In the words and experience of Rev. Jim Moseley, executive presbyter of New Castle Presbytery, “Every great effort in ministry requires both strategic thinking and ‘daring’ in equal amounts.”
And maybe just a few peaches.
In large part thanks to peaches—specifically the recent Middletown Old-Tyme Peach Festival—the Church on Main in Middletown, Delaware, was front and center in the community’s historic downtown district.
Dressed in peach-colored shorts and wearing a clerical collar, Rev. Fernando Rodriguez Quiñones, Church on Main’s organizing pastor, was determined to show Middletown’s residents—and some 20,000 visitors—that something new, exciting, and different had been launched on the site of the former Forest Presbyterian Church, which was formally dissolved by the presbytery in February.
“Forest was a congregation that had steadily declined in membership and struggled for many years,” Rodriguez Quiñones said of the former church, which closed after 266 years. “When only a small group was gathering for worship, the session asked the presbytery to get involved. After the presbytery tried a couple of models, they formed an administrative commission, which called me. Shortly after my arrival, it was clear that we needed to dissolve Forest to do something new.”
Moseley said that in welcoming Rodriguez Quiñones, New Castle Presbytery received “a person of many gifts and talents who would focus on growing a radically diverse and decidedly missional fellowship.” Rodriguez Quiñones also serves as the presbytery’s innovator for emerging ministries.
Multiple congregations and presbytery entities greeted Rodriguez Quiñones with support and funding to begin building the new ministry upon many of the strengths that were already there.
“The connection with the Peach Festival really was ‘transferred’ from the old Forest Church because some of its members were involved in planning it,” he said, “and thanks to the presbytery’s involvement and financial support, we have been able to fix up the building and show people all of the renovations.”
During the daylong Peach Festival, Rodriguez Quiñones and volunteers from across the presbytery—including members of the former Forest Church—invited hundreds of people into the church’s air-conditioned comfort, sold peach ice cream and water for the visitors’ refreshment, and handed out lightly frozen towels with Church on Main’s logo and website. Volunteers also distributed information on the new worshiping community’s first of three “preview” services, scheduled monthly in August, September, and October.
The preview services were planned at nontraditional times “to kind of give the people a sense of who we are and what we are going to be, but they [were] also designed for us to listen to the people,” Rodriguez Quiñones said. “We’re reaching out to see how we can best serve the community and make an impact by exploring what it would look like if God moved into the neighborhood.”
Church on Main has three guiding principles, which form the acronym C.O.M.—community-driven, open, and meaningful—and which also happens to stand for Church on Main.
“We are focused on building community, being community, serving community,” he said. “We are open in the sense of being open to all people from all backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender, and economic status; and we’re meaningful in the sense that we’re not a ‘dog and pony show’ or an entertainment center. We are trying to have meaningful experiences spiritually as we serve, as we worship.”
The community has indeed started to take notice of the Church on Main, not just of the ongoing physical changes to the church building, but also of Rodriguez Quiñones’ s growing community involvement.
“One of the first decisions we made was to partner with an organization called Friendship House, based in Wilmington, Delaware, which was looking to expand into Middletown, one of the fastest-growing communities and soon to be the most populated town in the state,” he said. “There’s development all over the place. Fifteen years ago this place was all farmland; fast-forward to today and the population has grown from 5,000 to 30,000 in 10 to 15 years. Middletown, on the surface, doesn’t look like a place that would need social services basics; however, growth spurs different things. Friendship House, because it’s an organization that primarily deals with serving people experiencing homelessness, saw an opportunity to expand into Middletown, given the growth and the need for it, even in a place like Middletown.”
Both Rodriguez Quiñones and Moseley are optimistic.
“In Fernando, we are seeking—and we found—a person who would speak to and for the work of the presbytery, helping us to grow our witness to Jesus Christ; who would preach, teach, consult, and advocate for immigrant and emergent ministries; and who would move us beyond membership to see the work of the church through different lenses leading us to greater diversity,” Moseley said.
In May, the Church on Main received a seed grant of $7,500 from the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative. “We’re pretty excited to see what God does through this all,” said Rodriguez Quiñones.
Emily Enders Odom, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: New Castle Presbytery
Let us join in prayer for:
Rev. Jim Moseley, Executive Presbyter
Bob Schminkey, Stated Clerk
Bruce Gillette, Moderator
Winnie Wagner, Vice Moderator
Donna Scully, Office Manager
Rev. Fernando Rodriguez Quiñones, Pastor of Church on Main and Presbytery’s Innovator for Emerging Ministries
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Gracious God, give us eyes to see others the way that you do. Prompt us to join with what you are doing in people’s lives and in our communities. Empower us, by your Holy Spirit, to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.