The two become one — Grace and Mercy Christian Church
MONTE VISTA — It is a typical Sunday morning at 200 Washington St. There are about 20 people in attendance, singing songs, partaking in the Lord’s Supper, and listening to a sermon. It looks very much like a normal church. It feels and looks like a single church. However, in the background there are two sets of books and two sets of bylaws. Until now.
In 1887 a group of believers came together to form the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Monte Vista. The congregation grew and in 1909 construction began on the current building, making it one of the oldest buildings in Monte Vista. The congregation continued to serve the community and grow, and a two-story educational wing was added in 1953.
However, like most traditional churches, attendance would decline as the calendar moved into the new century. In June of 2020, longtime pastor Wayne Wittner retired. Regular attendance was down to less than 10 people every Sunday.
The church — once a pillar of the community — pondered closing its doors. How could such a small congregation continue to pay the bills? After much prayer they proceeded forward having faith that God would provide so this ministry to the community could continue.
In 2018, Larry and Ginger Foster moved from Oklahoma to Monte Vista to follow God’s missionary call into an area less saturated with the Gospel than their original home. They were leading a Bible study when the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down occurred. The Bible study was moved to online, which worked but nobody was truly happy with. As restrictions were being lifted, everyone in the group agreed they would much rather meet in person.
Grace and Mercy Bible Fellowship started meeting on Adams Street in May of 2020. The church soon found itself at the center of a zoning confrontation with neighboring merchants and was forced to vacate the building for four months until the matter was resolved, during which time they met in the homes of the members. The church's future became a matter of earnest prayer.
“In November of 2020, First Christian Church contacted me”, recalls Pastor Larry Foster. They would have several conversations that would eventually lead to Foster preaching as a pulpit supply pastor for First Christian.
“I would preach at First Christian at 9:30 and walk across the street and preach again at 11:15 at Grace and Mercy,” Foster recounted.
Little did they know that those meetings would change the course of both churches.
The two congregations would begin to work together on community events, the first being a community supper in February of 2021.
“Grace and Mercy wanted to do a community supper, but we didn’t have any kind of kitchen. First Christian was more than happy to let us use their facility and their people gladly joined in the helping of making and serving,” said Foster.
This would be followed by a dual church rummage sale to raise money for a mission trip. Both churches would come together to make the community supper a monthly event.
The weekly ladies Bible study led by Ginger Foster would be attended by women from both churches. Friendships were formed and the two groups began their journey together.
With their lease set to expire and in need of more room, in April of 2021 Grace and Mercy started meeting in the First Christian building.
“The original concept was to let each church maintain its own identity,” commented Foster. First Christian would meet at 9:30 a.m. and Grace and Mercy at 11:15 a.m.
Those identities would continue to blend as members from both churches continued to work together on outreach events, including another rummage sale, bake sales and various fundraisers for mission trips.
In September of 2021, the two churches started meeting together in the same service on Sunday morning.
“Everybody got along so well with each other there was no point in being separate any longer,” remembers Foster.
Later that year it was proposed to merge the two congregations.
It was decided that a completely new set of bylaws would be drawn up.
“We didn’t want this to be one church joining the other. We wanted this to be something new. That is where God was leading us,” said Foster.
That process would take over 10 months to complete. On Jan. 29, the two churches approved the new bylaws, and the two churches became one with a new name — Grace and Mercy Christian Church.
“I look back at how this all evolved. Grace and Mercy had people, First Christian had the building,” Pastor Foster reflects. “But it was more than that. It was people of common faith coming together for a common purpose. I am excited about what we can accomplish for God now that we have brought our people and resources into one.”
What does the future hold for the new church?
“We want to do more in the community. Last year, we donated over $1,000 for school supplies. We want to build on that. Our goal is to offer general interest classes for adults and children one night a week starting in the fall. We have an important message. We need to tell people about it,” comments Pastor Foster.
The new church is non-denominational. An open house to celebrate the merger and to honor the 136 years the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) served this community will occur later this year.
More information about Grace and Mercy Christian Church may be at www.GraceAndMercy.church or by calling the church at 719-852-5086.