Posted on : Wednesday September 7, 2016

By Sharon Mager

DAVIDSONVILLE, Md.—First Baptist Church, Edgewater (FBCE), and Riva Trace Baptist Church (RTBC) will celebrate a merger of the two congregations oRTBC_BETTER_Sign-8x4n Sept. 11.

A combined worship service at RTBC will begin at 10:30 am and will include the new members from FBC Edgewater and Iglesia Bautista Vida Nueva (IBVN), the Hispanic church that meets at RTBC.

Riva Trace Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dennis Gray will share a message in English, and IBVN Pastor Jorge Comacho will translate the sermon into Spanish. Baptist Convention of Maryland Delaware (BCM/D) Executive Director Kevin Smith will attend and share words of encouragement. The congregation will observe the Lord’s Supper as one body. After the worship time, the church will have a pig roast/potluck and a time of prayer and vision casting.

David Hemphill, who served as pastor of FBC Edgewater, is now serving as RTBC’s pastor of discipleship and connection. He will help visitors to Riva find a place to fit in and to serve, and in this role he will particularly be working with the FBC Edgewater folks easing their transition.

“David brings a lot to our team and it’s going to be fantastic,” Gray said. “We are going to have a staff team that really complements each other.”

Members of FBCE had their final worship service in their facility at 38 W. Central Avenue, Davidsonville, on Sept. 4. Hemphill explained that the merger idea came gradually as he and Dennis Gray spent increasing time together sharing about their churches, the blessings and challenges. Both pastors have similar philosophies regarding ministry and were striving to reach the same community. The church buildings were just a mile away from each other. By combining the ministries, money that was being spent at two facilities could be pooled as well as staff and leadership resources.

Over 90 percent of both congregations voted in favor of the change.

The Hispanic congregation that meets at FBC Edgewater’s facility will remain until final plans are made for the building. When the building is eventually sold, money recouped will be used for international, national and local missions, Gray said.

Members celebrated their years at FBC Edgewater on Aug. 28 with a homecoming service. The theme was “standing on the promises.”

“We wanted to praise God for everything He has done up to that point and focus on what He’s calling us to do in the future,” Hemphill said.

Members of Riva Trace have worked hard to make it as easy as possible, Hemphill said.

“They have embraced us and they love on us,” he said. The churches have been fellowshipping together regularly, and at FBC’s homecoming dinner, deacons from Riva Trace set up and helped serve the meal.

At the homecoming, members prayed and wrote down their hopes, their prayers and their God-given visions for the future and the cards were presented to Dennis Gray. Hemphill said while it’s exciting, there’s the inevitable sense of loss. We do have attachments to things and places in our lives. There were tears.

Hemphill reminded the congregation, “We can’t be sedentary. The church building is one stop on the way in our faith journey,” he said.

RTBC leaders have been working on a communications campaign to alert the community to the change. They have signs at each of the two facilities, just a mile away from each other, letting folks know that the two churches have merged. They’ll also be doing social media campaigns and direct mailings to 10,000 homes.

Gray said there are many plans for the church to do outreach this year. They are participating in “City Serve,” in October, ministering to single family homes, serving in schools, helping the homeless; they’ll have a “Trunk or Treat” late in October and on Thanksgiving Day they’ll minister to first responders, taking dinners to firehouses and police stations. Then at Christmas, they’ll have their Christmas Eve service. Gray said these are ways to show the community that they really are there for them and that they are “better together.”