‘Acts of Faith’ model of ministry is unencumbered by walls
August 24, 2017
After 170 years on Mount Hope Avenue in Rochester, New York, South Presbyterian Church voted to sell its historic building on Easter Sunday 2014, a day chosen by the congregation for its symbolism of resurrection.
“To commemorate the sale of the property, we held a combined service in August 2014,” said the Rev. Deborah Fae Swift, South Presbyterian’s pastor. “We presented the new owners, a Free Methodist congregation, with the trowel used to lay the building’s cornerstone in 1894, and used again for an expansion of the church in the 1920s.”
“None of us regrets selling the building,” she said. “In fact, fairly often people from other churches will approach one of us with an ‘I’m sorry for you’ tone of voice, which catches all of us off guard.” She added that South Presbyterian’s evangelism coordinator recently replied to one person’s well-meaning sympathy by saying, “Don’t be sorry. We’re not. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us. We have energy and are unencumbered now.
“We can just be about God’s work without spending time, energy and money on a building.”
The 40 or so members of South Presbyterian touched nearly 500 lives last year in Rochester through 16 active, member-led Acts of Faith (A0F) community groups.
This kind of “church” is about a rekindling or revitalization of the Spirit’s fire. It’s a model that measures success by the energy and excitement of the Holy Spirit’s presence more than by Sunday attendance, endowments or budgets. And it’s an idea that has its origins in the first-century church as recorded in the book of Acts, where believers were called to live in the world and share their faith in everything they did each day.
South Presbyterian piloted the AoF model with three member-led community groups in 2010–11. These groups brought people together for Bible study at a bagel shop, Christian teaching at a senior living community and a book discussion at a diner. Its 16 AoF groups focus on three areas: worshiping communities, study and sharing, and social activities with specific emphases. Some groups are noticeably religious (Prayer on the Lawn), while others focus on community building and have no mention of God, Jesus or church (Mount Hope World Singers). Almost all are member-led and all are equally significant in the life of the church.
“The essence of the Acts of Faith model is simple: ‘Go where we are needed’ and ‘Share the loving presence of the Risen Christ,’’’ Swift said. “Our world is filled with broken and hurting people, just as it was in Jesus’ day.”
Participating in an AoF group does not mean people have “joined the church,” Swift said. “You don’t even have to be Christian to participate. We welcome all sojourners.”
From time to time South Presbyterian is invited to create an AoF group to meet a community need, as was the case with Brickstone by St. John’s, a senior living community one mile from the original church building.
St. John’s had been searching for two years to find a church to provide weekly worship onsite for residents and the greater Rochester community. South Presbyterian was able to meet this need for casual but traditional Sunday worship through its Fellowship of Faith AoF group, which received a seed grant in June as an official 1001 New Worshiping Community of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Since the greatest portion of mainline Christian churches in the U.S. today have fewer than 100 members, South Presbyterian anticipates that the AoF model will be replicated in churches nationwide as the Holy Spirit leads, Swift said. In fact, South Presbyterian has established a new AoF group, Firebird Spirit, to coordinate, archive and provide information about the AoF model with other congregations that express an interest in learning more.
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY
Let us join in prayer for:
South Presbyterian Church
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the example of your Son, Jesus, and his desire to reach out to help those in need. Help us recognize our own opportunities to spread the love of Christ as your ambassadors. Amen.