|This month’s newsletter article is an interview with one of the founding pastors of the San Diego Common Grounds Unity chapter. Evan Foote served as a pastor at the Pomerado Christian Church in Poway, California, for over 40 years and continues there as a volunteer.Here is our interview with him:
How did you first learn about CGU?
I think it was back in January 2020 that I was invited by Russ Kirkpatrick to join him for coffee at a local Starbucks. Russ is not a pastor, but he works alongside many pastors and has a heart for unity. He told me about efforts by John Teal and others to get together leaders from all the Stone-Campbell streams of churches into groups they were calling “Common Grounds Unity.” Over my many years in San Diego, I had already developed a good relationship with most of the Christian Church pastors, but Russ knew many other pastors who were from the Churches of Christ and ICOC. These were people and churches I mostly didn’t know. I was immediately drawn to this vision, and we began planning our first meeting together, which was held shortly thereafter.Why were you so quickly drawn to this vision of unity?I had already learned about the importance of unity and fellowship the hard way. Even though I knew most of the Christian Church pastors in the county, we were all spread apart by many miles and only rarely got together for fellowship. Then in the early 90s, after I had been the Senior Pastor for a couple of years, the burdens of ministry got to me, and I found myself flat out on my face in the church office praying to God, telling Him that I desperately needed some help. Even though I knew other pastors in the county, none of them were close enough to be of immediate help to me. While I was praying, I sensed God telling me to get on the phone and call another pastor right in my own town. Not a specific one, just any one of them. I’m embarrassed to say that even though we have dozens of churches in Poway, I only knew the names of 2 other pastors. The first call I made rang without an answer. When I made the second call, the pastor himself answered the phone and ended up throwing me a real lifeline. Okay, you’ve got my attention. What happened next?Well, it was Pastor John over at the Presbyterian church who answered the phone and listened to my story. Then he said, “Evan, I’m going to pick you up next Wednesday morning. I’ve just started attending a local pastors’ prayer group, and you need to go there with me!” The next Wednesday, he picked me up, and we went to the prayer group together. I learned that this group was started by a Christian realtor and a Christian lawyer who thought it was terrible that the pastors in town didn’t pray together! So the lawyer opened up his home for pastors to pray. I continued meeting regularly with those guys—a bunch of pastors from a variety of churches in my town, all of who needed a place to share the burdens of ministry with others who would care. We were all gifted, and we were all needy. And the unity and strength we found together was life-giving. Eventually, the realtor and the lawyer bowed out, but the pastors continued praying together. That group has grown over the years and continues to meet to this day. I learned to appreciate and cherish the kind of fellowship that comes from pastors who pray and share together. So how does this fit with the Common Grounds Unity group?In 2018 when I retired from being the pastor of the church and took on the role of a volunteer, l encouraged the new minister, Pastor JP, to begin meeting regularly with the local pastor prayer group. I really miss meeting with them, and they said I could keep attending, but I wanted the new pastor to have the same close fellowship and confidentiality that I had for three decades. So Pastor JP attends the group without me. But when Russ told me about the Common Grounds Unity meetings, I knew it was exactly what I needed to fill in that sense of community that I crave. How is it going with the San Diego Common Grounds Unity Chapter?Well, the first meeting was wonderful and comical at the same time. There were quite a few of us who met at an outdoor dining restaurant near San Diego’s Top Gun flight line. Little did we know that the Blue Angels would be practicing for their annual show, and we would have to pause our conversation every few minutes because the jet afterburners were so loud. And soon after our first meeting, Covid shut things down, and we had to meet several times by Zoom. But we are getting to know each other and appreciate each other’s churches and ministries. What are some of the key ingredients for getting leaders together in unity?We come together because we are all a part of the body of Christ, not because we are all alike. (We’re not—and that’s okay!) In fact, sometimes we might not even “like” each other. But it’s a matter of choosing to love each other and appreciate each other. We must get past thinking about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not a matter of being right or wrong; it’s a matter of being one in Christ. I remember many years ago hearing Dr. Myron Taylor say something that shocked me. He was the longtime pastor of the Westwood Hills Christian Church in Los Angeles, right across the street from the UCLA campus. He was giving a pep talk to a gathering of ministers when I heard him say, “You know, of course, that we’re not saved by correct doctrine.” I thought to myself, “WHAT??!! Is he saying that we are saved by incorrect doctrine?” Of course, that was not what he was saying. He was saying that none of us knows all the doctrines of the Bible perfectly. And even some of the doctrines we think we know, we actually know incompletely or incorrectly. He was saying that we are saved by our faith in Christ, not by our knowledge of doctrine. It made me think more humbly of myself and my own understanding of Scripture. Doctrine is important, but I have to admit that even though I understand some doctrines rightly, there are some I probably have only partly right. So does it make sense for me to try to limit my fellowship only with other Christians who have all the right doctrines when none of us really do? Where Does CGU come in?Common Grounds Unity is a great starting place. I hope everyone considers joining or starting a group. But it’s really just a start. Because even when (or if) we get all the streams of the Stone-Campbell movement unified together, even that will not be the whole Body of Christ, right? It will be only a small part. I suppose in the grand scheme of things we’re just the toes of the left foot on the Body of Christ. But, hey, every part of the body is important, right? And I’m glad to be a part of it - even if it’s just a part of the foot. But, of course, I happen to think the foot is rather important. 😉