Not long after being members at Grace, my husband and I discovered a potential dilemma--this young church only had so much room to grow. Since the original church plant in 2007, Grace has been renting a church building just off of Frankfort Avenue. While it has served its purpose thus far, awareness of our limits has increased. Renting comes with significant limitations: only being given access on Sundays, limited classroom space, a sanctuary that would bust at the seams if we were to experience significant growth, and the minor setback of an air conditioner that occasionally goes out when the lights are turned on... Setbacks indeed. Grace is filled, almost overwhelmingly so, with individuals and groups who earnestly want to serve and expand our church's ministry to the community. There are so many wonderful giftings within our small body, and yet we have limited resources given our current situation. Even making the most of the church building we do have provides little room for additional growth and ministry.
Hence mine and my husband's eagerness when we received word a few months ago that another local congregation has sought our church out. This particular church, nestled in the old downtown area referred to as Butchertown, contacted our elders in the early spring to discuss a potential merger. This would involve the two coming together as one church, and our current congregation finally moving from our small rental to their three-story building in Butchertown. When the pastor who leads our small group brought up the idea for discussion one evening, I think he was somewhat overwhelmed at our enthusiastic response! Here we are a young church, antsy to be so much more effective and consistently involved in a variety of ministries, eager to have our church congregation consist of more than predominantly seminary-affiliated students and families, and the idea of finally having our own building alone is enough to stir up some excitement. Since the talks began a few months ago, we have since invited their congregation to our church for a Sunday worship service, our preaching pastor has been there once, and we also joined them for a good ol' Baptist potluck a few weeks ago. Our church is set to officially vote on moving forward with the merger this Sunday, and their congregation will be doing the same in the near future. If all goes according to the tentative plan, we could be one church called by our new name (something still in the works) by the fall!
With such a merger comes change, some readily accepted and some of which will require a measure of grace and patience from both churches. We are a young church, strong in reformed theology, strong in certain practices, and we have been given the opportunity to do something wonderful for putting doctrine into practice! When this merger takes place, there will be two church cultures coming together trying to make things work as one unified body. This is a time when I am thankful for my more traditional Baptist background as it has enabled me to be more sensitive and discerning of the potential issues and questions that may arise. I am also thankful for churches such as this who have such a rich history, a history marked by perseverance and strong commitment to their community (One of the older women I spoke to during the potluck, Erma, told me the story of when her father built their house down the street more than 70 years ago, and how she has been a faithful member of this church ever since.)
When I look at an older Baptist congregation, one with whom I have brief glimpses of my childhood at either my home church or my grandparents' country church, I am reminded that there will be times when discussing the differences in tradition and doctrine will be crucial to our separate churches coming together as one:
- Why does our church take part in Communion every Sunday rather than once a quarter?
- Why don't we sing straight from the Baptist hymnal?
- Should women be allowed to serve as deacons and/or teachers?
- What is the purpose of a membership class prior to someone joining the church?
I am thinking of hypothetical questions on an almost daily basis, and each time I do I am also praying for grace. While some churches seem to have things together, all the kinks worked out with the whole church coming together as one unified body, we are all still sinners saved by and in need of grace. Even some of the most well-intentioned people can approach questions and differing views without displaying care or concern for the other party. So not only do we have a great opportunity to finally be even more involved in ministry to our local community, but we have an opportunity to come together with a church very different from our own and lavish love and grace on them. My husband and I are praying fervently for this merger, praying that elders and congregation alike will practice humility first when dealing with crucial matters, as well as those which may seem secondary to us. I've never prayed for our elders as much as I have in recent weeks and months, and I have been praying for the young men as well who are eager and willing to roll up their sleeves and dive into whatever ministry the Lord may have in store.