PLEASANT VALLEY — Two congregations sharing one building celebrated the birthday of the Christian church by merging to create one unified church.
Members of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church transferred their names to the rolls of St. Matthew's United Church of Christ during a unification service on Sunday.
"Sunday the 19th was chosen because it's Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church," said the Rev. Charles Stanfield, pastor of St.Matthew's.
The two denominations of St. Matthew's had been a union church -- or congregations sharing the same building -- for more than 100 years, he said.
Although preparations for the formal mergerbegan in January, members of both congregations had been consideringthe move for some years, said member Donna Geiman.
"The first time it shows up in the church notes is about 12 or 15 years ago, but the time wasn't right," she said. "Things have to come at the right time."
However, the idea came up for serious consideration when St. Matthew's Lutheran's minister -- the Rev. Paul A. Haack -- left the church to pastor the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Oxford, Pa.
The Rev. Adam Fisher pastored St. Matthew's Lutheran until the end of December.
"This was the logical way to go for two reasons," said Louise Black, former president of St. Matthew's Lutheran. "Onewas that the UCC side had more young people, and that's what makes the church continue. The other reason was the Rev. Charlie of the UCC church was willing to stay on if we asked him to."
Services will be a combination of the two denominations for a while, Black said.
"We are going to have a worship committee come up with an order of service," she said. "It will be part Lutheran and part UCC."
Both denominations are mainstream Protestant, share a German reform background and are strong in scripture and individual responsibility, Stanfield said. However, he said, the Lutheran liturgy is a bit more formal.
The gentle mixing of the two denominations helped some Lutherans decide to switch over, said Geiman, who was a member of St. Matthew'sLutheran.
Her husband, Jeffrey, will continue as a member of St. Matthew's United Church of Christ.
"Some people didn't want to give up their Lutheran traditions, and I think that was handled very well," she said. "Nobody said you had to forget them. There will be a lot of Lutheran mixed in for some time to come."
Reminding members that both denominations were part of the Christian church also made the transition easier, Black said.
"The important thing is that a label is just that, a label," she said. "Whether you
call yourself Lutheran or UCC or some other denomination, you're basically still Christians."
Merging will eliminate the problem of deciding which congregation to join for children leaving Sunday school, which has always been non-denominational, Stanfield said.
"The biggest thing was they didn't know which side to join, and for several folks it was a struggle," he said. "Some kids would ask, 'Why can't I be a member of both sides?' "
However, many members will not notice the change, said Black. Although Lutheran and United Church of Christ services were performed on alternate Sundays, members often attended both.
"The change is not as staggering to us as people on the outside might think," said Black. "A good number of us have forgotten which Sunday was which a long time ago."
The new arrangement should also help thechurch grow, members said, since some
Please see MERGE, Page 18
Continued from Page 17
people who were confused by the concept of a union church chose not to attend St. Matthew's.
"A lot of people didn't understand why we had two congregations using the same church and a Sunday school that was separate from the two congregations," said member Angie Bowersox. "People would check us out and be a little confused, so they'd choose another church to go to."
Members said they also will benefit from concentrating on one organization.
"I feel this merged St. Matthew's will be a stronger St. Matthew's," said Black. "Now we will only answer to one United Church ofChrist conference, rather than a Lutheran synod and a conference."
The merging also has made the congregation stronger by making members work together and learn to appreciate their religious differences,members said.
"We've learned that there's no obstacle we can't overcome if we work together and have faith that the outcome will be tothe best interest of everyone," Bowersox said.