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As baseball fans know, those are phrases referring to pitches that come right at you, to brush you back off the plate. They’re hard and fast.

The young man asking the question continued, “Pastor Bud, there is a lot of talk about selling this property and relocating north of town in the suburbs. What’s your take on that? We aren’t going to abandon the city of York, are we?”

Scott Beattie (17 or 18 at the time) was the young man who asked the question that night, and he didn’t give me much time to get settled into the batter’s box. He asked the question that, apparently, was on most everyone’s mind. “Will we leave the city, like so many other congregations have done in the past? Will we abandon the urban poor? The city needs our presence here, don’t you think Pastor Bud?”

For the next few moments, I drew on my experience as a pastor in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and shared from my heart about two subjects that remain in creative tension in my life and ministry: church growth and compassionate evangelism. My response went something like this: "Your present location is prohibiting you from making more disciples. Most of your congregation lives in the suburbs and rural areas that surround the city. Members drive in for worship, making it hard to invite friends and neighbors. Your building sits on 90% of your property, making parking and expansion nearly impossible. From a church growth perspective, the odds are stacked against you. In order to make more disciples, re-location sounds like an idea worthy of your careful consideration. However, we are Nazarenes, and our roots run deep into the great urban centers of the world. We identify with the needs of the urban poor. We cannot abandon the city and be true to our Wesleyan-Holiness identity.”

We identify with the needs of the urban poor. We cannot abandon the city and be true to our Wesleyan-Holiness identity.

That night, I presented this seed of an idea: “If you relocate your campus ministries to Stillmeadow Lane, I would suggest that you commit yourselves to return to the city with a uniquely urban, ministry-based church plant or satellite.” Sure enough, that congregation voted positively for me to become their pastor. Shortly thereafter, the church voted to sell their city location and move to 400 Stillmeadow Lane, and we grew from 300 to about 1,600 currently. During these early years of growth and expansion, Scott and others continued to pray and remind me that a promise had been made. “Will we keep it?”

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In 1999, Stillmeadow became “one church with multiple sites.” In 2003, we invited Pastors Abiel and Lynn Hernandez to become the associate pastors for urban ministries. We made an appeal for a number of Stillmeadow Nazarenes to become “urban missionaries,” commissioned them to serve in the city, and rented a space for ministries to begin. It required several attempts at several locations throughout the city, but when the ministries moved to the northeast quadrant of York City, a very needy quadrant, the ministry took off . Today, it is not unusual for composite worship to total nearly 300 some weekends.

Worship under Pastor Abiel and his team is bi-lingual, relational, and “ministry evangelism based.” I borrow this term from Church Planting Village.net, a part of the North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, because it describes far better than I the unique nature of worship, discipleship, and compassion from York City Congregation:

Ministry evangelism based church planting is the planting of a healthy church through meeting real, felt, and anticipatory needs. The rational is that people are hurting, and they need to know God loves them and wants to meet their ultimate need, a personal relationship with Himself. The ministry evangelism broad strategy accomplishes its purpose by understanding the needs of the community and implementing an evangelism strategy to meet those needs. This strategy could be effective in many communities, but especially in urban areas and among ethnic groups.*

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This above model is a visual representation of what takes place in York City week-in and week-out.

Worship

York City worship, led by Pastor Abiel Hernandez and associates Terry Krebs and Greg Gordon, happens around tables. This worship has a strong relational element. Worship includes both physical and spiritual nutrition. Communication occurs in both English and Spanish. Music is an eclectic mix of hymns, contemporary songs, and mariachi style. Pastor Abiel sees relationships as vital to the church’s effectiveness. There exists a mosaic of ethnic and socio-economic representation in the York City congregation. This worship presently is taking place in a temporary, rented facility, until the new facility, which is presently under construction, is completed (projected for the summer of 2011).

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It is our intention to direct most of Stillmeadow’s compassionate ministry activities to this new location (before school programming, compassionate evangelism activities, and so on).

Extreme Express

Founded by Don and Elaine Leiphart years ago, the Extreme Express is now missionally connected to the York City Campus. On Saturday mornings (September – December), our “church on wheels” rolls into the heart of the city at three nearby locations. People of all ages climb aboard for music, puppets, and the spoken Word, all under the direction of urban missionaries Jade and Chastity Frederick. Each person also receives a hug and a meal upon their departure.

Celebrate Recovery

This program meets on Wednesday night with a two hour experience that includes a meal, small groups, and worship. This ministry is designed for folks that are dealing with hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Mostly urbanites attend.

Worship for Spanish Speakers

Another smaller worship service is presently under construction for those who speak Spanish exclusively and are learning the English language.

How Stillmeadow Is Organizing for This Unique Arrangement

  1. Because of the socio-economic location of this urban congregation, it cannot sustain itself economically and is not expected to. It cannot support a pastor, pay a mortgage, pay denominational allocations, and so forth. Consequently, York City congregation has a line item in Stillmeadow’s overall budget. Last year, the city congregation raised an amazing $50,000 in its offerings. However, the costs for this particular congregation are approximately $250,000 per year. Obviously, this congregation is in no position to be “self-sustaining” financially. Under this arrangement, we do not expect it to be. This arrangement makes it possible for the city congregation to focus on mission and not be encumbered with overwhelming financial responsibilities.
  2. Pastor Abiel has assembled a ministry team. This is not an elected group, nor is it legislative. It is strictly missional. These individuals are appointed to the team based on their gifts and availability. Stillmeadow has an elected, centralized board that has several elected persons from the City congregation, giving them ample representation on the board.
  3. Pastor Abiel is a member of the core pastoral staff (full-time staff ). The pastoral staff is supervised by Senior Executive Associate, Wayne Lynch. It is here that Pastor Abiel shares reports, is accountable to the staff , and keeps us apprised of development and needs in the city and our congregation located there.
  4. It is our intention, upon the completion of the new facility, to center Stillmeadow’s compassion and social action ministries at our city location. The 350 Chestnut Street location will serve as Stillmeadow’s Compassionate Ministry Center, where we will continue our existing compassionate ministries and develop new ministries, as the needs present themselves.

The new building is located across from the largest elementary school in the city. At this time, plans are underway for the Stillmeadow Child Care Center to institute a latchkey program (before school and after school programming) at this strategic location. We are hoping some funding will come along to help us staff and program this vitally important compassionate ministry to urban children and their families.

That’s our City story (so far). As of this writing, the foundation is almost complete, and steel is being delivered to the site. Apparently, by the grace of God and the generosity of Stillmeadow Nazarenes, we are going to keep the promise that I made some 21 years ago. And more importantly, by the grace of God, we will continue to minister works of piety and works of mercy . . . to the least of these. Of course, we’re Nazarenes. We could not “leave the city like so many other congregations have in the past. We could not abandon the rural poor. Our city needs our presence there.”

BUD REEDY currently serves as senior pastor of Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene in York, PA

*The Church Planting Village site by the North American Mission Board is no longer an active website.