**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor series.
By Heather Blair / OC Monitor Community Contributor
In today’s world, our differences are often what divides us. Religion, for example, can be polarizing, causing distinct separation based on one’s beliefs. However, several churches in Ohio County have joined forces the past few years and two programs have grown, despite the obstacles. Instead of division, there is unity.
“Man Up Monday” began seven years ago when two men from Living Faith Baptist Church felt led to host a monthly men’s event. In the beginning, only about a dozen attended. When they decided to open it up and allow other churches in the community to help host, numbers grew quickly. From that obedience, this group now meets regularly and averages close to 150 men.
Nathan Phelps began overseeing this group in 2013. About that same time, his wife, Sheena, took the charge of forming a similar group for women. While she wasn’t sure she wanted to be the one running it, she knew women of Ohio County needed this and “Women of Worth” was born.
“Women struggle with their worth,” Sheena said, when asked about the motivation to begin a group. “When women join in fellowship together, they realize their feelings are shared by others -and we don’t have to face this alone. We are worthy, no matter our mistakes in the past.”
The concept is simple with both programs, unity in Christ.
Nathan shared, “Although we average 30 different churches with various denominations, the one thing we share in common is Christ and His love and forgiveness. There’s maybe a 10 percent difference in how we choose to worship or believe and that’s okay.”
Every month the men and women gather on consecutive Monday nights at different churches across the county. Both begin with food, because what is a church fellowship without potluck. Worship bookends the guest speakers, who share their personal testimony.
Nathan is often touched by the openness and vulnerability that men show each month. He’s often seen men so moved during the beginning worship they will go to the altar and pray.
“I find it amazing that when the Spirit moves, so do they. These men don’t wait until the end of the service to go if they feel led. And without a doubt, you never see a man go up alone,” shares Nathan.
Sheena agrees, “It is a beautiful thing to see women from all walks of life and beliefs praying together. It is so special.”
One of the challenges, though a good one to have, is both events struggle to find churches with enough space to hold those attending. Both average over 100 attendees, with larger crowds often doubling that size. But God works it out every time. In fact, recently two small churches came together to host and is one of Nathan’s favorite moments.
“One church, which was non-denominational, but small, wanted to host, yet they knew they didn’t have space. Another very traditional Baptist church also wanted to host, but didn’t feel they could do so financially on their own. Several things could have caused these groups to disagree, but they teamed up and hosted together. It was just amazing to see two groups, who normally wouldn’t even attend church together, working toward this goal because they simply wanted to ensure everyone felt welcome.”
Both attribute the success of the programs to the need for unity and togetherness. Sheena shares, “Women so often feel unworthy of their calling. Or we try to find our worth in our job, money, family but being at WOW helps us see we are worthy because God says so.”
Nathan agrees, “Men often feel a void, a hunger for something they didn’t even realize they had. We try to feel that void being the best husband, employee, coach, etc. We’re often so focused on this there’s no time to fulfill our obligation to God. But at Man Up we are challenged, inspired and encouraged by others. It’s infectious. And we see it isn’t about being macho, but about answering the call God designed and created us to be.”
Sheena echoes, “Women are sometimes hard to minister to because (we) are helpers by nature, not receivers. Women forget it is okay to be selfish with our time for God. Once they come, they are regulars and realize they needed this.”
“I dare you,” jokes Nathan, when asked why someone should attend. “If you want to truly experience something, it takes risk. Instead of being judged, here you will be inspired. Instead of discouraged, you’ll be encouraged. On your first visit, you’ll feel a part of the group. Just give us a chance.”
Man up Monday meets the first Monday of every month at 7 p.m. You can follow them on Facebook for location information, as it rotates. Women of Worth meets the second Monday of every month at 6 pm. Their Facebook page can be found here.
For October, the two groups have decided to come together for one large event. “United” will meet Monday, Oct. 1, 7 p.m., at Living Faith Baptist Church. The event will be held outdoors and does include childcare. Food, activities, as well as the promise of hearing a dynamic speaker, Steve Ayers, will be shared. Ayers pastors at Hillvue Baptist, in Bowling Green, and leads the state in baptisms, topping over 10,000 to date.
Other counties have now followed suit and started Women of Worth and Man Up programs in Grayson and Hancock, with more to come. The Phelps couldn’t be happier.
“We don’t own this, God does,” says Nathan, “If it duplicates, that is awesome because that means more lives are being changed.”
Anyone wishing to learn more, whether to host, volunteer, or attend, can message Nathan or Sheena on the events’ Facebook pages linked above.
Heather Blair is an Ohio County native, residing in Beaver Dam with her husband, Tim, and son, Noah. She is a Family Support Worker for the HANDS program, through the Green River District Health Department. Through HANDS, she helps families build healthy, safe environments to boost growth and development for their children. She is active in her church, enjoys rock painting, photography, fishing and exploring with her husband. Heather has a passion for writing and sharing about faith, family, and finding joy in every day.