by Lisa Tome
When it comes to picking Maryland crabs, Ken Hall was a little rusty.
It's been 30 years since Hall, who just moved to the area in early July, wielded a mallet and knife. He relied on his friend, Tim Beardsley, to give him a refresher course.
Across the table from the crab lesson, Mark Crispell and Bert Jicha talked about crabs. "Crabs are a metaphor for dealing with difficult people. You have to get passed the shell," said Jicha.
The monthly meeting of the North East Ecumenical Association was formally in session.
The association, comprised of ministers from throughout the county, meets monthly year round. "Our purpose is to foster a cooperative ministry in the community, promote fellowship in the community, and bring our congregations together," said Crispell, pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church in North East. Jicha works at North East United Methodist, Hall serves Rosebank and Zion Methodist churches, and Beardsley serves at Wesley UMC.
In summer, they take their meetings to the outdoors dining at Captain Chris' Crab Shack, south of North East. Last week, many of the pastors had other commitments or were vacationing.
The crab shack meetings include ministers from St. Mary Anne's Episcopal, St. Jude's Roman Catholic, Shelemiah UMC, First Baptist Church of North East, St. John's UMC, and Janes UMC. They've had visitors from churches south of the canal and from Delaware.
"We uplift each other through fellowship," said Beardsley. The ministers also plan events such as the Crop Walk for hunger, the Cross Walk, Holy Week events, and a multi-denominational Thanksgiving service.
"We want to support Captain Chris' gospel of the hard shell crab," laughed Jicha.
"Once, we stayed here during a lightning storm, We stood under an umbrella," said Beardsley. "Jesus broke bread with others. We are breaking crabs with others."
"We share war stories and give advice. We discuss theological issues," said Jicha.
"We also meet people to pray for," said Beardsley.
"And it's lunch and it's fun," said Crispell.
Both Jicha and Crispell grew up eating crabs. Beardsley is a Cecil native but never learned to eat them until he joined the other ministers. Hall, who was recently assigned to his Cecil churches, is working his way back into crab eating.
"We also have extra curricular meetings to refresh our crab-starved souls," said Jicha, who draped himself with a kitchen towel to avoid getting his clothes messy. Following the crab meeting, he was officiating at a burial. "I like it. It's a local delicacy. And we see different people from our churches."
They talk about whatever is relevant to their congregations. Crispell said the county's drug problem is a topic of discussion.
"Tim's our resident expert on that," said Jicha.
"We talk about the need for ministering to people for spiritual change through Jesus Christ," said Beardsley.
There is a great deal of good natured ribbing between the men. They poke fun at each other and share jokes.
"This (ecumenical association meeting) has taken down the line between the churches. We each have a support structure. The churches are strong together in reaching out for physical needs," said Beardsley.
"We lean on each other," said Jicha.
"It helps me to know the people of the area better. I have three or more instant friends," said Hall.
The North East Ecumenical Association welcomes new ministers to join them. Contact Rev. Jicha at 410-287-2220 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org