By DJay Martin
A Church of the Brethren minister, a Brethren in Christ pastor, and a Southern Baptist preacher walk into a church….
No, this isn’t the set-up line to a groan-worthy dad joke. This is the weekly reality for the folks who call Parker Ford Church of the Brethren home.
In June 2022, three separate congregations in Pottstown, Pa., from three different denominational backgrounds, merged to form one new, dually affiliated congregation.
The three congregations were Parker Ford Church of the Brethren, NorthPointe Community Church (Southern Baptist), and Daybreak Community Church (Brethren in Christ).
The new congregation is still officially Parker Ford Church of the Brethren but we like to call it PFC. PFC is not only shorthand for Parker Ford Church, it is also an acronym for our church mission.
Please pray… For the congregation at PFC and its pastors and lay leadership, as they celebrate a year of new partnership in discipleship to Jesus Christ.
At PFC we are A People Following Christ: Up, In, and Out. The new PFC is a dually affiliated congregation sharing ongoing connection with both the Church of the Brethren and Brethren in Christ denominations.
Parker Ford Church (PFC) of the Brethren is a historic congregation. Bi-monthly preaching appointments began as early as 1808. The official birthdate is considered to be in 1843 with the purchase of land and the official separation from Coventry Church of the Brethren, just a few miles down the road.
PFC has gone through cultural shifts and changes over 180 years, but maybe none more significant than the exciting transformations of the past year when PFC welcomed two additional local congregations into a merger process that was officially completed on June 5, 2022.
How do three congregations, from three separate denominations, merge into one new congregation? Well, it has been a long, winding, and beautiful road. What follows is a simplified version of a much more complicated story:
PFC is closely connected to a regional ministry called Netzer. Netzer is an organization that helps build oneness and unity in the body of Christ in the greater Philadelphia area. Netzer is led by former PFC pastor Tim Doering. In conjunction with Netzer, PFC has built close partnerships with many local churches from a variety of denominational backgrounds. One of these partnerships is through a shared youth ministry called FUSE. FUSE was started by pastor Brandon Vining who served at NorthPointe Community Church. PFC and Daybreak Community Church joined the FUSE youth ministry around 2009. Each congregation saw the value in partnering together for youth ministry with the shared conviction that we can accomplish much greater things together than on our own!
In addition, these three congregations have partnered together in many other ways including Vacation Bible School programs, worship nights, community outreach events, and prayer gatherings, to name just a few. Through these partnerships, the pastors grew to become close friends with one another.
When the pandemic brought things to a halt in early 2020, the three congregations were not adequately prepared for online ministry, with neither the equipment nor the expertise to produce high-quality online worship services. We reached out to one another for help and support, and began to produce online services together. PFC owns a 10-acre property that came in handy during the days of social distancing. Our three congregations began holding semi-regular outdoor worship services together in the PFC backyard.
Throughout, the pastors continued to pray together, support one another, and constantly ask, “What might the Lord be doing through these deepening connections and relationships?”
By early 2021 PFC was recovering from the financial strains of 2020 and had begun to see an uptick in attendance. As a result, leadership began looking into hiring additional pastoral staff to support pastor DJay Martin’s ministry. The Holy Spirit seemed to continually bring pastor Dave Hakes from Daybreak Community Church and pastor Brandon Vining from NorthPointe Community Church to our attention. The last thing PFC wanted to do was to “steal” a pastor. Despite this concern, the Lord seemed to continue to bring these brothers to mind. This led to a series of conversations with the pastors and eventually to an official proposal by PFC to ask Daybreak and NorthPointe to merge with PFC.
Neither Daybreak nor NorthPointe owned a building. Both congregations rented their worship space. In fact, in a beautiful poetic twist NorthPointe was worshiping in PFC’s original building, built in 1843. Though these congregations did not own buildings, what they did possess were wonderful pastors, fantastic leaders, and faithful congregations. PFC would welcome the pastors and support staff of these congregations to join the existing staff of PFC. Additionally, the newly formed leadership board of PFC would include leaders from both congregations.
Before this proposal went out to anyone beyond the PFC leaders, Martin met with Atlantic Northeast District executive minister Pete Kontra, who helped PFC leaders navigate the necessary questions and relevant concerns.
The merger proposal was shared with the congregations in Nov. 2021. In the following months each congregation walked through a discernment process and shared a feasibility study led by an outside consultant. Two of the congregations invited Netzer leadership to add additional discernment and support. After dozens of meetings, hundreds of individual conversations, and countless communications, the leaders of each congregation felt confident that the Lord was leading our three congregations to merge. The congregations each gave official approval by mid-2022.
Over the last year, there have been inevitable challenges and bumps in the road, but overall the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Three different churches, with three unique cultures, traditions, and styles, coming together–this is a story that we believe needs to be celebrated. In an age of culture wars and spiritual and political division, we have found it to be so refreshing to be a part of a story of people finding deeper unity because of their bond in Christ.
On Sunday, June 11, we celebrated our official one-year anniversary with a special day of worship, testimony, fellowship, food, and games.
So, yes, pastors from three different denominations walked into a church…and found out that they rather enjoy the company.
— DJay Martin serves as one of the pastors of PFC, which this month is celebrating its one-year anniversary as a merged congregation of Parker Ford Church of the Brethren, NorthPointe Community Church (Southern Baptist), and Daybreak Community Church (Brethren in Christ).
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