Magazine article The Christian Century

Shared Space, Shared Vision

Magazine article The Christian Century

Shared Space, Shared Vision

Article excerpt

Land of the Sky is a church that has taken root in Asheville, North Carolina, over the past seven years. Although it's a United Church of Christ congregation, the church found a surprising partner in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The relationship between the UCC church plant and the Presbytery of Western North Carolina began when pastors Sara Wilcox and Amanda Hendler-Voss realized they needed a worship space for their new church. While many churches begin in coffeehouses or living rooms, Wilcox and Hendler-Voss hoped to grow quickly and needed a larger space for their vision. They wanted plenty of children, so they imagined that the best space for their community would be a church building. The pastors talked with Pete Peery, a pastor who knew of a struggling Presbyterian congregation that needed renters. The conversation led to a partnership between the UCC ministers and the PCUSA denomination.

Land of the Sky began worshiping in rented space at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and the members there welcomed them. "They wanted to see us grow and have more people," Wilcox said. The Westminster congregation's longing for the new church to succeed seemed to go beyond a simple landlord and renter's agreement. The Westminster congregation was aging and members had discussed closing. Yet they now imagined their building used in the future as a space for Christian ministry and believed that their property and their own commitment to loving God and neighbor would thrive through Land of the Sky.

Wilcox explained that her relationships with the presbytery continued through friendships and cohort groups. When those friends were active in the presbytery, they shared the story of Land of the Sky and became advocates for the new church. When the host church finally closed, Land of the Sky and the denomination worked together on a mutually beneficial agreement to transfer property.

Wilcox thinks that the ease of the relationship was due in part to the similar missions and theologies of the two denominations. In many ways, Land of the Sky is a traditional congregation. Its pastors, however, have skills in reaching out to people who have not always gone to church. Often that means taking part in an ongoing translation process. Instead of naming the church with a number or a theological term, the pastors chose Land of the Sky--a poetic description from a romance novel that talked about Asheville as "the land of the sky. …

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