First Christian Church of Vancouver, Wash., had seen better days. So, when they learned there would be a gathering in the neighboring Oregon region to introduce Church Extension’s expanding New Beginnings Assessment Service, they crossed the Columbia River to attend, ready for God to do a new thing in them.
So began an unorthodox venture across regions that would bring First Christian into a circle of life-giving partnerships to benefit all the congregations involved – including an inspiring new ministry in Portland, Ore.
“Our church is filled with resilient people with a pioneering spirit who are open to risk-taking that a true journey of faith requires,” said Kevin Carlisle, pastor of the 118-year-old Washington church.
So, during the New Beginnings process, First Christian pressed its pioneering spirit into service, asking, “What is God calling us to be and to do in this time and place?” Not surprisingly, a new opportunity occurred to them. They could nest a new church in their spacious facility.
Meanwhile, Milele and James Hobbs, pastors of Trees of Righteousness, a growing new unaffiliated congregation, were exploring next steps to address their need for more space. The Trees mission is to “reconcile the hurting, abused, and outcasts back to Christ by teaching the Word and building authentic relationships.”
The new congregation developed their relationship with Disciples while looking for a baptistery to “borrow” for immersing new members. Lynchwood Christian Church welcomed them.
The new congregation’s partnerships with Disciples were about to grow exponentially. Doug Wirt, co-regional minister in Oregon, helped connect them with the Disciples movement that nurtures new life: New Church Ministry. The pair participated in the NCM planter training, subsequently affiliated as a Disciples congregation, and gained the support and coaching of NCM “Barnabas” Henzy Green, an Indiana pastor with experience starting a new church.
In 2009, the couple participated in the General Assembly in Indianapolis. There, the New Beginnings and New Church projects overlapped through Church Extension, and the Vancouver and Portland churches connected.
First Christian, Vancouver, found the nesting congregation they had been waiting for and Trees of Righteousness found a new home. But the story didn’t end there.
Today, Trees of Righteousness Christian Church operates its headquarters and residential facility for transitional housing in Portland. Members worship in the First Christian building in Vancouver. Growing to a congregation of nearly 60 people, the new church is multi-racial and multi-generational.
The growing church demonstrates what it means to be engaged in mission and has helped some area churches in their quest for new life in mission. “Our transformation feels like we have stumbled into the light where we can now see our options through grace and not the old way,” Carlisle said of First Christian, Vancouver. “We are at a different place than we were before with a new vision of what our mission can be in the future.”
Besides First Christian, Vancouver, other congregations are partnering with Trees of Righteousness. The View Christian Church, another New Beginnings congregation in Portland, helps cover costs for members of Trees to participate in the Disciples ministry education program offered through the Great River Region. They also collect coats, gloves, blankets and food for Trees’ street ministry to distribute to the homeless.
First Christian Church in Salem, Oregon recently donated their soon-to-be-replaced church van, when they learned the church needed it. Portland First Christian, another 100+-year-old congregation, partnered with Trees to send the church’s youth to summer camp and helped with their monthly outreach to the local homeless “tent city” for service and hot lunch.
Milele said, “(The generosity of our partners) leaves us the energy to walk the streets and go under bridges to share the Word and extend God’s hand to those in need. We have seen several people give their life to Christ, and several have joined the church.”
”It’s a great blessing to share with Trees of Righteousness,” said Carlisle. “Together, we can accomplish so much more.”