On October 20 we will celebrate the first of what we hope to be many more to come—the anniversary of the launch of the Downtown congregation! In some ways, the Downtown congregation had existed even prior to that day, through the vision of people who had served, given, prayed and built community life Downtown. And yet our first public worship service represented a new level of opportunity for people to gather, commune and worship together as a congregation that serves Downtown.
As with any new endeavor, much less a new congregation, the first year was not without its unique challenges. Eight days after our first service, New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy, which forced us to cancel services just two weeks after our launch. The hurricane prompted countless volunteers from our congregation to respond to the needs generated by the storm, both in our congregation and throughout Downtown, many of which we are still working to alleviate.
Before settling into our current venue at the Salvation Army in January, we worshipped in three different venues (one of which moved us through three different meeting spaces while we were there!) over the span of three months. That was operationally challenging! And yet this past year is full of stories of how God sustained us through uncertainty about worship space, constant moving from venue to venue and even a natural disaster!
This year has also been full of stories of changed lives, renewed hearts, stronger community, rising leaders, and people who are newly committed to the flourishing of Downtown, whether through community groups, family life, the workplace, or friends sharing the Gospel with friends. I’ve met people throughout the year who have come to faith, had a renewed sense of God’s presence in their lives, opened up their homes more generously than before, or have found a new purpose to serve the city, all as a result of experiencing God in the Downtown congregation.
We began the year with plans to begin a morning service followed by an evening service months later and were hoping that attendance would grow from 300-500 to 1000 by the end of the year. Instead, on our first day, we were thrilled that attendance began over 1000 and remained at that level for much of the rest of the year. We began the year with about 25 Community Groups and ended with over 50, involving close to 150 leaders and hosts. Along the way, God raised up leaders in our prayer ministry, Sunday Service Team, Seeker and Community Groups, and children’s ministry. Through a several weeks long intensive about compassion and justice (led by Jeff White) there was a renewed commitment to embodying those ideals.
One of the animating values for our Downtown staff team was that our congregation be “marked by beauty” in a way that would be inexplicable apart from the Gospel, and demonstrated by how we live our lives together, serve those in need and work towards a flourishing city. As lead pastor of this congregation, I have had a very unique vantage point from which I’ve witnessed, prayed and cared for a community that has become just that—a congregation marked by remarkable beauty. It is my hope that for many anniversaries to come, the Downtown congregation would be known as a joy and beauty to the city.
In October, the Downtown congregation will be releasing two recordings of songs that were part of its worship life this year. We’ll also be calling people to a day of service in the city on the weekend of its first anniversary. Find out more, at www.redeemer.com/downtown.