Local church opening its doors to two other congregations

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Many churches depend on attendance and financial help from it's congregations, and for some, it’s been an uphill battle, and are still recovering from the pandemic.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and First Baptist Church of South Bend were jumping through hoops prior to the pandemic because of these issues. Last year, St. Peters Church of Christ opened its doors to Holy Trinity Lutheran Church to try and solve this problem. Pastor Scott Bowie would hold two separate services on Sunday, for his two separate congregations.

As some time went by, however, Holy Trinity noticed even that wasn’t sustainable for its future. Just last month in March, Holy Trinity and St. Peter's were in discussion and agreed to collaborate, having one service and combining congregations, with the idea that one service would solve financial and attendance problem.

First Baptist is also experiencing financial struggles amid an aging population. After building a relationship with Pastor Bowie and learning about St. Peter's church and what they stand for, the two decided they would also combine congregations come June.

Pastor Bowie says, the pandemic sped up a process that was already in motion.

“The pandemic definitely forced Holy Trinity to make the decision to make a change sooner rather than later,” St. Peter’s United Church of Christ and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Pastor Scott Bowie said.

“And I would say the same for First Baptist, because of the pandemic, the decision point came sooner rather than it might have otherwise have come,” First Baptist Church of South Bend Pastor Diana Thompson said. “They decided that they wanted to join with something that already had good life and was growing and thriving, so as we came together and had conversation with Scott and the leadership here at St. Peter’s, we decided that we thought this was the place we needed to end up.”

Prior to Pastor Scott’s arrival around 12 years ago at St. Peter’s, even he noticed there was a slow and steady decline there. However, the congregation and church leaders were dedicated to keeping it afloat.

Now, for the last 5 years, St. Peter’s has grown in membership and contributions, and even renovated its main hall, “The Hall at St. Peter’s,” which has been used for people to rent out for celebrations like weddings. It’s been a huge success, in fact it just won “The Knot, Best of Weddings 2022” award.

With the merge of all three congregations, means more financial wealth, resources, and human capital, opening the doors to new missions and activities in the community.

“I think what’s really powerful about this is in this process with First Baptist , holy Trinity, St. Peter’s, is that we’ve realized that we have much more in common than what separates us or divides us. So, we are able to affirm what we share and cherish what defines us, what is distinctive but still create a one, single voice ministry and mission as a community of faith in this part of the country, in our city and throughout the world,” Pastor Bowie said.

Merging congregations like this is unique. Pastor Scott says, he hasn’t heard of or has seen any other church do something like this in the area.

“I don’t know of any other example like this in our area,” Pastor Scott said. “For me it’s just exciting. It’s exciting to be a part of a new vision of the church. We are taking the labels and the categories that over 500 years of Protestant church life has divided us and kept us separated. We are putting those to the side and we are building upon those things that we share.”

“I know that, I am very confident that the leadership here at St. Peter’s both with Scott and the leadership team that things will go wonderfully,” Pastor Thompson said.

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