It is with great and humble joy that I write to you about a meeting last evening. The Sessions of both New Life and South met with Rev. Laurie Ferguson, a consultant hired through a grant that our area churches received from Duke University.
For two-and-a-half years, our congregations have been working alongside each other, believing that God was calling us to a more integrated or blended ministry in and around Rochester. Let’s face it: we complement each other’s strengths nicely – for example, South’s work is primarily with communities having no youth or small children, while New Life’s work is focused on that group. But we also have learned that we share a great many values such as our commitment to mission, service, reconciliation, welcoming the marginalized, etc.
The plan for our future that has been prayerfully emerging – and which we all continue to discern – is one which will bring us together in a more legal and permanent, secure fashion. At some point, New Life will most likely dissolve as a legal entity and NL members who wish to, will be welcomed as members of South. New Life’s four Acts of Faith will then be under the umbrella of South with their 15-or-so AoF’s.
This in no way changes the ministries of New Life since all four of New Life’s Acts of Faith (Sunday worship, work with youth and children, Monroe Milers, and the Outreach programs like the Emergency Food Cupboard, Nicaraguan Mission, etc.) will all continue. Nor does it change the 15-or-so Acts of Faith at South. In fact, all of our ministries might grow as some of South’s members become familiar with New Life’s and vice versa. In fact, one of South’s AoF’s (the Micah Circle) will be chaired by a NL Elder, John Thomas. More on that at a later date.
It was discussed last night that a new name for our combined identity might be forthcoming. Everyone seemed open to that possibility, but I think we will all wait until the Spirit moves us and we are all comfortable with what that might be.
The process for this blending is what we are exploring now. What do we (together – both churches) have to do at the Presbytery level? What is legally required by NY state since New Life would be dissolving a legal entity?
It’s almost as if there are two processes going on at the same time: the legal and Presbytery requirements on the one hand, and the process of creating a new identity that includes the combined 20 Acts of Faith on the other.
This I can tell you … there were 18 people in that room last night. In the closing prayer, we went right around the room and everyone had the opportunity to speak. Although each one of us had our own personal feelings – everything from joy and excitement, to steadfast focus on the details, to an overwhelming sense of the magnitude of what we are doing – every word spoken was in favor of doing this, and doing it as quickly as possible. We believe God has been leading us to this “blended family” for a very long time and are excited (though sometimes exhausted) to finally be at this next milestone in our journey together.
The staff will remain the same: As the Pastor, I will continue as head of staff and will lead worship at Fellowship of Faith and SoutHeart Fellowship; Katrina, as Associate Pastor (God willing and if the way be clear on Tuesday, September 26th as she is examined on the floor of Presbytery and then ordained on September 30th), will continue to lead worship at New Life on Monroe and Back2Center; Andy will continue as Minister of Music to all of our Acts of Faith; Kevin and Gerod will continue to be our office staff through the BOPProgram (Blended Office Partnership).
With this new way of thinking about ourselves, i.e. we are all ONE congregation with Jesus Christ as the Head of it, our opportunities for service, participation and growth are expanded. People who might like an early Sunday morning service that’s non-traditional, can worship at 9 on Monroe. People who want to worship later that day in a way that’s a bit more traditional, can worship at 10:45 at the Meadows. Anyone who is looking for Bible Study can head up to Charlotte on Monday mornings for Bible & Brew. Anybody who wants to sing international songs in original languages can hop on over to College Town on Sunday afternoons for Mount Hope World Singers. I know it was used as a political slogan, but we really ARE “Stronger Together.” Together, we offer more opportunities to find God and bump up against Jesus … in our more than 20 Acts of Faith.
The last 26 months that our churches have been linked, we have been heading toward this, I think. This letter should come as no surprise to anyone. But both Sessions and I are really sensitive to the sacredness of what we are doing. In fact, at the end of our meeting, we all sang, “We are standing on holy ground, and we know that there are angels all around. Let us praise Jesus now. We are standing in His presence on holy ground.”
I will be meeting with our Presbytery Leader, Amy Fowler, on Monday afternoon to get some specifics about how to do what we are doing. But we are not waiting around to get the ball moving. At a meeting of ten churches tonight, our representatives introduced themselves as coming from New Life and South – a blended entity. South’s website is beginning to include New Life’s information – it will be a slow transition, but check it out (SouthPC.org) and keep coming back for updates.
Within a few months, our Sessions will be one, our Deacons will combine, our ministries will grow, new ministries will be added as needed … I think we will get a glimpse of what God has already envisioned for us. Remember: God’s been working ahead of us to set this up for some time. It is only we who are just getting here now.
And in the meantime – I suggest we become very mindful that not all of us will go through this transition at the same pace, that some may want to race ahead, while others are still reeling from the sale of their church building only 2 weeks ago.
Easy. Gentle. Mindful. Prayerful. Joyful … It’s all good. It’s all God.
With great thanks to our mighty and creative God …