By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
BALTIMORE, Md—The handful of Lee Street Memorial Church members prayed that God would rescue their church. It was historic, started in the 1800s as a Sunday school ministry that flourished. Eight hundred members filled the church in the post Civil War years. It weathered 30 presidents, and multiple wars. Annie Armstrong visited. Civil war soldiers from the North and South sat in the pews. The magnificent tall ceiling and stained glass windows hearken to a more formal ecclesiastic past. The church had their hills and valleys, but from 2000 on, the church was plummeting down. They would have brief upswings, but the aging congregation knew time was running out and they were waiting for God to move to save their church and its heritage.
As Lee Street members petitioned God for help, God was calling Brad O’Brien and his wife Jena-Marie to Baltimore. O’Brien served on staff at Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.
“In fall of 2010 my pastor was preaching through the life of David and as a passing comment he mentioned that if we are going to profess Christ it should be marked by radical faith. That comment convicted me,” O’Brien said. “My life wasn’t marked by radical faith.”
The O’Brien’s prayed, sought counsel from other church leaders and ultimately submitted to God’s will to plant a church. The elders wanted to plant a church along the I-95 corridor. The couple considered Philadelphia and Wilmington, but Baltimore “charmed” them.
“We visited several times and ultimately knew the Lord was calling us to this city,” O’Brien said.
Twenty-five others from Summit Church took that same leap, left their homes and jobs and moved to Baltimore to help start a church. By August they had settled in and began looking for a place for corporate worship. Lee Street Memorial was a top pick. O’Brien and his staff met with the leaders at Lee Street and by September, the Redeemer City Church congregation began meeting in the afternoons.
“As we were meeting and getting to know them, we started to hear more of their story and realized they had not had a pastor for several years and I began to think about what we could do,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien offered to preach for the church for 16 weeks using the messages he prepared for the 4:30 pm services for Lee Street’s 11 am services.
After much discussion, and “hammering out the details,” Lee Street Memorial Church’s congregation voted unanimously to merge with Redeemer City Church to be called Jesus Our Redeemer Church, though the church is officially “Lee Street Memorial Church doing business as Jesus Our Redeemer Church.”
“‘Jesus Our Redeemer’ was developed to show that something new was happening. However, we preserved the historic name because we recognize that something new is happening on the foundation of something with a great legacy,” O’Brien said.
The churches had their official merger service on February 23.
O’Brien said he treasures the relationship with the seniors at the church. “The last thing I wanted was to take their building and scatter the flock. We’ve worked hard at merging the congregation as one body. We do fellowship meals to give opportunities to get younger and older folks together serving side by side, greeting, collecting offering—doing a lot together as one body.”
The church has grown from an average of 15 to 80 since the merger.
Rather than a sense of loss, Ray Hoffman said he’s relieved. “Times change. Everything is not the same as it was 30 years ago. Churches are different.”
Doris Bates, who began attending the church in 1986 agreed. “Back then that was the thing to do, you went to church.” Bates said seeing the membership dwindle hurt. “It was hard to look around and see so few.”
She is happy about the change. “Somebody said to me, ‘Hey it looks like they’re taking over your jobs’ I said, yes, and I am so glad they are!’” Bates said she’s thrilled to have help.
“They’re such a nice group of people,”she said.
“We’re like grandparents to them,” Hoffman said of O’Brien and the others.
“Another baby was born a few weeks ago and two more are coming so we’re excited,” he said excitedly.
O’Brien said Jesus Our Redeemer Church is planning for its own “baby” within the next two years. They’re planning to begin a church plant in Waverly in 2016.