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California PC(USA) congregation helps launch four new worshiping communities

Each 1001 community reaches diverse range of people within 12-mile radius of church

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

HAYWARD, Calif. — Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister Jake Medcalf refuses to believe the denomination should just go quietly into the night. “If we’re going to survive,” he says, “we have to trust God has more for us than Sunday morning worship and go make an impact in the neighborhood where we are.”

The church Medcalf serves, First Presbyterian Church of Hayward, California, has started four 1001 new worshiping communities. Each community is reaching a diverse range of people within a 12-mile radius of the 350-member church. The leaders of these new worshiping communities are all members of First’s staff. 

The Fellowship is geared toward youth and young adults. Pastor John Smith sees so many young people who feel like church is not for them because it doesn’t talk about issues they’re facing.

“We have homeless kids, abused kids and those who face violence,” says Smith. “Sometimes it’s not time for a sermon. It’s just being there, walking with them, with their hurts and pains.”

Small Town Society has created a place where advocates and artists can share their art and connect on a deeper level. They also create art together and work on initiatives that help their neighbor. As leader Paul Keim says, most people who hang out at Small Town “want to be a part of something spiritually.”

“Even those who consider themselves atheist say, ‘I feel like I’m part of something bigger when I’m here.’”

Safe House was started because people doing community organizing and activist workers needed a safe place where they could hold each other accountable spiritually. “The truth is, a lot of churches aren’t safe places for people who do movement work,” says Safe House leader and chaplain Debra Avery. “They’re called to be out in the streets, using language and dressing in ways that contradict traditional church norms.”

At Safe House, Avery encourages those in the community to “engage in Scripture,” and “to think about what it means to their work, as they confess their grief and sins, together.”

Come Be. Go Do. is a community for millennials led by Alex Largusa. He is working on ways to understand and communicate faith — the story of God — in new, non-institutional ways.

“It’s for those who are like, ‘I don’t want go to my parents’ church,’” says Medcalf. “Together they’re learning how to do life together as they communicate the gospel and reframe for a new generation.”

Medcalf says starting these new worshiping communities has helped revitalize spiritual life at First Presbyterian. Congregation members are praying more for these 1001 communities, which is creating in them “a reality that God is real.”

“The 1001 NWC movement has widened my perception of what God is doing in our community,” says Clerk of Session Phil Grebe. “When you step out and do something completely different, It’s like you’re a new Christian again. God is speaking and you’re going, ‘Oh, I see want you want.’”

First Presbyterian Families and Community Life pastor Kirk Davis feels like the church is at a point where they’re able to invite people into their space, allowing them to be authentically who they are while still wondering “Who is this God? And who is this Jesus?”

“There’s a great line in the Book of Order,” says Medcalf. “Essentially it says, ‘the Church is called to take risks for the mission of God, even at the expense of its own life.’ That’s the heartbeat of what we’re trying to do.”


Presbyterian Mission has supported Come Be. Go Do., The Fellowship, Safe House and Small Town Society with Mission Program Grants.

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