Lancaster Moravian— selling the church to enhance its ministry

In many cases, we don’t pull out of the driveway until we have seen the exact route on our GPS, know what turns to make when and know exactly what time we will arrive at our destination. The very thought of launching off into the largely unknown seems a little nutty these days; yet, believe it or not, there are still those in our midst who abide by such bold faith for no other reason than they believe that they must do “just as God said.”

On June 22, Lancaster Moravian Church experienced their last service of worship at 1460 Eden Road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Are they closing? Absolutely not. In fact they are doing the very opposite of ending their ministry together—they are following what they believe to be God’s call to leave what is familiar… leaving that which feels like home… “for a land I will show you.”

Following a period of prayerful discernment within the Eastern District A.I.D. (Assessment, Intervention and Development) program and numerous congregational gatherings for dialogue and prayerful discussion, the Lancaster Moravian congregation made the decision to launch into a new ministry in service to the growing elderly population within their community. Deciding to focus their ministry efforts on Adult Day Services (ADS) and to do this in a new location, the Church Council made the decision to sell their present facility and to identify a new location which will accommodate both their worship needs and the ministry of an ADS program.

“Our ‘Genesis’ was that we had to accept that what we were doing was not working effectively,” says Dean Easton, pastor of the Lancaster congregation. “ADS is something that we can relate to… understand… and have a passion for… We are called to ADS.”

A key concept of this new ministry venture is that the ADS and the worship areas will overlap, ensuring that the mission and the worship are physically and spiritually integrated as one.

“We will employ professionals to manage our business, while our own people will volunteer to develop new relationships and improve our service,” says Dean. “We own the business not only with our dollars, but also with our hearts, hands and prayers.” The ADS ministry will not only offer opportunities for congregational service, but will also supplement the congregation’s financial needs.

“Our congregation is making some major changes, and taking significant risks in doing so. The congregation has sold its beloved building and moved out. Now “homeless,” we are worshipping temporarily at Moravian Manor, with our office in the basement of the parsonage. Our new worship home will be in a building and at a location that none of us would have personally chosen.”

What could make a faithful band of people resort to such radical measures? Dean provides his insights:

A Willingness to Acknowledge the Signs

Often we pray for our congregations to grow, for a program to succeed, for a new family to walk in the doors or for more money to pay the bills. However, rarely does a congregation open its collective heart and mind to genuinely listen to what God has in mind. It is easier and less scary to resist the truth of the signs the Lord provides all around us, especially when they don’t jive with our hopes and plans, or if they require more of us than we are willing to give. Somehow this group of believers in Lancaster has developed a faith unafraid to read the signs, discern what they can from them and respond with real changes based on this new guidance of the Spirit.

A New Understanding of Surrender

Many congregations seek to meet their growing challenges by working even harder at what they have always done. Although just as concerned about our congregation’s future as anyone else, somehow this community of faith has chosen to surrender much or all of that worry to God while instead focusing on their call to serve God through others.

Looking Outside Themselves

As congregations stagnate or decline, they usually focus increasingly inward upon themselves—caring for their own, focusing on stretching the budget even further and overwhelming innocent strangers who happen into worship. Somehow this group has come to focus less on self, instead seeing their future in seeking a role in the community.

Unity of Purpose

When all members agree to surrender their wills, and instead make decisions based upon what they understand God leading them to, an unusual and spectacular thing results—unity. This is not a unity in which our identities are lost, but instead a unity grounded in common purpose. The fruit of this unity has been peace, joy and an ability to talk things out honestly, come to consensus and move forward together.

Yearning to Bear Fruit

Our yearning is to move forward in doing something good for the Lord by investing less energy and time vocalizing among ourselves and more energy and time speaking through our actions among others. We seek to change our identity from one based upon a building to one based upon new and meaningful relationships.

So now you have some idea of what has led to selling, moving and choosing a building and location well-suited to our new ministry—adult day services. Monday through Friday our staff will care for up to 50 individuals 60 years or older who are no longer able to be left home alone, often due to beginning dementia. On weekends, we will worship in the same facility which is located at a population and transportation hub for the good of those we serve. As we are able, our people will volunteer to make the day care experience greater for our clients, their families and for our members.

In short: Our Lamb has conquered, and we are following Him.

Dean Easton is pastor of Lancaster Moravian Church, which is currently meeting at Moravian Manor in Lititz. Thanks to Dave Bennett, Eastern District president, for his introduction. Photos by Dean and Jan Stein.  

From the October 2014 Moravian Magazine