Harrop headed back to Boston
This spring marks Kent Harrop’s 20th as pastor at First Baptist Church of McMinnville. But it also marks his departure to Massachusetts, where he will be taking his message of compassion and unity to the First Baptist Church of Beverly, northeast of Boston on Massachusetts Bay’s North Shore.
Leaders of the church, which serves a city not much larger than McMinnville, approached Harrop because they heard he was willing to explore new ways of celebrating spirituality in an increasingly secular culture. They felt the traditional approach was no longer effective.
A growing number of people in the Northeast, like the Northwest, are classifying themselves as spiritual rather than religious, Harrop said. And he’s comfortable with that.
“My passion has been helping a progressive church find meaningful ways of sharing its values with people outside the church,” he said, adding, “I was attracted to the challenge of helping another church figure out what that road map can be.”
Pastor Harrop models his ministry on ecumenism, with a focus on partnership and inclusion.
“I really appreciate the willingness of First Baptist of McMinnville to color outside the lines and try to engage people outside the church,” he said.
Members share a passionate commitment to social justice. To that end, they have hosted parenting classes, a therapeutic nursery, recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and a twice-monthly free clinic.
“The idea of using our building for service to others outside of the church is part of our commitment to being compassionate,” he said.
Harrop greatly values the power of partnering with other churches in the community, as well as internationally, another trademark of his ministry.
The church has been an advocate for accessible health care, both here and abroad.
To help foster the latter, it has partnered with A Ministry of Sharing to field mission teams in South America. In fact, it is now in its fifth year of an eight-year commitment to fund a clinic serving an isolated village in Nicaragua, Harrop noted.
“It was in going to Nicaragua that I, and others in the church, became aware of health care needs in our local community,” he said. “It was that international relationship that helped us become more aware.”
McMinnville Covenant Church was the catalyst for the local free clinic, and First Baptist offered to host it. “I really get energized in partnering with other churches and secular partners for the common good,” Harrop said.
The church is also a partner with several other local churches in the Community Winter Inclement Shelter Help program, known as C-WISH. “We can always do so much more together than we can apart,” he said.
Harrop is also passionate about including and supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, both in the congregation and in the larger community. “This church has a long history of being inclusive to our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters,” he said, citing a commitment going back 23 years to his predecessor, Bernie Turner.
One highlight of Harrop’s time at First Baptist was a marriage ceremony he performed for Teresa and Sunshine (McManus) Fugit. Church involvement was new to the two women, and they wanted to share their vows with their new church family.
“To officiate in the sanctuary of the church that means so much to them was a great privilege,” he said. “I think God blesses any couple when they make a lifelong commitment to each other, whether they’re straight or gay.”
Harrop said an important verse for him is Matthew 25:40, in which Jesus says, “Whatever you do unto your most vulnerable brothers and sisters, you do unto me.”
“Everything we’ve done — how we use our building, the services we provide, our solidarity with the people in Nicaragua, our inclusion of lesbian and gay folk — it’s all rooted in spiritual practice,” he said. “It all goes back to Matthew 25:40. When we are advocating for the wellbeing of others, that’s a spiritual practice.”
In September, he said, the congregation voted to become a Matthew 25 church, which means living the values of compassion and hospitality. “That value of compassionate service is a faith-based value that the majority of this congregation share, and it is part of what holds us together and motivates us,” he said.
Harrop believes all of the various Christian expressions, and even those religions outside of Christianity, have something to teach one another. He said he has learned so much from people in different churches.
This is the definition of ecumenism for Harrop, who was awarded Ecumenist of the Year last April. “I have wonderful friendships with people of a variety of traditions within the Christian tradition, as well as people of different faith traditions,” he said.
David Leslie, executive director of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, said Harrop will be deeply missed.
“He has been a phenomenal community minister,” Leslie said. “His ability to connect various sectors of a community together is something that we really admire, both personally and the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.”
Among the many rewards of serving in a small community, Harrop cherishes being familiar with the people he works with and serves.
“It’s running into folks who are homeless,” he said. “They’re not ‘the homeless.’ They’re my neighbors and they’re my friends. They’re us. It allows me to really get to know folks.”
The downside of small town life, he said, is the publicity generated by a controversial social issues stand, such as inclusion of LGBT members. And he will be facing it again in Beverly, a city of just over 40,000.
Harrop said members of his congregation are respectful of different points of view, and he’s expecting no less in Beverly.
“We allow for diverse points on all sorts of topics, because there is enough common theology that keeps us together,” he said. “I’ve always felt treated with respect, even when people disagree with me.”
For example, he said, “I’m a pacifist. Based on my understanding of the scriptures, I don’t think it’s appropriate to go to war to solve differences. But that’s a minority point of view in this church.”
His aversion to war is what first led him to Nicaragua.
The country appeared on Harrop’s radar in 1988 when he went there in memory of a good friend who died from cancer while working to halt the country’s longstanding civil war. He went on to help build a school in neighboring El Salvador dedicated to serving war orphans.
In 1989, he joined a Pastors for Peace expedition committed to distributing humanitarian aid, medical aid and building supplies through Nicaraguan churches. “I drove one of 27 trucks from the U.S to Managua as an act of civil disobedience against the Reagan administration’s economic boycott,” he said.
Harrop led church delegations to Nicaragua seven times, working through AMOS to provide health care in the village of La Pimienta.
“It’s rooted in the call of Jesus to be compassionate as God is compassionate to us,” Harrop said. “It’s about putting faith into practice.”
When he accepted the pastorate in McMinnville in 1994, Harrop moved his then-young family 2,500 miles. He had previously been serving a church in Cleveland.
Now he’s about to once again take up the task of forging new relationships and building a new network of trust with a new congregation.
And he said, “I look forward to a new challenge... I’ve accumulated some tools in my toolbox from my time here that can be helpful.”
Harrop is returning to the area where he grew up, which will ease the transition. His mother still lives in the area, and to be near her in this late chapter in her life represents an added bonus.
“It’s nice to go back home,” he said. “And it will be really nice to be back in Red Sox nation.”
But he said he and his wife, Tricia, who has headed the local food bank, played a leadership role in Kiwanis and made a commitment to social service in her own right, will miss the many friendships they’ve made in McMinnville.
“It takes a long time to build trust and a history with people, and that is just a process that can’t be rushed,” he said. “After 20 years, I have those deep relationships.
“A piece of our heart, for my wife and for me, will always remain here at First Baptist of McMinnville, and in Oregon. We feel really grateful to the church and wider community.”