A church planter’s story of God’s hand working.
Alex Leighton is not supposed to be here.
When his teenage parents found out they were pregnant, they sought counsel from their pastor. His advice was to abort the baby. At 19 and 17, though, Alex’s parents made the brave decision to keep the baby. Forty-five years later, Alex’s parents remain happily married and, through their journey, his father became a priest.
Growing up in the church, there is not a time Alex can recall when he did not know Jesus. Incidentally, he can recall sneaking into the pulpit as a child, staring out at an empty sanctuary and thinking, “How does Dad do this? There’s no way I ever could.”
While pursuing pre-med studies in college, Alex found himself leading a men’s Bible study in his apartment. Having begun to experience doubt about his desire to become a doctor, he began to see God working in the Bible study and, surprisingly, through Alex’s teaching. It was then that he felt the call to become a priest and shifted his path towards ordination, despite his childhood misgivings.
For the past seven years, Alex has served as the Associate Rector of All Saints Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. He describes his time there with Rector Dan Morgan as “a curacy of sorts,” working in true partnership with one another to grow as individuals, leaders, and a church community. The culture of All Saints Woodbridge is one of listening to the Lord’s leading. So, when he told them that he was called to plant a church in Montana, the people responded with understanding and blessing, sending him out as a missionary.
Now, Alex and his wife, Rebecca, have four children, ages three to ten. In the summer of 2017, during their time of discernment, the Leightons took a family trip to Montana. It was during that trip they revealed to the children that they were considering a move to the city of Bozeman to plant a church.
Their oldest son immediately responded with affirmation saying, “God told me we’re supposed to come out here and plant a church.” Their middle two children, though, were saddened at the prospect of leaving home. In the days that followed, while still in Montana, both came to Alex and Rebecca with a change of heart. “It will be hard,” they said, “but we feel like God is calling us.”
And while the Leightons were praying for discernment as a family, the need for their presence in Bozeman was already being brought before the Lord. The Rocky Mountain Deanery, part of Alex’s new diocese, the Diocese of Western Anglicans, has prayerfully identified a vision for cities in the West. In each of these cities, they are praying for God to match priests to them and make their calling clear.
And clear it was! During a different phase of his discernment process, Alex visited Bozeman with another priest. They embarked on a prayer walk through the city. Stopping at a downtown coffee shop, they prayed, “Lord, show us what you’re doing here. Make your presence known.” Walking out of the coffee shop, Alex looked down to see “…God is love. I John 4:8” written in chalk on the sidewalk.
An examination of the city revealed a blitz of hopeful messages and scripture written all over. A message and medium comfortingly similar to the way Alex and his fellow pastors would support their kids and schools: chalk messages on sidewalks. God was clearly at work in Bozeman and calling Alex to serve Him there.
Working in partnership with his former diocese, the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, and his new diocese, the Diocese of Western Anglicans, Alex and his family forged a path forward. This included a great deal of encouragement and partnership from both Bishop John Guernsey and Bishop Keith Andrews as Alex transitioned from one diocese to the next. Alex describes the relationship between all entities involved as an “organic partnership” as they seek to respond to the Lord’s call.
Having made the official move to Bozeman, Montana in July 2018, Alex, Rebecca, and the kids are leaning into their new life as church planters. So, where do they begin? Relationships. From neighbors to local pastor groups to people in coffee shops, the Leightons are equipped with the Lord’s courage to say, “We’re starting a church. And we’d love your help to get to know this city.”
It may seem awkward and scary, but so was his parent’s decision to give him life back in 1973. Alex Leighton is, in fact, exactly where he is supposed to be. Thanks be to God!
Visit always-forward.com to learn more about the many people involved in this church planting effort.