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Seated left to right in the pews of South Church Unitarian-Universalist are local clergy members
(back row) Angelo Pappas, Ann Stevenson, Will Saunders, Peg Custer, (front row) Vivan Martindale,
Mary James, Marta Flanagan and David Mark. They are all new columnists for the Herald. One of
them will write a column each week for the Community page.
Staff photo by Deb Cram

Herald gives new voice to local clergy

By Michael Keating

We’ve made a lot of changes at the Portsmouth Herald this week, and one of the most important will play out on our new Community Page, starting today, on Page C5.

"In Good Faith," a new weekly column written by members of the Portsmouth Ministerium - an interfaith organization of local churches, synagogues and congregations - will be devoted to giving voice to religious and spiritual issues in the Seacoast area.

"We all have a heart for this city," said the Rev. Vivan Martindale, pastor of Middle Street Baptist Church, who wrote the inaugural column that appears today’s paper. "We’re all concerned for the well-being of Portsmouth, for its faith, and for its culture."

The Portsmouth Ministerium has been around - in one form or another - since at least the early 1960s, if not earlier, said Martindale. The organization’s membership represents various Christian denominations, including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant, as well as the Bahai, Unitarian and Jewish faiths.

Earlier this year, as plans for the Herald’s new third section grew closer to completion, we approached the Ministerium. We wanted to create a new Religion Page that would better reflect the thoughts, opinions and struggles taking place within the hearts and minds of the Seacoast communities that make up the various congregations.

Taking a page from the Christian Science Monitor newspaper and its daily religious article, and following up on the success of the "Spiritually Speaking" column in our sister newspaper, The York Weekly, we approached the Ministerium with an offer of space for a weekly column rotated amongst its various members.

"I can’t speak for everyone," said Martindale. "But I believe this column will allow us to give voice to issues of faith that impact people’s lives."

According to Martindale, recent studies have shown that 95 percent of the American public describe themselves as "spiritual," and say that "spiritual issues" are important. However, he said, very few describe themselves as "religious."

"Less than 40 percent of Rockingham County (residents) has any connection to a community of faith, so that means there is a large group of people who are not connected but who think of themselves in terms of faith - it’s very personal and independent," Martindale said. "To me that’s an oxymoron - it’s like being a hockey player with no team. It’s a lot of fun: You shoot, you score - no problem.

"This column will raise many issues regarding faith and relationships," he said. "From parent and child, to friend and co-worker - how we relate to each other and to God. We’ll discuss issues of ethics in terms of right and wrong, in terms of social responsibility, such as housing, living wages, homelessness, the lack of medical coverage, to name just a few. We’ll also cover issues such as prayer, worship and growth in personal understanding."

How will the members of the Ministerium judge the success of the column?

"The fact that we’re getting any kind of a hearing from the local media is already a success," he said. "I look at it in kind of the same way as I do the sign out in front of our church. We put a message on that sign that I change from time to time. I have no idea how many people read it. But you know what? We’ve had two people join the congregation in the three years since I’ve been here because they were attracted by what they read on the sign. It piques people’s curiosity. We’re just going to do it and have faith that people will read the thing."

Michael Keating is managing editor of features at Seacoast Newspapers.

©Copyright 2003, Portsmouth Herald (NH, USA)

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