Two churches thrive with combined faith formation program
Two churches thrive with combined faith formation program

Youth group

On the north shore of Long Island in Manhasset, NY, two neighboring churches are working together in a new, path-breaking ecumenical way. For 200 years, Christ Episcopal Church and Community Reformed Church (RCA) shared land and a historic cemetery, but ministered independently of one another.

Since 2012, these two churches have created an interdenominational faith formation ministry that brings their congregations together to share their Christian journey, experience God’s presence, build community, and learn and live Christ’s ways.

As their director, I am paid jointly by both churches to develop curriculum, lead educational programs, organize service projects, and plan fellowship opportunities for all ages. Our partnership starts with our children and tweens, who share a weekly Gospel-based Sunday School, as well as many special events, including Spring Planting Sunday, a winter pajama party, and World Children’s Day (when all of the children and youth lead us in a summer worship celebration).

Our commitment continues with the youth group, which is open to neighboring churches and the community at large. To date, youth from six other churches—including Congregational, Lutheran, and Catholic—participate in the group, and we are in the process of creating a community youth council so our young people can help shape the most meaningful opportunities for their peers.

Together, the group plans multiple spiritual, social, and service programs, including a New Year’s retreat; a Lenten supper and service night; a high ropes adventure day; a car wash fundraiser; a Christmas trip to New York City; and an annual summer mission trip.

Finally, we offer ecumenical adult programming, which includes a Sunday Bible study, a New Year’s Retreat Day and a Lenten supper series. A joint women’s ministry, which includes women from five other local churches, works together to provide opportunities that inspire and celebrate women’s lives.

Our ecumenical partnership is powerful in its ability to unite the community, while helping to bring faith into every area of our lives. We recognize that all people, no matter what their denominational background or where they are on their spiritual journey, desire a place where they can fully and safely explore their faith. Our Christian diversity creates exciting opportunities to share in meaningful ways, while continuing to honor our denominational traditions through individual worship services on Sunday mornings.

Together, we dream big and create vibrant programming that invites faithful solutions to real-life challenges that affect society today. Last spring, we led a retreat day for women and teenage girls that focused on body image, beauty, and self-esteem (this will be an ongoing program); we offered a day-long Youth Leadership Lab with a trip to the United Nations to examine problems in the world and how to address them. (This year’s Leadership Lab in February focused on poverty.)

Finally, we are creating a family ministry program to discuss the complex issue of bullying. This will include a resource guide and a series of seminars, beginning in January. These events would not be possible if we didn’t come together as a larger faith community in support and participation.

In the past two years, Christ Episcopal Church and Community Reformed Church have found endless benefits in working together. As two small churches, they are able to offer more by sharing expenses, space, and resources. The community is richer and wiser as the congregations explore new ideas and challenge one another in our faith.

Both churches have grown in membership. Most importantly, the joint-church campus has become a central hub for neighborhood residents, who join us to participate in our unique offerings while enjoying an open and welcoming community. This is a new model for ministry in the 21st century that most definitely feels like God’s work here on earth.

If you want more information on our faith formation ministry or you have your own stories to share, please contact me. I would love to hear from you!

Lesley Mazzotta is director of spiritual formation at Christ Episcopal Church and Community Reformed Church in Manhasset, NY.

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