The Story of Our Joining by Sally Hoff
December 2015 marks the third anniversary of that glorious day when First Presbyterian and Second Congregational Churches joined together. All of the work that led up to our decisions to federate was validated when we met in the streets with hugs, laughter and tears to commence our new future together.
Lay leaders from the two churches had begun to talk about sharing resources around 2009, and those conversations grew more earnest when the senior pastor retired from First Pres and the associate pastor of Second Con left to become a senior pastor elsewhere. With the support of Rev. Mike Solberg of Second Con and the newly hired Rev. Beth Wagner of First Pres, lay people began to discern how similar the two congregations were. We each ascribed to a common theology, had a variety of thriving music and mission programs, and a strong commitment to the neighborhood and we each had very large, expensive to maintain buildings. Joining forces to do God’s work in one shared space became a fascinating idea.
On February 5, 2012 the members of Second Congregational enthusiastically agreed to formally invite First Presbyterian to join them “in worship, ministry and/or missions once, occasionally or permanently.” A Transition Team was formed of members of both churches who met regularly to discern what joining together could really mean for each congregation and how it could be accomplished. The team met with Blackhawk Presbytery and Prairie Association UCC ministers and a pastor of a federated church, examined finances and by-laws and programs, and held round table discussions with their congregations.
On June 23, 2012, First Pres voted to join Second Con and the federation process accelerated. First Pres put their beloved building up for sale, and the process of merging the contents of two historic buildings began. The Jeremiah Development Churches’ joint service was held at First Pres on September 23rd, a kind of benediction for the beautiful old church.
The two congregations “practiced” worshipping together in October and November and then on the clear, cold morning of December 30, 2012 worship services began at First Presbyterian and Second Congregational Churches. After some hymns and prayers, the members of First Pres rose from the pews, donned their winter coats, and walked out into the street, locking their doors behind them. At the same time, members of Second Con rose up, donned their coats, flung the doors open and went out into the street. Bells were pealing, Emmanuel Episcopal worshippers were cheering, and the members of SecondFirst Church met each other with joy!