This weekend Columbia Presbyterian Church turns one year old.
David and I have a joke that there’s going to be a big age gap between our kids because the church plant is our third child. It sounds like a stretch, but there are many aspects of planting a church that are similar to carrying and giving birth to a human child.
Trying. After South Asia, some friends approached us and asked us to consider planting a church in Columbia with them. This idea became a dream in our hearts. It felt so vulnerable at first, almost like we didn’t want to get our hopes up or tell too many people. But the very thought made us smile.
Pregnancy. By a miracle, we jumped through the hoops and got our long list of approvals. We were expecting! We started making contacts and gathering a community. We started core group meetings. There was awkwardness and trouble-shooting and so many unknowns. We still felt scared to get too excited. What if this whole thing folded? But we stepped forward, one day at a time. We came up with a name. We started a small group ministry, which we call Life Groups. We found a space for Sunday worship.
Birth. On September 7th, 2013, Columbia Presbyterian Church was born. Next to our wedding day and Judah and Amelie’s births, it was the happiest day of my life. All the hoping and praying and working and waiting were worth it. We were filled up with joy.
Infancy. CPC grew and changed every single week. Things moved fast, so fast. Every week there were new delights and growing pains. We were way out of our comfort zone. Our brains hurt trying to figure out always-changing logistics.
David had a sermon to write each week as well as a never-ending list of people to connect with. John planned out our worship services and sermon series’ and crafted our liturgy. Kenny learned how to lead worship. Jonathan figured out bulletins and coffee hour. Shari tried to keep up with the ever-expanding nursery ministry. I connected with newcomers and helped them get plugged in and we had lots of people over for dinner. We needed more chairs for morning worship. New faces showed up each week and we wanted to talk to everyone, to make them feel welcome.
We held our first church membership class this spring and welcomed 91 members. It felt like we were collectively treading water, just keeping our heads up. We had so much help and so many hands willing and eager to serve. It was one of our favorite seasons of life.
Walking. This summer we experienced another big growth spurt — a shock to the system — as we realized we needed to add another worship service. We also held nominations for Elders and Deacons. We hired John full-time as pastoral assistant to help with evangelism, mercy ministry, worship services, and Life Groups. We began interviewing candidates for a church planting resident, who will go on to plant our first church in early 2016, and then hired a wonderful family who moved here in August.
If you have a mission, you have to constantly remind yourself of it, to plan and work hard to keep it always in front of you — no matter what each week brings, no matter what the host of opinions say. Otherwise you’re just doing crowd control.
We rearranged Life Groups and welcomed new members. We learned how to suffer together, to carry each other’s burdens. We learned to confess sin and cry and rejoice together. Masks were removed and we grew more real and the roots of our friendships stretched down deeper.
Birthday. And here we are, today. CPC is one. I know the analogy falls short because David and I aren’t parents of this church. CPC isn’t our church, our “project.” It’s God’s Church, the Bride of Christ. His Spirit grows it and pilots it. We’re just vessels He uses. We’re a tiny part of a much bigger story.
We love this church deeply and also our hands are open.
Our heart for CPC has always been for it to stand and walk on its own two feet. We hope to be here serving and worshiping with this group for years and years. But at the same time, it’s important that CPC functions as a church family wholly separate from us. If something happens to David or me, the church needs to carry on, to be Spirit-led and to follow God’s mission. That’s the end we’ve worked and planned and prayed toward this whole year.
And today we’re humbled to say God has answered. We feel like beaming-proud parents as we show up on Sundays and work and watch people scurry here and there, setting up chairs, and setting out donuts and coffee, welcoming visitors and hugging one another, tuning up guitars and placing name tags on children, giving generously and exchanging phone numbers and heading out the door to eat lunch together. Church members are friends on their own, without us. They’re texting newcomers and leading Life Groups and praying with those who are hurting.
Columbia Presbyterian is a living, breathing, unique and very, very special body. This is God’s Church and even though the work is hard, I would never trade the daily surprises of seeing Him at work. His kingdom is growing, friends. There’s no stopping it.
Planting this church has changed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Sometimes I’ve felt stretched to the breaking point in these past two years. Church planting isn’t for the faint of heart. Change is hard for me, and our weeks are full of the unexpected and demand that we learn flexibility.
It’s chafed and hurt sometimes but it always reminds me that my life belongs to Christ. I don’t live for my comfort here and now. I pick up my cross and follow Him each day, trusting what I can’t see.
The reward, my friends, has been priceless. Happy birthday, CPC. I love you.
All photos by Lucas Brown.