A message of unity
He was just 20, about to begin his junior year of college. Three of his young friends had died, one of cancer, one of injuries suffered in a car accident and the third of drowning. He was asking himself — and he was asking God — why?
“I remember praying, ‘God, if you’re real, I need a sense of your presence,’” Harrop said. “I never had an answer ‘why?’ but I really felt a sense of God’s presence that summer. God was with me in my grief.”
That brought Harrop back to an earlier time, at the age of 15, when he had a sense that God was calling him into ministry.
Harrop had grown up in the church. He was influenced by his father, who was a person of deep faith, and a high school pastor, Rev. Fred Buker, who had been a Navy pastor during the Vietnam War.
Buker was an outspoken opponent of the war, while his father, a staunch Republican, was supportive of the war effort. Despite their strongly opposing views, they maintained a good friendship.
“That’s been with me throughout my life,” Harrop said. “It’s OK to have strong, different views and keep maintaining friendships. That’s been a model for my ministry.”
For a couple of years after high school, while Harrop was away at a state school, he moved away from the church. He began to explore other faith options.
Then he lost three friends in quick succession. Experiencing God’s presence reaffirmed his call to be a pastor, and he switched to Andover Newton Theological School, in the Boston area.
Liberation Theology, a movement that started in Latin America, became Harrop’s emphasis. At its core is a belief that God has a heart, particularly for those who are poor, suppressed and living at the margins, he said.
“That’s had a profound impact on my faith and my role as a pastor,” he said. “In all the years since, I’ve tried to listen to God’s message and advocate for those who are poor and at the margins.”
That also led Harrop into involvement in the ecumenical movement.
In Greek, Harrop said, “ecumenical” is derived from the word “oikos,” which means “house of unity.”
“We can do so much more together than we can do apart,” he said. “McMinnville has many examples of that.”
Those examples include partnering with six other churches for activities like YAHOO, the Yamhill Alliance Helping Others Out, which sponsors homebuiling mission trips to Mexico for youth and adults; working with three other churches to offer a cold weather shelter for the homeless; participating in the various feeding ministries, which often bring together multiple faith-based ministries and others; and more recently, joining in partnership with churches and secular partners to organize the McMinnville Free Clinic.
“Ecumenism looks for common good with other religions, as well as others in the Christian tradition,” Harrop said. For him, that’s been a source of inspiration.
The St. James Catholic and First Baptist congregations have shared Lent together for 21 years. He’s worked with countless other groups, faith-based and otherwise, as well.
“Ecumenism teaches us to honor our differences while also celebrating the many things we have in common,” he said.
In June, Harrop will begin his 20th year of leading First Baptist, which is a part of the American Baptist Church, a group of about 58,000 nationwide.
He heard from a friend about the McMinnville opening.
With his wife, Tricia, having family in Oregon and Northern California, he felt it would be a natural. So he applied.
A highlight of his nearly 20 years has been continuing the commitment of longtime predecessor Bernie Turner for inclusion of those who are gay or lesbian.
“My tenure has been to help the church lead into what that means,” Harrop said. “That has been a real blessing for me, personally, and for the life of this church.” He believes that it’s fostered more community inclusiveness in the community as a whole.
He also feels he has helped to deepen the church’s commitment to both local and international missions, and of becoming what St. Teresa of Avila said the church should be, the “hands, heart and voice of Christ here on Earth.”
In that area, the church is in its fifth year of partnering with the health ministry in Nicaragua for health care in the village of La Pimienta. Through that effort, it is also partnering with Chemeketa Community College.
Harrop has worked with a number of other groups as well. Through all the service, both to the local and worldwide communities, the most important aspect is connecting with people, he said.
“There is something magical that happens when we give something to others,” he said. “We connect, in some mystical way to Christ. That’s a beautiful thing.”
Harrop and his wife have two daughters, Lindsay, 22, who will graduate from Ithaca College in May and hopes to be a screenwriter; and Katelyn, a freshman at Hofstra University who wants to be a journalist. Both colleges are located in New York state.
“McMinnville’s been a great place to raise a family,” Harrop said. “I feel grateful that the girls could grow up in one place. This will always be their home.”
ECUMENIST OF THE YEAR
The Rev. Kent Harrop of the First Baptist Church of McMinnville will be awarded Ecumenist of the Year honors during the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's annual community awards and celebration dinner, set for 5 pm. Thursday, April 25, at the Hilton Hotel, 921 S.W. Sixth Ave. in Portland.
"I was surprised by the recognition," Harrop said. "I think it's a recognition of this congregation, of its ecumenism."
The award is being presented in recognition of Harrop's leadership and commitment in fostering the love of Christ through ecumenical dialog, witness and ministry.
Harrop has served 19 years at First Baptist. He has also served on the ECO board for nine years, including one as president, and he remains on the organization's public policy and environmental ministry committees.