January 11, 2022
Dear Grace Chapel,
This past Sunday Session made a major announcement about our recommendation for the next step in the faith journey of our church, the text of this is below. We also sent out an email that provided the text of the message, as well as, access to the video of the announcement, and some of the other materials. If you have questions about any of this that you would like answered before the Town Hall meetings on January 30 (after the service) and February 9 (at Grace Chapel with Pastor Scott McKee & other leaders) please reach out to Alan Fisk, Ron Webber, or Ron Paradowicz. Please continue to read, digest and, most of all, pray over this as, together, we seek God’s will in our lives as the Body of Christ.
As you know, in the last few years Grace experienced steady attrition. We are a church in decline. There are many reasons for this, but our efforts to re-energize our church vitality were not enough to get back on track. When COVID arrived on the heels of Doug Walker’s departure to Florida, we found ourselves in a perfect storm. We all know that the old normal is gone and we must be open to God leading us into our next chapter, to find the new normal.
Grace Chapel, in common with many other churches, experienced the same polarization taking place in many aspects of society. Along with the extended restrictions on social and church activities, Grace was not in a position to manage the multiple crises.
Attendance, both physical and virtual sagged, and financial support is at an all-time low. At this point we are facing a hard decision. Even if we found a pastor today the likely time to turn things around is far greater than our financial reserves allow. We know this is hard to hear, but it is important to be honest about where we are, because it helps us understand where God is leading us.
WHERE IS GOD?
If you are thinking, “has God left us alone”? Did He give up on us? Is COVID too much for Him? The answer is NO! We know His hand is on everything, and He continues to love us and care for us.
His ways are always higher than ours, and sometimes we don’t see how His ways will fit. We need to recognize that we live in a broken world, and some of what we experience is attributable to that alone. We know that regardless of our circumstances God IS with us, and He wants good things for us. God is still at work on His plan for Farmington Hills, and we pray expectantly for Grace Chapel to continue to play a significant role into the future.
We should also recognize and celebrate the work of the Pastoral Search Team (PST) during the last two and a half years. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their dedication in the search process. Their efforts are worthwhile and bring significant value in helping us examine both ourselves and where we find ourselves today. Without the clarity of a vision for Grace Chapel that the PST has been a part of, and without the struggle to find a pastor, it is unlikely that Session would be as well positioned to understand the current and future possibilities as God leads us. In other words, the recent struggles brought a deeper dependence on God and an openness to a unique direction for the future.
We now see signs of God’s hand at work over the last several years. We wondered why there was a decline even before Doug left, why there wasn’t success in finding a new Pastor and why we struggled with so many things. For reasons that are now clearer, God did something in and around us bringing us to a better place of listening to Him and helping us see a very unique path forward.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Session considered a number of alternatives while the PST did their work. This included everything from selling the building and moving into a more affordable space, to establishing a partnership with another church. Each of these had both positive aspects, as well as, hurdles to overcome. We set aside those that didn’t seem right and held onto those where God seemed to be directing.
During this same period we were blessed with help from Ward Church for pulpit fill and technology resources. We deeply appreciate this association with our mother church. In early Summer 2021 we began to explore a tighter relationship with Ward to see how it could impact Grace’s future. Ward had their own unique journey in the last few years – trying to determine how to expand ministry in additional locations. Due to the pandemic and lack of a clear way forward their leadership was not able to make early progress on this. Through multiple discussions about how both churches could strengthen each other through closer collaboration, and also praying together and listening for God’s direction, a dream began to form. Our interactions with the Ward leadership were delightful. There is joy and excitement in meeting together. Progressively God formed in us a vision for the future – one that built on the history of the two churches and our common mission. It is clear that together we can be more effective for the Kingdom than if we maintained our ministries as separate congregations.
Building on this collective vision, we now have a solid recommendation to bring back to t congregations.
The Grace Chapel Session unanimously recommends that we join with Ward Church as merged congregations where Ward “adopts” Grace Chapel, forming one church with two locations. We would become a Ward second campus and cease operating as an independent entity. Ward would partner with us to relaunch God’s work in Farmington Hills and identify a complement of folks from their ranks committed to attend here, where we live, and participate in a new work.
We would come under the umbrella of Ward. We would share a senior pastor, Scott McKee, and have our own campus pastor, Sean Carroll. Sean is currently on staff at Ward and spoke at Grace in the last year. Leadership and preaching would be predominantly in-common with Ward through a video feed and would be supplemented with some on-site preaching by Sean and other Ward staff. This would help keep us aligned and synchronized in the teaching. We would have a local children’s ministry and would share student activities with Ward.
Grace Session, along with Grace as an entity within the EPC would be dissolved, and the building and assets would become part of Ward, along with the debt. Karol and Heather will have opportunities within the new structure, and Annette will finally be able to fully retire as she wishes. More details of this can be found in the Frequently Asked Questions Booklet (FAQ) that is distributed.
We believe this merger accomplishes several positive things for both congregations, the communities around us, and for God’s Kingdom:
- It preserves ministry in Farmington Hills
- It provides for resources to expand the ministry efforts of both congregations in ways not thought possible
- It multiplies what each congregation could do on their own
- It opens possibilities to reach more people with the gospel than before
To see God’s hand in what happened in the last eight months is remarkable. Everyone came together with open hearts and hands, truly seeking God’s best for both churches. We continually asked God to shut doors where necessary. At every step in decision points, there was confirmation of this direction. Not only have doors closed but other doors have opened for both churches.
We will have two congregational Town Hall meetings; on Jan 30th and Feb 9th. There will be a final vote on this recommendation, concurrent with Ward on February 20, the date of our Congregational Meeting.
If the recommendation is adopted, we will meet one more time at Grace for a celebration on February 27, and then will meet on Sundays at Ward until we relaunch in the Fall here in Farmington Hills.
On February 19th there will be an orientation meeting for Ward membership to provide some information for those who want to transfer their membership.
We want to answer questions to help in your understanding of what we said here. Please hold detailed questions until you have a chance to read the FAQ Booklet, digest it, and pray over it. While the FAQ Booklet is intended to answer the big questions and provide details on the timeline, you may have additional things that come to mind. Please formulate your questions for the Town Hall meetings. In the meantime, you can address any early questions not covered in the FAQ Booklet to Alan Fisk, Ron Paradowicz or Ron Webber. While all of Session fully supports this recommendation, these Elders are more intricately involved in the details.
We recognize that this news comes as a complete surprise to many of you. While Session pursued the various possible options for the future, including the traditional path of a new pastor, we had the time to process what it is that God is doing, listen to Him and His guidance along the way, consider the implications of each of the options, and process all of this emotionally.
We understand that all of us need time to digest and work through what this new direction means for this church, each of us individually, and our families. We also understand that this may bring a sense of loss for some of us as we think of all Grace Chapel means to us. We want to validate all of the emotions. We pray that God will be active as we work through our thoughts about this new direction – that He will come alongside each of us to replace the sense of loss with a fresh vision and excitement for the possibilities ahead. We are also here to support you through this, so please feel free to share your heart with us as we continue on this journey.
Roy spoke last week about “new beginnings” and how they are a transition from something that was to something new. It was a timely message and we encourage you to listen to it if you haven’t already.
This is a new beginning for Grace Chapel. It looks a lot different than what was before and a lot different than what we all expected. We firmly believe that God is in this, that He is expanding His Kingdom in Farmington Hills and we get to share in this as we move in this new direction.
Please pray for Grace Chapel and for Ward, that we would continue to pursue God’s plan for us, and that all of us would be given grace to participate in it.
Please continue to give faithfully, as we move toward being Ward Campus at Farmington Hills. The plans for the future maintain support for the staff and many of the ministries here along with taking care of the expenses of the property.
We thank all of you for your commitment to God, to each other and to this place. We are grateful for all you do in carrying out God’s work here. This is a continuation of God’s work in a new way. We hope you feel the excitement of this and sense God leading us into the future. We pray for you in the days ahead as you absorb this news and let it resonate in your heart and move to a place where you see the possibilities ahead.
God bless you.
Alan, Glenn, John, Ron, Ron and Tom