through a food pantry or some other means, it’s good to work together rather than separately.”

“I think the saddest thing in Church history is the divide between denominations,” added Howie Maxson, pastor of Fowler Baptist Church. “It’s important for us just to be together. We can coordinate services, but we can also pray for and with each other. Maybe the community at large can see something different. If you go to the south, there’s a Baptist church on every corner. None of them can get together. It gets even worse from a wider view. The world needs to see some unity and peace right now.”

In addition to St. James Church and Fowler Baptist Church, the group includes Pastor Ben Lalka of the Gouverneur First United Methodist Church, Father Gregory Bailey of Trinity Episcopal Church, Pastor Mike Tomford of the North Country Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational church, and Reverend Carrie Demers, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Gouverneur.

The group hopes to work together to help individuals in need who approach their churches and to serve their communities. For example, the church representatives noted they could potentially work on Christmas meal and gift distributions together.

Pastor Maxson said there was previously an “ecumenical fellowship of pastors” in the Gouverneur area, but its activities were suspended during the pandemic and never resumed.

“I’m happy we’re actually doing this,” he said, smiling. “It’s good to get together again. It’s good to come together to eat, pray and talk, though maybe not in that order.”

“The witness of unity is important,” Father Seymour added.

To further witness to and foster that unity, the group of pastors and church representatives is planning a prayer vigil for peace and Christian unity. The vigil will be held at 6:30 p.m. on January 25 at the Gouverneur Community Center.

Members of all the involved churches and the community at large are invited and encouraged to participate.

“There’s so much division in the world,” said Deacon Henry Leader, also of St. James Church in Gouverneur.

“There’s division in the Holy Land. There’s division between Christians and non-Christians. There are divisions between denominations. Even within the Church, there’s a huge spectrum from conservative to liberal, and that’s causing division. Coming together, we can be witnesses for Christ. It’s the enemy, the devil, that wants division. God wants unity. I think it’s important for us to gather together and pray together. And what’s better to pray for than peace and unity?”

While the organizers hope this event, to be held on the last day of the International Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, will be a good launching point for further fellowship and cooperation.

“After this event on the 25th, we’re hoping to have more things that bring people together for community as a large group,” said Lallier. “We’re hoping to have more unity. I think our culture needs to see unity in our love of God and our love of each other.”

“I’ve heard it said that we all have the same boss, just different unions,” added Deacon Leader, laughing.

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