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Virginia Church Thriving & Reclaiming Despite COVID

Despite the challenges of COVID over the past two years, ACNA churches have been finding ways to prosper and grow. One example could be seen last Thursday evening, March 24, 2022, in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia (a medium-sized town in the Shenandoah Valley), where the Church of the Incarnation held a dedication service for their newly opened church building. Church of the Incarnation was planted 12 years ago and has since planted four churches and experienced remarkable growth. The sanctuary seats approximately 324 people which is already being used in two Sunday morning services. The building dedication was the culmination of a journey for the church: from their first meetings together in a barn and an adult daycare facility; the living room of their pastor; the retail storefront of a mortgage business; a renovated auto parts store; and now, to a renovated downtown bank (circa 1967). A video about the evening can be seen here.

Incarnation Church Planter Paula Cook

One of the founders of Incarnation, Paula Cook, reflected on the church’s origins, “You know, Jesus works in small things; the seed which grows into something bigger. We were definitely a seed, a very small group of people…who were praying and were broken hearted over a situation, and we didn’t really want to plant a church, but God called us to it and it was amazing how all the pieces fell together.”

Bishop Steve Breedlove leads the dedication

Bishop Steve Breedlove of the Diocese of Christ Our Hope led the dedication and was struck by a part of a prayer in the service, “…it basically said, ‘cleanse this from all profane use’. In other words, it’s not that there’s anything profanely bad about a bank, but it’s like, cleanse and repurpose it for holy use and that’s what you can see almost physically. You can see the same shape of a building that was there, as a bank, but it’s completely different…you can take surprising things, like a bank, and turn it into something that’s a beautiful space.”

The emphasis for the evening was how the building would be used for the service and flourishing of the city of Harrisonburg. This was demonstrated by the active participation in the service from 13 gospel-centered, church pastors from around the city and county. The Arts Incarnate Galleries in the building will host monthly art showings and the building was designed to host medium-sized city events. The building is permeated with gorgeous stained glass and integrated with wood sculpture by parishioner Zeke Trainum. In addition, the rapidly growing children and youth programs will finally have rooms and space to call their own.

Rector Aubrey Spears

“Securing a building is one of the toughest challenges that a church plant faces,” said Rector Aubrey Spears, “It takes an enormous amount of money and expertise — it takes miracles.” Spears shared how the Incarnation leadership had committed to staying downtown even as the church was growing exponentially but faced the stark reality of very little real estate with a price range way beyond their means.

The church was looking for triple the amount of space from their location at the time; through a series of events that Spears characterized as miraculous, the building and funding came through in less than a two-year period. Remarkably, the procurement and capital campaign for over $3 million began at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Aubrey himself was hospitalized and suffered from a severe case of COVID. Over a year later, the funds were met and they are now meeting in the renovated bank building.  Aubrey explains, “…it was this deep commitment by the church members and God’s deep commitment to our church to keep us downtown, to continue to labor in the center of the city, for the whole region…which is just mind boggling. It’s just — nobody saw it coming.”

After the service, Bishop Steve commented, “It just hit me, any space can be reclaimed for Holy purposes because God inhabits space, he can reclaim something. I would love for our churches in our diocese to really think outside the box and repurpose and reclaim things for the purposes of Christ.” Let us join in celebration and praise with the Church of the Incarnation as they continue to grow and see God reclaim lives, places, and cities to His own.

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