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Today in the Mission Yearbook

South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, celebrates the decision to sell its building to focus on faithful acts


The 40-member faith community salutes its varied ministries in a big way

November 17, 2023

Nearly a decade ago, South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, sold its building to focus on investing in a wide array of ministries. The congregation, which worships each Sunday in a Rochester senior center, will hold a gala celebration this weekend. (Contributed photo)

South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York, recently celebrated the beginning of the second decade of selling its building and implementing its Acts of Faith community, a throwback to a first-century model of being the church.

After selling its building in 2014, the congregation — which now numbers about 40 — embraced a prayer it has prayed many times since: “Put us where you want us, God, and show us what to do.”

Next year will mark 175 years since the founding of the church. The Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III, director of Theology, Formation & Evangelism, joined the celebration and helped lead worship at a senior center where South Presbyterian worships.

“I continue to be thankful for God’s serendipitous grace in connecting me with the leaders of South Presbyterian Church,” Jones said. “I have learned so much from their courage and willingness to change. They boldly engaged the new thing God was doing in their midst by selling their church building and creating Acts of Faith across Rochester. They made the gospel decision to leave their building and go where the people live their lives in the community.”

“As their ministry continues to change hearts and lives,” Jones said, “this expression of the body of Christ exemplifies God’s faithfulness and love for all people.”

The Rev. Deb Swift, South Presbyterian Church’s pastor, said that 15 years ago, the congregation determined that if it held onto its building and made needed repairs, the church would run out of money in seven years. “I thought it was hyperbole, but it wasn’t,” said Swift. “We started doing these [Acts of Faith] ministries even before we sold the building.”

Soul Sustainability is one of 14 members of the Acts of Faith community.

Eventually a 1001 New Worshiping Community was formed. Currently the church sponsors 14 Acts of Faith groups, which include:

  • Cuppa the Bible, a weekly Bible study with this tagline: “You supply the ‘cuppa’ — the Spirit supplies the message.”
  • Living Bread Ministry, where members bake bread regularly and offer a variety of loaves wrapped in new dish towels to anyone who may need encouragement or special prayers.
  • Matthew 25 Discussion Groups, focused study groups dealing with the issues of racism, poverty, hunger and homelessness.
  • Senior Spirituality, small support groups that first study the aging process with Swift and then accompany each other along the way.
  • Soul Sustainability, a social group of 20-somethings working to sustain the environment, their spirits and themselves by creating a safe place to define their faith community.

Swift explains the Acts of Faith ministry model in a video that can be viewed here.

“It’s about redefining church,” Swift said. “In our case, we embraced the first-century model when there was no centralized church location. We go wherever someone has an interest or a need, and we do organic, grassroots community organizing around that spiritual theme.” Each of those programs is an Act of Faith, she said.

“God finds a way to speak to us in a language we can understand,” Swift said. “We know that from the first Pentecost in Acts 2, and who are we to say what someone else might experience as worship?”

During the pandemic, several Acts of Faith groups morphed into online groups, which has allowed them to build community beyond the Rochester area. The current array of 14 Acts of Faith groups includes participants from North Carolina; Florida; Utah; Washington state; New Jersey; and Ithaca, New York. Ten ministries remain in-person in Rochester. Soul Sustainability, a group of five Millennials, is the most recent Acts of Faith group to form.

“This is a model anyone can do,” Swift said, and she wrote a case study how-to workbook, “The Church has Left the Building,” to show how it’s done. A separate nonprofit, Firebird Spirit, exists to work with other faith communities, including presbyteries, considering such a move.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: South Presbyterian Church in Rochester, New York sells its building

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Lauren Rogers, Ministry Engagement Advisor, Ministry Engagement & Support, Administrative Services Group  (A Corp)
Dalma Rodriguez, Kitchen Assistant, Stony Point Center, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

God of second chances, thank you for your faithfulness and your assurance that with you all things are possible. Help us serve in the name of Christ and to trust you for the result. Amen.