With one year and four publications under their belts, members of the Dwelling Together production team are determined to continue to encourage, inspire and build community among Christians in Columbia.
The publication is distributed to 120 pastors and 550 priests, elders, ministers, deacons and other spiritual leaders from Columbia’s Christian churches.
The Dwelling Together staff, most of whom said they have felt God’s call to bring unity to their community, published its first newsletter in the fall of 2003. Each of the five members shares a vision and a message for Christians.
“There is only one church in Columbia,” said Sheila Ruffin. “We may all meet in different houses, but we are all one church and we are all accountable to God.”
The team works from an office loaned by staffer Steve Brooks to produce the quarterly newsletter about faith, people of faith and events centered on faith in Columbia. Except for a large dry-erase board and a semi-circle conference table and chairs, the office is almost bare. No phone. No fax. The team brings in a laptop computer.
Coming together in faith
Each staff member has other responsibilities to faith, family and careers, but they spend their Friday afternoons praying and developing Dwelling Together. Faith is a staple in their lives.
“We have all come together in the past for events,” such as prayer vigils, retreats, the March for Jesus and Pentecost Sunday, said Patrick McMurry, editor and founder of Dwelling Together. “Now, Dwelling Together is an ongoing type of ministry for us.”
The idea for the newsletter came from a sense of community that McMurry felt when reading the profile articles in Columbia Business Times. As the head of Dwelling Together, McMurry has assumed responsibility for financing.
“It really increased my sense of community,” he said. “I have worked for years to try to encourage community to grow across church lines. It just made sense to start a newsletter profiling different Christians and ministries to serve to help us get to know each other.”
Even though only two members of the creation team attend the same church, they have worshiped and provided ministry together for years.
“Everyone involved with Dwelling Together is really compelled by the notion of churches working together. All of us have worked at various aspects of encouraging unity in the church,” McMurry said. “I would say that it is our single unifying factor.”
Drawn to the job
Staffer Jane Williams said she had a spiritual awakening at age 40. For years after graduating from MU, Williams found herself caught up in making her career and family work. After a personal encounter with God, she wanted to share the love she felt for and from God.
Williams started her ministry through Free Prayer, in which she and two friends went into low-income housing, offering prayer to the tenants.
“It became apparent to me right away that there were too many needs for me or for our church. So God began putting this burning desire in me to draw churches together; there is no way we could do it unless we work together, no way,” Williams said. “I also had a burning desire that we would do these things with the name of Jesus attached to it so that God would get glory.”
Williams said she sees the newsletter as “laying the bricks in the sidewalk that will take (the Christian community) to togetherness.”
“One of our goals is to help various parts of the body of Christ — the various parts of the church —to get acquainted with each other and to increase the love and appreciation level among Christians in the city,” she said.
Williams also wants to use Dwelling Together to bring together people who have similar interests in different types of ministry.
“Hopefully, like-minded Christians from various churches — who maybe wouldn’t have any other way to know each other — can find each other through Dwelling Together and start working together,” Williams said.
At age 50, she is also a part-time benevolence director for Christian Fellowship Church and a leader and volunteer for the Center for Women’s Ministry.
Ruffin, 48, works in the mail center at SEMCO Inc., is married to the pastor of Second Baptist Church, is a mother of four and a grandmother of two. She takes on Dwelling Together while juggling family, work and religious responsibilities to the Second Baptist congregation.
“I do whatever needs to be done,” Ruffin said. “I get to do my preaching outside church.”
Ruffin and her partners spend Friday afternoons developing story ideas, editing and paginating the newsletter. The also spend their time together in prayer, for the growth of the Christian community in Columbia through the success of the publication.
“We are all working together because (God’s) will, will be accomplished,” Ruffin said. “We can accomplish something as one that we cannot as parts. Every part has its place, but they need to work together.”
She described her conversion to Christ when she and her now-husband attended a tent revival while in college. Ruffin fell to the ground praising the Lord after accepting him into her heart and being touched by his spirit.
“My desire is to get closer and closer to him,” Ruffin said. “In everything we do, we are working with him.”
"A dream come true"
Elizabeth Dakota, another staffer, said that, since high school, she has wanted to start a small local Christian magazine that would grow to state and then national popularity.
“Dwelling Together is a dream come true. I am able to write — and not just write, but distribute and promote the vision of the church in the body of Christ in Columbia,” Dakota said. “Being with people who share your dream is inspiring.”
Dakota volunteers at the Center for Women’s Ministry, sometimes works at the Vitae Caring Foundation in Jefferson City and is a wife and mother of two. She is earning her master’s degree in counseling by taking online classes at Liberty University in Virginia.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that God wants us to be united,” Dakota said. “It is a joint project with God and we are all doing our part.”
She said she is proud of the way the Dwelling Together team comes together, despite differences, to produce a publication to unify the Christian community in Columbia.
“I am more action-oriented. I am not the type to sit and pray. I am more likely to put on my shoes and go do it,” Dakota said.
Each one of the people involved in the production of Dwelling Together fills a specific role to make the whole work — just as they want the parts of the church in Columbia to come together as one.
After a year of bringing parts together, Dwelling Together is assessing its usage and effectiveness from responses to a survey the team compiled. From the responses, Brooks said, staffers hope to make the publication financially self-sustaining.