Five Congregations Share a Building and Enrich Each Other’s Faith
In the community of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, First Reformed Church is known as “the church where the lights are always on.”
It’s not that they’re wasting energy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The lights are a sign of a bustling campus, since First Reformed shares its property and buildings with four other faith communities, as well as a nursery school.
Elder Sue Smith describes Sunday mornings as a bit of a three-ring circus. To start, there’s the First Reformed service at 10:30 a.m. in the sanctuary. At the same time, the Chinese Community Church of Westchester (CCCW) gathers in the chapel for their Mandarin-language service.
At noon, North Yonkers Community Church (NYCC) takes over the sanctuary with their blended Baptist/Methodist service. First Reformed’s sexton picks up leftover bulletins and sets up NYCC’s candles and cross. The First Reformed members also leave out their coffee pots from fellowship time, and NYCC’s members finish the coffee and wash the pots.
At 4:00 p.m. on Sundays, Trinity Rivertowns Church, a Presbyterian church plant, gathers for worship. And on Fridays (and sometimes Saturdays), the fifth religious group meets: Mishkan Ha’am, a reconstructionist Jewish group
During the week, the church also opens its doors to a local nursery school—not affiliated with any of the congregations—which cares for children in the community from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and uses the church’s kitchen.
“The logistics of all this are complicated and it is hard to satisfy everyone’s needs, but I think we would say that it has worked pretty well and enriched [Faith Reformed’s] church life, as well as our individual lives,” says Smith, a 43-year member of First Reformed who has served as chair of the property committee for 20 years.
“All of [the other congregations] have brought a flexible mindset and kindness to the process. It probably helps that we live in an area of the United States with a lot of diversity and with appreciation for that reality.”
First Reformed has a history of opening its doors to other congregations, dating back to 1965 when they agreed to share their building with the newly organized Temple Beth Shalom while the Jewish congregation looked for a place to build a worship space.
Today, although each congregation worships separately, Smith says there are plenty of opportunities to get to know each other and learn “how to work thoughtfully together.” From potlucks to pulpit supply, the congregations are quick to share food and resources. First Reformed celebrates Worldwide Communion Sunday with the CCCW, which provides a Mandarin translator. Trinity Rivertowns partners with First Reformed for an annual Christmas carol sing and potluck. And the list goes on.
“These joint gatherings are a great blessing—teaching us about each other and building understanding, even friendships,” says Smith.
“Sometimes I personally wonder whether this will open an opportunity for those of us that are now small congregations to join forces together or merge with the larger congregation. But none of us are ready to give up our own separate identities or denominations. I have to believe that God is at work among us and is leading us to a new way to be his people. I trust in that but I don’t yet see where or how it may play out. Looking ahead, this is the big challenge for us.”
[Photo by Sue Smith]