Our only supporting church, since we began the fundraising process, has been New Church in North Carolina. This is a church that my wife and I helped start in 2011. It was a true joy for us in only our second year of marriage.
Their partnership was equal parts gratitude and friendship. Their founding pastor, TJ Ward, has known me since I was a kid. We worked together at a private school years ago. We really developed a deep friendship and a passion to see Jesus communicated differently. We envisioned a new kind of church where people were truly made new.
We had the chance to start that church together. And since I worked for free, TJ was excited to help us start something and for New Church to express its gratitude for our sacrifice by financially supporting the new church in downtown Las Vegas.
As friends do, we disagree on some things. Find me two pastors who agree on everything theologically and I’ll call one of them a liar. There’s just too much speculation and ideas and growth surrounding faith. We were not unique to disagree. But we were unique in not making disagreement a barrier to partnership within ministry.
This doesn’t always happen. It rarely happens actually. I know many pastors who question the theology of their sending church, partner network, denomination, etc, and are too afraid to say so. They want to keep paying the bills. But sometimes they are doing so at the expense of their own soul.
I’m so grateful that TJ and I could disagree and love and honor each other simultaneously.
Something changed everything…
Around October of 2019 TJ announced his decision to step down as the lead pastor of New Church. This was a surprise to so many. There was no sin or disqualifying factor. He had his reasons and I trust they were right for him. I immediately told our Core Team of leaders about his decision and my concern that this might adversely affect our relationship and partnership with New Church.
Many times new pastors come in and hire their own people, support their own causes, and even join their own group of partners from their background. I don’t begrudge anyone their decisions to do so. It’s what happens in many leadership transitions. They did hire someone. He started in March. Of all times, his first week as pastor was the week of the “shut down” for COVID19. I didn’t envy this leadership obstacle.
Over time, more conversations ,and more questions it was revealed that our church, and me personally, had a different view regarding the participation of gay Christians within the local church. This was a disagreement I had with TJ as well. A disagreement which had no bearing on our friendship and/or partnership. We had several wonderful conversations about this matter.
In church world we designate theological differences as “essentials or non-essentials,” “open-handed or close-handed,” or “first/second tier” issues. Using the Gospels, Jesus’ prayer for unity among believers, and Paul’s writings to the church, Augustine of Hippo is quoted as saying…
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
About two weeks after a very long conversation regarding my views of homosexuality, the participation of gay Christians in the church, and other related issues, New Church’s leadership decided that it would be best to no longer partner with Downtown Faith. They were generous in the separation, as was their pattern, and gave us a sum of money that would finish out the year of financial support. For this I am grateful.
While this show of generosity was appreciated it did not help us overcome the new obstacle in place…replacing over 30% of our operating budget. We have seen great strides in our giving and in the partnership of individuals inside and outside of our community since we started Downtown Faith.
But we knew when we started that we would have to operate very lean while being very generous, and we would always need “outside” support. A local pastor of one of Las Vegas’ largest churches once affirmed that when we discussed our church startup in 2017. The cost of operating downtown in relationship to the struggles of starting a church in this community combined with the median income of the area supported this truth.
Over the last few months we have tried to find ways to “close the gap” but have made no headway in doing so. Seeing the raw, real numbers and knowing that the pandemic would continue to take its toll locally, we made the decision to close Downtown Faith effective January 18th.
This decision was not made lightly. Or even easily. It’s sad.
We have so much to celebrate and mourn, together.
So, that’s what we will do. And we hope that you’ll do the same with us. With the current and possible restrictions and guidelines for gathering we are trying to think of safe, effective ways to gather and celebrate, share stories, and love each other in-person one more time. This will be Sunday, January 17th, our 4 year anniversary.
Please stay tuned for more information. We hope to collect stories and share them in a video. We want to hear from Downtown Faith people of past and present. We want to hear stories of life change, meaningful conversation, and love. All of which we have experienced together over the past 4 years.
Until we officially close, we are officially open. We will continue to serve our community through Affordable Christmas, host Sunday discussions as normal (January 3rd and 10th), and care for people in any way possible.