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A Way Forward

by Rev. Heather Miner

I became the minister of North Long Beach Christian Church (NLBCC), an elderly Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) located in an area of need, six years ago.  The church had no savings but had stalwart, ‘salt of the earth,’ faithful people.  We were 15 in worship.  On a good day, we are now reaching towards 50.

What happened is a series of testimonies to what God can do when churches care for one another.

The first significant event was when the Saturday night church, Holy Spirit Fellowship (HSF), closed.  Twenty years ago, they were born out of Christ Chapel, an independent gay church in Long Beach.  They came to the elders of NLBCC and asked if they could rent the sanctuary for a Saturday night worship.  The Elders decided that everyone should be able to safely worship God.  A relationship was born.

Over the years, the churches worked side by side to keep the campus safe and beautiful.  People felt free to move between the churches.  We shared a musician.  Reverend Mary Jo Bradshaw sowed the seeds of unity during her tenure.  Reverend David Sigmund called NLBCC to an official congregational meeting and vote to become O & A in 2011.  When I arrived in 2012, there was a whole lot of love on campus and between the churches.

In 2014 it became clear that HSF could no longer sustain itself.  Their members made the bold decision to go and support churches already in existence.  Ten people came into the worship of NLBCC.  Since HSF tended towards Pentecostal worship, our sanctuary was filled with singing and spirit led ‘amens.’

But, still the problem remained of how to be welcoming to those who had children.  At NLBCC children begin worship in the sanctuary with their parents and then have a space and time of their own with loving, faithful adults to guide them.  While I can fix toilets, preach, visit people in the hospital, and make community connections, I cannot be in two places at 10:45 on Sundays.

Our congregation was still elderly.   Those who were comfortable working with children were no longer physically able to do so.  And, our newer members, because many did not have children of their own, did not feel they had the ability to minister well to children and youth—something that is beginning to change.

At moment of our need, Community Congregational Church of Corona del Mar, UCC (CCCC) got involved.  I had served them as an Associate Pastor for five years.  One day, their Mission group asked me what I needed.  I responded it would be most helpful to have money to pay for someone who could be a children/youth person on Sundays, help with our midweek Christian program we call Family Café, and with outreach during the week.  I created a 12 hour/week job; $600/month.  They sponsored that person and more.

It took time to find the right person.  I made a couple of mistakes.  But the grace of the Mission people at CCCC, allowed me to try again.  Finally, the right person came.  Amber attended our Family Café, which, when she first came, was limping along with the wrong children/youth leader.

Things happened and Amber moved into the children/youth leader position two months ago.  In the six months she’s been with us, Amber has brought into our church eight people, four of whom are now the leadership for our Family Café and children/youth programs.

Amber is a connector with a passion for people on the margins, a perfect fit for a church where those on the margins minister to those on the margins.  The people of NLBCC have ministered well to her and her children.  They welcomed her with open arms long before she took on her role with us.   When she was about to fall, they caught her, and helped her through.  The ability to help her with a financial situation was also enabled by the gift of CCCC.

The newer people were integrated with our long term members through a weekend leadership retreat.  Our church people are on very limited incomes.  Food at the end of the month is often hard to come by.  Again, a member of a church I served in the past, asked “what is your need?”  This time, I suggested a fund so we could go on a yearly retreat together.  The retreatants connected deeply in the Spirit; a connection which strengthens our ability to minister to our community each week.

HSF and CCCC gave us a way forward.   They show how churches can truly support one another in Christ. CCCC joins us for work days twice a year.  We begin the day with song sharing in the harmonies of songs like How Great Thou Art and Blessed Assurance.  Then, side by side, with our other faith communities, we get to work.  The shared love on campus always makes us smile, even when we are cleaning out gutters.

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