In the days of King Arthur, the Round Table was a place for the different knights and leaders of the area to come together and discuss a wide range of ideas and topics in an atmosphere of fellowship and communication.
The presence of the Storm Lake Ministerial Association offers the leaders of Storm Lake's numerous churches the opportunity for that same level of cooperation and communication today.
The association, comprised of clergy from nearly all of the various denominations and faiths in town, meets the third Tuesday of every month from September to June, and provides a way for the different ministers to get to know one another, and is also a conduit for public organizations to provide information to the pastors, who then relay that news back to their congregations.
Pastor Ken Bell, who was elected to serve a one-year term as the head of the organization for 2001-2002, said the group provides a forum for fellowship and encourages spiritual growth among all members.
"We're all in one place, we enjoy each other's company and can form relationships and get to know each other better," Bell, the senior pastor at the Storm Lake United Methodist Church, said. "One of the biggest advantages of a group like this is that it provides fellowship and lets everyone know who everyone else is and how we can all work together to make Storm Lake a better community."
Mark Youngquist, a pastor at St. Mark's Lutheran Church and the Vice-President of the association, said the organization provided an excellent venue for ministers from different denominations to come together and work to help the entire community.
"For a long time, churches tended to stay within their own denominations, but this is a way for us as churches to look out beyond our own walls and work together with churches of other denominations," Youngquist said. "We look at doing things together and promoting the
entire ministry with the community, and the support that we've given one another as pastors has been very beneficial."
"We all have mutual respect of our similarities and mutual respect of our differences," Pastor Douglas Haynes of the St. John's Lutheran Church Missouri Synod said. "The level of kindness and courtesy between clergy is very high, and I like the idea of it just being a group and getting together and being able to discuss different topics with each other."
The association convenes with a variety of civic and charitable groups and organizations in Storm Lake, including the Community Education program, Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Lutheran Brotherhood, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Character Counts, Concordia Lutheran School, Habitat for Humanity, Hospice, the Methodist Manor, the Clinical Pastoral Education program in Cherokee and Sermons a la Carte.
It also regularly meets with Buena Vista University Chaplain Ken Meissner to keep up-to-date on the spiritual activities taking place at the college, and has recently received visits from Storm Lake School District representatives concerning the possible change of Church Night from Thursdays to Wednesdays.
Bell, who helps organize each session and invites different guests from the community as part of his leadership duties, said the forums are an excellent way to directly funnel information from Storm Lake organizations to the ministers and have the pastors then pass on those announcements to their congregations.
"I would say that it's really a clearinghouse for information from and feedback to the community," Bell said. "For example, a group such as Habitat for Humanity will come to our meetings, give handouts and provide information on what they're doing and when they're doing it. Then, we can go back to each of our congregations and let them know about that particular program. It's a great way for us to keep abreast of what's going on in Storm Lake and to let our congregations keep abreast of all of the news as well."
While the ministerial association sponsors high-visibility events such as the annual Thanksgiving and Good Friday services and the CropWalk, Bell said the organization spends a great deal of time on numerous efforts which are less publicized but no less noteworthy.
"We want to be a voice in the community in terms of reflecting on community issues and setting the pace for the community in Storm Lake," Bell said. "We see that as being very important. We want the ministerial association to be involved in the community. Sometimes that means hosting public events, like the Sept. 11 service that we organized, but sometimes that means just talking to others and making sure that they're doing okay and feel welcomed here in Storm Lake. Those things might be considered small, but they mean a lot, and those are the things that the association is trying to do every day to make Storm Lake a better place for everyone."
One of those small but important jobs involves thanking and greeting.
With old pastors leaving town and new pastors entering city limits fairly frequently, Bell said one of the most important tasks the association performs is thanking departing ministers for their service to Storm Lake and welcoming new clergy to northwest Iowa and making them feel comfortable as they meet members of their new congregations and citizens of the town.
"It's so important to welcome new clergy in town and to introduce them to all of the different programs that are going on in town," Bell said. "We invite the new pastors to come to our meetings and meet all of the other pastors in town, and that's important to help them know who the other people in the ministry here in Storm Lake are."
The organization has been able to use that fellowship and camaraderie to come together in times of need and crisis, such as the afternoon of Sept. 11. Members of the Storm Lake ministry gathered together to pray and plan for an evening worship service at Lakeside Presbyterian Church which attracted a number of area citizens.
"That was a very good thing," Bell said. "We had quite a representation of ministers and pastors that showed up that afternoon, and we were able to share some of our own feelings about it, pray and then decide how to put on a service for the community. We were able to make arrangements with Lakeside Presbyterian, and we were able to have the service that night."
"That event just highlighted the way that I think the association helps Storm Lake the most," Rev. Tom Hinshaw of First Baptist Church said. "It gets our churches together and brings people who have positive attitudes together who feel that they can make a difference in Storm Lake in a spiritual way and in other ways."
Bell said he has high hopes for the future of the ministerial association, and hopes the contingent will continue to focus on giving each other a shoulder to lean on and helping to promote the role of the clergy in Storm Lake.
"We want to keep looking at the community as a whole, and keep reaching out to those in Storm Lake," Bell said. "Being able to come together in an association such as this is a great way that we as ministers in Storm Lake can do just that."