A Tremendous Gift (Part 1)

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  • December 30, 2009

God has been doing something wonderful here between Seven Mile Road Church and St. Mark’s. I’ve just been waiting for the right time to announce it. Before telling the story, let me give you the motivation behind why I’m writing this.

One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. (Psalm 145)

My deep hope is that you would join Seven Mile Road in praising God for His abundant goodness.

Some background on Seven Mile Road’s journey. While Shainu and I were still in Boston, we were trying to identify where in Philadelphia we should move to plant SMR. After prayer, conversation, demographic studies and the rest, we settled on Northeast Philadelphia. On one occasion, I mentioned this to Ron Hamilton, the Director for Church Multiplication of the CCCC, and he said something like, “I think there’s a CCCC Church in Northeast Philadelphia.” We went online and found out that there was a church called St. Mark’s in the very heart of our target location.

Fast forward a few months and we moved down to Philly and found an apartment in the Bustleton neighborhood of NE Philly. It turned out that our apartment was only two miles away from St. Marks. Anyway we started gathering a core and meeting in homes. When it seemed like it would make sense to move out of living rooms and into a space, our team first knocked on the door of St. Mark’s. In one meeting with the leaders of the church, they welcomed us into the area and had told us their space was available if we needed it. And so we began meeting in an empty classroom in their Education Building.

Instead of rent, St. Mark’s allowed us to use the space in exchange for painting and making other such improvements on the building. We gladly accepted and over a few weeks painted their kitchen and two classrooms. One of these rooms became a nursery for us and the other a temporary worship space.

From February to May 09, we gathered every week in that classroom. We had our first preview services there and slowly began to grow. It was becoming evident that we were going to need to figure out what we were going to do long-term in regards to space…

Some background on St. Mark’s journey. St. Mark’s is about 130 years old. Let that sink in for a moment. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade for over a century, the church has been committed to Jesus and His Gospel. Maybe because I’m in the first weeks of planting, I respect that a ton. Just yesterday I was telling someone that God is calling us to a marathon and not a sprint. Endurance is huge.

But as with every living organism and with every church, you go through a life-cycle (Here’s a great article on this). Birth-growth-maturity-reproduction-plateau-decline-death. This is the story of every living thing. In recent times, St. Mark’s Church has been struggling. For various reasons, decline and death were now at their doorstep. When we started meeting at St. Mark’s, their church attendance was down to a small handful, and soon after, their pastor retired.

St. Mark’s was at a crossroad and needing to decide the direction in which they would go forward. One option on the table was to sell the property and buildings and move somewhere else. By June, they had multiple offers for a lot of money. Incredibly, they turned down the offers and decided instead to continue their services, inviting me to preach for them in exchange for continued use of the space. For them this meant getting someone to preach without having to pay for a pastor or close. For us it meant getting to use a free space and the joyous privilege of getting to preach Jesus twice each Sunday!

And so from July of 09 till now, Seven Mile Road has gathered each week at St. Mark’s Church. Every week, I get to preach in the morning to St. Mark’s and then in the evening to Seven Mile Road.

What a gift it has been. But that’s not all. Part 2 tomorrow…

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road. He loves God, family, food, and football - in that order.

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