Each year at its annual assembly, United Churches of Lycoming County recognizes individuals with a commitment to ecumenical thought through its ecumenical service awards.
Rev. Gwen Bernstine, executive director, said the awards simply do not honor individuals for the work they have done in the last year but often also for their lifelong service to the community through the organization.
"This encompasses all that they are to the organization," Bernstine said, noting that each year the recipients, who are nominated by area pastors, are kept a secret until the assembly.
This year the organization's executive board selected two men who are familiar faces to those involved with United Churches and the community as a whole.
Dr. John Piper recently spoke at an ecumenical lunch about the book he wrote about Lycoming College's bicentennial. Bernstine said she learned much more at the lunch about Piper than she had known before and felt he needed to be recognized for all that he has done.
"It just dawned on me than that he had never been recognized by United Churches and as much as I know about him, he needed to be," Bernstine said. "I nominated him and, the minute I did, the committee agreed.
Piper, who came to the Williamsport area in 1969 and served as pastor at the former Grace United Methodist Church, said he immediately got involved in United Churches when he moved here but was somewhat taken aback by the award because he never had served on a committee for the organization.
"(Though) I've always been an ecumenically oriented person, I was thoroughly surprised," Piper said.
Piper, who was involved in the beginnings of the Shepherd of the Streets ministry, said it was nice to be honored by what he describes as an important organization for the community.
"There are many, many good things done through United Churches," Piper said, noting a particular fondness for the organization's institutional ministries in nursing homes, hospitals and prisons.
"It's (also) great news that it looks like they will be able to continue those services," Piper added.
Rev. Ken Weiss, pastor at First Church of Christ's Disciples, also was recognized by the organization, and his involvement in United Churches follows a similar path as Piper's.
Weiss became highly involved in the organization when he moved to the area in 1986, becoming a fixture in many of the ecumenical programs offered through United Churches, especially at numerous interfaith discussion panels throughout the area.
In the last year, however, Bernstine said Weiss has been an integral part of the organization's fundraising efforts.
For Weiss, despite the 25 years of service to the organization, the award came as a "total surprise."
"Since it's an award from my peers, it means so much to be recognized by them," Weiss said. "It's very rewarding. This is not a career where you get a lot of pats on the back. When you do, it means so much."