For several years, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church has held the hope of creating a new congregation, somewhere in New York City, among people who are longing for community and a place to nurture their faith, but are looking for something different from what a "traditional" congregation has to offer. In keeping with the lexicon of "church planting," we have called this our Mustard Seed initiative.
Last year, we identified the pastor who would lead this initiative for us. We've waited patiently as Chris Romine, a New Jersey native and experienced church planter, finished his master of divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In January, Chris and his wife, Jill, arrived in Manhattan to begin tilling the fields.
On Sunday, July 8, Chris will gather this new community for worship for the first time. The service is set for 5 pm at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village. The congregation will meet at the Center every other Sunday.
In this article from the winter issue of The VOICE (the Fifth Avenue magazine), Chris offers a preview of how our Mustard Seed ministry will take root.
By Chris Romine
I haven’t always been a church planter, much less a Christian. I came to faith about eight years ago, after wandering into a growing young church in Hoboken, New Jersey. I had no idea the journey of faith I was starting, but what started as an inquisitive agnosticism led to a commitment to Christ, which led to this zealous Christian exploring how to apply his faith.
I continued to worship and volunteer at the Hoboken church, embedding and committing myself within the life of that community. This eventually led to a full-time staff position, then to an invitation to plant a new church in downtown Jersey City. It was a whirlwind few years.
When the church I planted became stable and self-sustaining, I thought I would just transition into pastoring. But it was then that God began to shake things up. I heard God impressing upon me that my faith, though fervent, still needed to be developed. I felt God was calling me to seminary. In the middle of my studies, I got connected with Fifth Avenue. And in 2018, I’ll be church planting again.
“Mustard Seed” is aptly named, because it helps to explain what my ministry is all about. Local churches and ministries exist in a garden, where they flourish together, depend on one another and share a common soil. As any good gardener will tell you, churning the soil, trimming branches and introducing new, non-invasive flora are all critical to a garden’s ecosystem. Planting provides new life and new hope. Established churches and new churches depend on each other the same way the flora of an active, healthy garden cooperate, collaborate and seek symbiosis.
In January Jill and I will move to Hell’s Kitchen and begin doing life with a small group of folks God gathers around us. I’ll get to know the neighborhood and the local economy. Over the next year I’ll seek to meet as many de-churched and un-churched people as possible, to share with them a vision and hope for a new church where they will feel welcome.
I’ll also forge relationships with as many community organizations and churches as I can. These conversations will serve as networking opportunities and as an opportunity for me to listen and learn—to help me discern what God is up to in the neighborhood and in the lives of those around me. After a season of listening and learning, I will seek to build a church.
My vision is to launch a congregation that partners with whatever work God is calling for in our neighborhood. I hope to focus on what justice, shalom and good news already looks like for our neighbors.
I hope to build a decentralized church, whose organization is flat and includes a plurality and diversity of voices. Instead of me leading the charge, I want to equip others, together in community, to
discern the Holy Spirit’s activity and how we can be a part of it. I believe these priorities will lead to modest but intentional growth, toward a church that is generative and sustainable.
This will be hard work and will require a lot of hours, but I’m grateful it’s work not done alone. I’m excited to join your church family, and I’m delighted for the opportunity to contribute to the thriving garden of New York City.
God is already ahead of us, on the ground, in the streets, in the ears of others. I’m ready to partner with Fifth Avenue, and ultimately the invitation from God, to continue working toward the reconciliation of all things.
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