(Article excerpted from The Lutheran Ambassador)
The congregation began as a network of Bible study groups meeting in homes during the first half of the last century. After building and outgrowing a small chapel, the growing fellowship built and moved into a new facility close by. A strong commitment to teaching and learning the Bible and a heart for sharing Jesus with neighbors and friends were marks of the new church.
Sunday School for all ages and a variety of large and small-group Bible studies have always been important to us. In more recent decades, materials such as the Bethel Bible Study, ALPHA Course, 40 Days of Purpose, Becoming a Contagious Christian and others were used to introduce people to Jesus and help members become more comfortable sharing their faith. In 2004 over $6,500 in special offerings was given during a two-week span to buy out several showings of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ movie so that members could bring family, friends and co-workers to see the film at no charge!
In 2004, many of our church council members and a majority of the congregation reached the conclusion that we were part of a denomination that no longer reflected the Biblical foundation and evangelical heart of our congregation. After a period of study and several congregational forums, the council recommended that our church change its affiliation to the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC). This change would require a two-thirds majority vote at two congregational meetings held ninety days apart. The first meeting was held and the required majority vote was achieved. However, at the second meeting the vote fell short. Many people were heartbroken.
The evening after the second vote, a group of people met to talk and pray about what to do next. There was a strong desire to continue pursuing the work of bringing a Biblically conservative, evangelical church with a strong protestant heritage to the Hagerstown, Maryland area. A plan was formed to meet for a time of Bible study and prayer the Sunday after Thanksgiving (the first Sunday of Advent that year) at the local Red Cross building. We contacted the AFLC to ask for help starting a new congregation. Within a day, our plans for a Bible study and prayer time transformed into plans for a full worship service. By God's grace Pastor Paul Nash, AFLC Home Missions Director, just "happened" to have that weekend open and was available to come to Hagerstown to meet with us and deliver a message from God's Word at the upcoming first worship service!
Doors continued to open that week and the next as God prepared us to begin a new work in the community. A letter was written and mailed to the members of our church explaining that some of us would be moving on to begin the work of forming a new congregation. All were asked to spend time in prayer discerning whether God's Spirit was calling them to stay or become part of the new mission to the community. No one knew for sure what would happen next.
The day arrived. Pastor Nash and a small planning group had met the night before for prayer and preparation. Pastor Mark Benz from Gaithersburg, Maryland was on hand to help out and to see what role God might have for him in this new work. Would anyone come? How many chairs should be set up? On the morning of November 27, 2005 the planning group met early. After setting up the room we hit our knees. We prayed for God's will to be done. We prayed for protection from the Devil. We prayed for Pastor Nash and his message. We prayed for the building, for every seat, for every soul that would gather that day to worship the risen Lord Jesus. The crowd began to gather. In a short time every seat was filled and additional chairs were needed! Many people brought family and friends and in all nearly 150 people gathered for the first worship service!
It's still hard to believe what all has taken place. God has freed us from the past and from a denomination whose convictions about the authority of Scripture and receiving salvation through the shed blood of Jesus no longer match our own. Our continued prayer is that God will give us tremendous passion for the Great Commission and that He will help us remain in the mindset of "being" His church instead of "doing" church. We pray for God's blessing as we seek to serve Him on our journey with Christ.