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New Church Starts – Pastor Reflections

During the month of September, our new church start pastors will be sharing about their incredible church plant efforts and how things are going in a time of global pandemic. Let’s cheer them along!!

Campbell Lovett
Consulting Conference Minister

Just Love UCC, Houston – Rev. Darnell Fennell, Pastor

As I write this, potential hurricanes are brewing in the gulf; the first time recorded that two tropical disturbances are in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time. I, like many, have been listening to meteorologists as they seek to track the direction of these now named hurricanes Laura and Marco. I am amazed by meteorologist’s skills as they can gather information about hurricanes days before they arrive.

As a new church planter, I find myself often trying to forecast potential storms that could impact our existence as a vulnerable young congregation. It is one thing to have to respond to an anticipated storm, but it is quite a different experience to react to an unexpected storm. Jesus’s disciples can relate to this as the Gospel narrative reminds us that their plans to cross over to the other side were interrupted by a violent storm. There was no heads-up, no forecasting, it just appeared, and it shook to them to their core. 

As the pastor of Just Love, a UCC new church start, I set out during the start of 2020 to cross the waters of 2020 to the other side. The other side meant creating a faith-rooted social enterprise through our church that would serve as a co-working space for disenfranchised black entrepreneurs in Houston’s historically black neighborhood 3rd Ward, a neighborhood that is being gentrified.

Needless to say, this storm has disrupted our plans, leaving us at times wondering if we should jump ship. All we wanted to do is cross over to the other side. We sure would have appreciated a heads-up that a storm was heading our way that had winds that would leave a vulnerable church plant seeking justice for black lives holding on for dear life. I could share the challenges we face, but that would be preaching to the choir as you already know the challenges this storm is having on congregations. I would only add that new church plants experience those realities to a more substantial degree as we are in the vulnerable days of the beginnings of our congregation.

I imagine after the disciples went through the storm, they reached the other side transformed. They were no longer the disciples that entered, they may have looked the same, but there had been an inward change. It was during this storm they developed a more profound connection with Jesus, as they witnessed him calm the storms. Their faith had been upgraded at that moment, their theological perspective had been expanded, and their sense of purpose had shifted. As a church planter in the middle of the storm, I am clear that these unforeseen winds and rains are transforming us. When we reach the other side, we will be more tenacious in our dreaming. We will be more faithful in connecting to our communities in meaningful and innovative ways. We will rethink our theological understanding of the church as space.

Just Love will never exist as it once did because of this storm, although challenging, it is transforming us. This storm is shifting us all – new churches and mature congregations.

Four lessons this storm is teaching; the first one is a potent reminder of what we already knew:

  1. Church has to discern new ways of sustainability
  2. Church cannot be tied solely to a physical space
  3. Church does not have to look the way it has always looked
  4. Church cannot only be done one way

With Care,
Rev. Darnell Fennell 

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