Interview with Terry Erwin

By Brad Dupray

One hundred years ago, 25,000 Christians from around the United States gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a convention celebrating the 100th anniversary of Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address, a formative document in Restoration Movement history. In this bicentennial year, as Christians gather around the world to celebrate a “Great Communion” today, another gathering will take place in Pittsburgh.

Terry Erwin, minister with Norwin Christian Church, has worked with his associate, Ed Gratton, to plan festivities honoring the memory of Thomas Campbell, but most importantly, to serve as a remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ as those gathered share in the Lord’s Supper.

Terry Erwin and other Pittsburgh-area ministers have prepared a sermon series that focuses on the principles of the Restoration Movement in light of the Great Communion celebration. For a copy of sermon outlines and information on the sermon series, contact him at terry@norwinchristianchurch.com.

What gets you excited about the Great Communion?

A couple of things. Number one, it provides an opportunity to remember and reflect on our spiritual heritage. It’s awfully hard to get people excited about a Sunday school clas s on Restoration history. In our congregation we have a number of people who come from a variety of church backgrounds, and this presents a great opportunity to focus on some foundational principles of our movement. The other thing is that congregations working together, and even involvement in ministers’ meetings, has recently waned in our area. Churches are very busy, but I’m hoping this will serve as a catalyst to do things more collectively and cooperatively.

What was the significance of the 1909 Communion service?

From our perspective, regionally, it was right here in our backyard. These folks gathered together from all over, celebrating the spiritual heritage in the Restoration Movement. A lot of this has prompted us to work toward a similar style event.

What is going to take place at the Great Communion in Pittsburgh?

I want it to be very encouraging and uplifting, [and] very informative and challenging. What we have in mind is to include a time for the Lord’s Supper and some praise opportunities, along with a great lineup of speakers. We are putting together a booklet that contains a listing of the various churches participating, as well as information about the Restoration Movement itself, including some of the background that has brought about this celebration.

How did you get the word out about the event?

The Great Communion Web site suggested regional celebrations, so we drew a radius of about 90 miles [around Pittsburgh] that included our immediate region, plus northwest Pennsylvania, the eastern portion of Ohio, and northern West Virginia. We’ve gotten calls from other parts of the country where they have gotten word through people who have helped promote it in Christian Standard, through Peace On Earth Ministries, last year’s Eastern Christian Convention, and other sources.

What kind of connection will there be to Restoration history?

We’ve asked Marshall Leggett to portray Thomas Campbell, the author of the Declaration and Address, to give some perspective on that document, 200 years later. We’re going to bridge that connection, hopefully, in this service.

How will the rest of the program reflect what’s happening with the Restoration Movement today?

Victor Knowles, who has the pulse of the movement, will give us an update on efforts of unity within the movement. Bob Russell will speak about how we celebrate our independence, but how we also need to recognize our interdependence—how much we need and depend on each other. Then Marvin Phillips will close our event (he’s a pioneer in evangelism), offering us a challenge to share this message with others. It will be informative for people but will also challenge them with why this can be a blessing.

Are there long-term takeaways from the Great Communion that will benefit churches for the future?

I hope so, I really do. I think the service will be good. I think it can be a reminder for some congregations that may be struggling or feel insignificant, that we’re all in this together, that each one is important and vital; that we’re not just a local or regional community, but we are the global kingdom of God.

How have the different streams of the movement worked to promote the event?

That’s been disheartening. We’ve been going at this for over a year and we’ve not received any response from our noninstrumental friends. I’ve tried to go through the regional director of our area Disciples churches and have had two or three conversations on the phone. But in July, it was brought to my attention they were beginning to organize an event in Washington, Pennsylvania, for the afternoon of October 4th. I did attend one of their first planning meetings (July 20) and was given the opportunity to share information on the “Celebration of Restoration” service (which they are including in the publicity for their event). But that has been the only opportunity presented to me to share with others in our movement (in our area) about our event.

What can local churches do to improve their weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper?What can local churches do to improve their weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper?

I think we do well in remembering Jesus and his sacrifice; but one of the things we often fail to do in Communion is to recognize the body of Christ. In my take on the Corinthians passage (1 Corinthians 11), we need to recognize the body of Christ as a fellowship, as a family, acknowledging the unity we share as Christians. We emphasize that individual, personal remembrance of what Jesus did (and that’s important), but we need to be careful not to neglect to recognize the body in a biblical context of people eating and drinking while ignoring others, and to respect this family that we are one with.

Brad Dupray is senior vice president, ministry development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

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