The big old churches of Monrovia have joined forces to take care of one of their own.
Congregations from six denominations will pool resources to help pay for the rebuilding of a bell tower of the First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, that was damaged in the aftershocks of the Oct. 1 earthquake.
"Unusual, isn't it--Christian churches helping each other," quipped the Rev. Everett D. Simson, minister of St. Luke's Episcopal Church. "The whole world sees us as competing with each other, but we talk about cooperation all the time. Now we're doing it."
The earth tremors that triggered the spirit of cooperation cracked the bell tower of the 62-year-old church at the corner of Primrose and Palm avenues. Repairs required removing the top eight feet of the tower and building a new roof at a cost of $45,000.
One of several big churches near Monrovia's downtown business center, the First Christian Church has only 156 members. Its minister, the Rev. Ray Harper, said 80% of them are retirees on fixed incomes, and about 50 attend services regularly.
Unable to get government loans to rebuild the tower, Harper finally borrowed money from his denomination's national office. The five-year loan requires monthly payments of $580--an amount that Harper said would be impossible to wring from the congregation's small annual budget.
The Monrovia Ministers Assn., an informal group that meets monthly, decided to help.
"We just saw our brothers and sisters in trouble and wanted to know what we could do," said Simson, spokesman for the group.
The result was a pledge to raise $25,000 by St. Luke's Episcopal Church, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, the First Baptist Church and United Methodist Church. Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, the First Presbyterian Church and World Vision, an international relief and development agency based in Monrovia, also are helping to raise funds.
Harper said the First Christian Church will be able to provide the remainder of the money.
Jan. 10, the opening of the annual Week of Prayer of Christian Unity, will be called Tower Fund Sunday. Congregations will hold separate morning services and decide how they want to raise their contributions. They will meet jointly at 4 p.m in the First Christian Church to make their pledges.
Several ministers said that the grouping of so many congregations within a few blocks of each other is unusual. Some of the churches are more than 100 years old, but most of the structures were built around 1920 and seat 400 to 600 worshipers.
'Only So Much to Give'
"These churches thrived through the '60s," said the Rev. Theodore Hampton, minister of United Methodist Church. "Now we all have similar congregations with many senior citizens on limited incomes. Our people tend to respond well to special needs, but they have only so much to give."
Hampton said his church, built in 1912, is in good condition, adding: "We've made it through all the earthquakes without significant damage. We're either lucky or well built."
The First Baptist Church has already pledged $3,000 to the tower fund. The Rev. George Balla said, "I think churches tend not to promote the good things they do, so that when something like this comes along and becomes known, it's delightful for all of us."
Harper was on a visit to the East Coast when the tower of his church was damaged and the ministers decided to help, Balla said. "We completely surprised him."
Harper said the ministerial association "has never done anything like this. There hasn't been a catastrophe of this nature before. It is a wonderful gift of concern and love."
He noted that when the church was built in 1925, the tower contained a bell. The bell was eventually replaced with chimes that played church music for a few minutes every Sunday, and occasionally played patriotic music on national holidays.
But the chime mechanism was old and seldom played, Harper said. It will not be missed, nor will the eight feet that have been removed from the tower.
"We're just very, very grateful for all the support we have," Harper said.