GOSHEN — A pair of Lutheran churches in Goshen are uniting under a new name but keeping their separate locations.
Senior pastor John Hickey likes to think of it as a marriage. First English Lutheran on South Fifth Street and Trinity Lutheran on Greene Road have been dating for a long time, working together and sharing resources, he said. The two churches became engaged last year when the congregations decided to explore consolidation, and recently, the churches got married and changed their name to Faith Lutheran Church.
“Every time we stopped to make a decision about this, we said a prayer,” Hickey said. “We had a conversation and then we said a prayer. Everything we do is rooted in prayer.”
ONE FAITH, ONE CHURCH
The conversation to bring the two congregations closer together is not a new one. In fact, the two churches started as one congregation and split over language.
The process to consolidate the churches started about a year ago, and the people who regularly fill the pews on Sunday mornings were involved every step of the way.
“We heard a lot of excitement, a lot of questions, a lot of concerns and a lot of uncertainty, which is expected because we hadn’t really fleshed it out,” said Hickey, who was called to Trinity in 2008 and was issued a new call in March to Faith Lutheran.
The church hired spiritual directors from Pathways Retreat in Goshen to help guide conversations between the congregations.
“It’s always an invigorating process to go through because it’s something new, and concerns and fears are always part of the process,” Pathway co-director Julie Stegelmann said. “This allowed them time to be heard.”
Chris Shively, who grew up attending services at Trinity and most recently went to First English, said members of the congregation were invited to share concerns at group meetings they dubbed “listening posts.” He is hopeful about Faith Lutheran’s new direction.
“I think we’re going to see more focused efforts on our programs because instead of having that redundancy just a few miles apart, I think we’re going to have the right people doing the right things, and just more enthusiasm for our programs to grow more,” Shively said.
Paula Young, president of Faith Lutheran’s council, agreed.
“More hands make the work lighter,” she said. “This was done in such a way that every voice was heard, whether they were for it or against it. It was important to hear everybody’s opinion because it’s quite a huge thing to do.
”People are steeped in tradition and they’re proud of their identity in the community with First English and Trinity Lutheran.”
ONE CHURCH, TWO LOCATIONS
Hickey is careful to call the two churches coming together a consolidation rather than a merger.
“It’s been quite a journey,” he said. “A lot of people call it a merger, but a merger is when you have one struggling church, and they’re ready to close their doors and need another larger, well established church to take over, but that’s not what we did.”
The transition has been smooth, Hickey said. The two congregations, which include roughly 150 people, were already working on projects together including youth ministry, confirmation, Wednesday night programming and more.
Interim pastor Jim Ward has been helping Hickey preach, and the church plans to call on an associate pastor to spend time at both locations.
“My role as senior pastor will be more about administration, the direction of the church, strategic planning and preaching and worship leadership,” Hickey said. “And then we’ll be looking for an associate pastor to work more with youth, family and discipleship. The pastors’ roles will not be divided by location. They will be divided by ministry.”
It was important to the congregations to keep both church locations open, Hickey said. Each has something different to offer, he added.
“Here at First English, we have a wonderful preschool ministry that is tied to this facility, and on Greene Road, we have homeless outreach and ministry that we host there, and we have a community garden that was started last year,” he said. “One is in the heart of downtown, which is a gift, and then one has some land near a park. The goal was to strengthen our ministries.
”Together, we can support our ministries better, be more effective and create more synergy and more momentum.”
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.