There is something new – and unusual – going on at Mount Olive Baptist Church.

It’s called a Kingdom Partnership. It is focused on what the church needs to do to remain relevant in today’s society and its goal is to help the struggling community around it.

“The majority of churches that were full 20 years ago are half full or less today. Most are having church to do two things – pay the bills and pay the pastor’s salary,” said the Rev. Kenneth Paramore, pastor of Christ Centered Church. “Some pastors would rather preach to 20 people and have their names on the (church) sign rather than do real ministry. We can either come together or die a slow death.”

In the African-American community, the church has historically been a staple. It served as a community hub, where people could find sanctuary from a hostile world, and an arena for spurring communal action to make life better.

Over the years, the church’s central role in the black community has diminished.

Paramore and the Rev. William Bunton, pastor of Mount Olive, are hoping to reverse the trend. Their congregations (one Baptist, the other nondenominational) have been worshipping together since June 12.

“It is so evident in the worship that what we’re doing is really a ‘God thing.’ It is divinely mystical. It is exciting to go from having the church half-full to overflowing,” Bunton said. “Pastor Paramore and I are partners. We’re in this together. That is something that some people have difficulty understanding because pastors tend to be competitors or adversaries. And we tend to have strong egos and we are territorial.”

The characteristics that Bunton describes are not unique to pastors of black churches. But what is different is the historical role of the black church as central to the lives of African-Americans and as the entity that has provided guidance, via individuals that it helped shape, to the nation on issues like race relations, fairness, peace and justice.

Although both Bunton and Paramore said God gave them the vision to form partnerships with other churches a decade or more ago, the opportunity didn’t present itself until recently.

In February, Paramore invited about 30 African-American pastors to discuss the concept of coming together. A dozen showed up and one, the Rev. William “Bill” Jones, expressed an interest in teaming up with him.

Jones was then pastor of Akron’s St. Luke Baptist Church. As talks progressed, it appeared that Christ Centered Church and St. Luke’s were headed for a partnership. Christ Centered Church (formerly the Christian Revival and Discipleship Center) was attracting about 175 people to its services at Buchtel High School. St. Luke’s had about 34 active members.

Then, in April, several leaders at St. Luke sued Jones, Paramore and Christ Centered Church, which also has a campus in Youngstown. That ended talks and Jones was asked to leave by the group of about a dozen people who opposed the proposed partnership.

Jones founded Victory and Peace Baptist Church with the remaining 22 members. His church now worships at noon at Best Western Inn & Suites in the Montrose area. He is affiliated with the Kingdom Partnership and his congregation is working toward full participation.

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