By the Rev. Laura-Allen Kerlin
SIMPSONVILLE—It started with a conversation in 2015. Pastor Michael and I were in his office at Advent United Methodist Church, and somehow we start talking about church planting and starting new things. I said in that meeting that I am not sure I would want to start a church from scratch, but starting something with the support, both human and financial, from a healthy church was intriguing.
He talked about how he had thought for years about one day launching a second campus of a church he was serving, and that was the beginning of this idea.
In the coming months, a few other church members expressed similar leanings and nudging of the Holy Spirit, so much so that we included a casual mention of eventually launching a second campus in our Beyond Initiative materials from January 2016. In June 2016, we had our first meeting of the multisite exploratory committee. That team visited other multisite churches, met with some of their staff and leaders, read books on multisite campuses and began to dream about what it could look like to plant a second campus of Advent.
Along the way we have encountered some obstacles, including a fire in our sanctuary at Five Forks and a pandemic, but we have also repeatedly experienced God’s faithfulness and leading on this journey. Despite these challenges, God’s calling on us at Advent has not changed. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and Advent Scuffletown is another way we are planning to do that.
We have been calling this the biggest mission trip Advent has ever taken, as we are sending some people from Advent to go to a new place.
This new place is not all that far or different from where we started, but there is a need for a faith community in this area.
To begin, we are worshiping at Rudolph Gordon School, one of the largest schools in the district, which is 6.4 miles from our Five Forks Campus. We know that the vast majority of people who attend worship at our Five Forks Campus live less than three miles away, meaning we should not expect the majority of people in the Scuffletown Road area to drive six to eight miles to get to us. We also know that there are very few other faith communities in this area.
We have done a lot of things in preparation for launching a new faith community. We have been partnering with Rudolph Gordon School in some capacity for four years now. In Christmas 2020, we held our first big event, Christmas Under the Stars, where we hung lights over the football field at the school, sang carols, heard a brief Christmas message and sang “Silent Night” by candlelight. We had more than 400 people our first year and 551 at Christmas. Since then we have also held Easter worship and a flashlight egg hunt. We hosted vacation Bible school in the front yard of someone in a nearby neighborhood. We’ve done outdoor movie nights and snow-cone trucks and collected food for Advent’s Backpack Blessings programs.
Last fall, we started having regular dinners for people interested in being part of what we are doing, as a way to begin to foster community among us.
Through all of these things we’ve met people looking for community and looking for a faith home. I’ve gotten emails and phone calls from people who’ve heard we are starting a church out here and are excited to be a part of it. All these people affirm what we have known for a while: that this area needs another faith community. There are people searching for a faith home, and there are people who don’t know they are searching, but who for some reason or another will find their way into our doors one Sunday that might lead them to encounter Jesus.
After years of prayer and planning, Advent Scuffletown launched weekly worship on March 13. We had 106 people join us for our first Sunday. Even though we are in a different physical location and community, we want Advent Scuffletown to feel like Advent, and to feel like home. We worship at 10 a.m. in the elementary school cafeteria at Rudolph Gordon School. When you arrive, you can grab coffee before you go into worship. We have kids programming for kids ages six weeks through fifth grade that follows the same curriculum and structure as kids ministry at our Five Forks Campus. I preached live for our first two Sundays and will continue to do so from time to time, but the majority of time we will watch a video feed of the sermon at Five Forks.
On launch Sunday, I preached from Luke’s Gospel, the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I talked about how we find ourselves in different roles in that story in different seasons of life. While we all want to be the Good Samaritan—bringing healing, hope and love into the lives of others like the man who was beaten and left on the side of the road—we all find ourselves in the ditch at some point in need of saving. Fortunately, God loves us too much to leave us broken on the side of the road and sent Jesus, our Good Samaritan, to bandage our wounds, bring us to safety and love us unconditionally.
As followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit empowers us to become Good Samaritans to others so that through us others can experience the mercy and love of Jesus. I believe that the faith family being formed at Advent Scuffletown will be another way God shares the mercy and love of Jesus to people hurting in our community, and I am excited to see the plans God has for us.
Kerlin is pastor for Advent Scuffletown.