For 15 years, a group of predominantly black churches in the Egg Harbor area have banded together to provide religious and community events, bring more young people into the fold, and help families in need.
The nonprofit Pastors United for Community Service started out with just a few member churches, and now has 18 in its ranks, said current president Bishop Myrtile Mays, 68, of Holy Trinity Assembly of the Living God in Laureldale, Hamilton Township. Pastors United meets once a month, and is always open to new members, he said.
"The idea was to be a help to the community, and a voice for Egg Harbor City and the surrounding area," Mays said of the group's early days, when Rev. Ernest Barnes of Macedonia Baptist Church in Egg Harbor City started the group.
"We had a lot of good churches, but we were all going our separate ways," Barnes, 85, said. "The Lord put it on my heart to unite the churches together to help the entire community, especially young people."
He envisioned a group that would provide scholarships for college, and establish a rapport with schools and the judicial system to help young people.
"We have a good rapport with the police, mayor, and school system," Barnes said of the group today. It also awards three $500 college scholarships per year.
If a family is having difficulty with a child's behavior, Pastors United members can help and refer the family for additional assistance, Barnes said.
Egg Harbor has faced high rates of child poverty. In the 2010 census, Egg Harbor City had the fourth highest rate of any municipality in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties, with 31 percent of its 491 children living in poverty.
The group would like to diversify its membership to include predominantly Hispanic and white congregations. Mays said its service to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks drew a diverse audience.
A summer youth revival organizes events at different churches each night for a week, allowing young people to visit various congregations, Mays said. The group holds a picnic each summer, and other educational and spiritual events.
Rev. Harold Pringle, 79, the associate pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Egg Harbor City, has been involved in Pastors United for about a decade, he said. His congregation got involved to increase its positive impact on both senior citizens and young people.
He and his wife, Clearease Pringle, have made it their mission to help their 100-year-old friend, Susie Perry, continue to live independently in her home. Perry is the oldest participant in Pringle's Bible Study group for senior citizens, and they check in with her on a daily basis.
"We can set our clock by her. She will call at 10 a.m. and at 7 p.m.," Pringle said of Perry, adding she still walks faster than he does when they go out, and still cleans her own home and cooks for herself.
Pastors United held a 100th birthday celebration for Perry on Feb. 11, and more than 150 people from various churches attended to celebrate her life. She was born just before World War I, and witnessed every major event of the 20th Century, Mays said.
Perry, famous for her peach cobbler, has has lived in Egg Harbor City since she was about 12 years old, and has been involved in all aspects of the community for many decades. Her sister, Rev. Henrietta Reyes, who died about two years ago, was the pastor of the Church of God in South Egg Harbor for many years.
Pringle said Perry gave up driving in the past year, and he and his wife take her to the church of her choice on Sundays - she doesn't attend just one - and to the doctor when she needs to go. He will drive Perry to an Egg Harbor Historical Society event in her honor tonight at the Roundhouse Museum.
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