The story I am writing about Elm City Church is much different than the story I thought I would be writing a year ago. The story (so far) of Elm City Church is actually the convergence of two stories. As Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” As I look back at what has transpired over the past year or so I am blown away by God’s provision and the favor he has shown us.
In the fall of 2017, my wife Beth and I knew we were going to be church planting in Keene and that was about it. I wasn’t sure where we would meet, who would be on the team, or what shape it would take. We started with about ten people in a living room, praying and dreaming together while studying the book of Titus. Our mission was simple: “Practice the Way of Jesus Together.”
On a prayer walk through town I stumbled across a building I had never been in before called The Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. It was only a block off of Main Street, was next to a parking garage, and had rooms that could be used for our Sunday gatherings. The Hannah Grimes Center turned out to be my Person of Peace. Not only did it provide great space at an affordable price in downtown Keene, I was also able to join their Incubator Program for entrepreneurs. Every month we would all get together and collaborate on what we were working on and every month we were also required to meet with a coach in order to go over our financials and progress on our annual goals.
While this was going on I was still working as the Youth Pastor at Grace Community Church in Spofford. The goal was to launch public services in the fall of 2018. During this pre-launch season I had been developing a friendship with another church planter in the area named Justin Barney. He was a native of New Hampshire, and had moved to Keene from Pennsylvania to plant a church in 2012. As our friendship grew we realized that not only were we trying to do the same thing, but we were also trying to do it in the same way.
In June of 2018, about three months before we were scheduled to start Sunday services, Justin approached me with the idea of joining our two churches. We spent time praying and thinking through this question, “Will we be able to accomplish more together than separate?” Neither of us had any desire to join up if 1+1=1.5, but if 1+1 could potentially equal 3 or 4 then we were all in.
After much prayer and wise council we felt like God was leading us to join up and become one church. Even though Praxis Church was a Vineyard Church, Justin and I were so closely aligned in both theology and practice that this didn’t seem like much of a barrier. Through this process we discovered that we had both been getting individual coaching from the same church planting coach, Bob Logan. After meeting with as many people as possible ahead of time, we then made the announcement that Praxis Church and Elm City Church would join forces for the sake of the Gospel in Keene.
The one new issue this partnership brought was neither of our current locations were going to be large enough for our combined group. The week after we announced that we were moving towards merging, we came across an unexpected facility opportunity. A dance studio, only two blocks from Main Street, was for sale. Without asking anyone for money, the entire downpayment was pledged in a week and the bank prequalified us for a loan. We closed on the building at the end of November and had our first service in our new space on February 3rd.
It has been amazing to see God at work in the hearts of people. People who have been disconnected to the church for years are starting to plug in. I had the privilege of baptizing someone who was in the incubator program with me. We have six Life Groups meeting weekly. Being able to work with Justin is allowing both of us to spend the majority of our time in our areas of strength. Almost none of this was even on the radar a year ago. But this has been God’s plan all along. Our prayer is that we remain faithful stewards to the generous resources that God has provides and be faithful witnesses to the truth of Jesus in Keene and the surrounding communities.
Elm City Church
In the 2010 earthquake which struck Haiti, close to 300,000 people lost their lives. Our church has been involved in an area of Haiti, north of Port au Prince, called Canaan. It is a mountainous, desert area that the Haitian government had given to the victims of the earthquake who were tent dwellers in Port au Prince. There was no church, no school, no medical facilities and no infrastructure in that region. But since 2014, with the overwhelming support of many friends, family members, and some churches from NEDA, God has allowed us to plant a church, to build a school, to build a clinic, and to build cisterns in order to respond to some of the physical, social, and spiritual needs of the people in Canaan. It has been wonderful to see what God has done in that area. I thank all of you who have prayed and supported the Canaan ministry in Haiti one way or another.
In addition to the contributions from a couple of churches during disasters, teams from three churches have had the opportunity to visit and to minister first hand in Canaan through construction, Vacation Bible school and preaching and teaching. They are: Grace Church from East Dennis, Mass. led by pastor David Johnson, Covenant Life Church from Middletown, CT, led by pastor Pete Zipf, and Community of Grace from Westbrook, Maine, led by pastor Ken Macleod. This Summer, Trinity Evangelical Church from Windsor, Vermont, led by Paul Voltmer, will be the fourth church from NEDA that will minister in Haiti with us. The team will be involved in preaching and teaching, Vacation Bible School, construction, visiting ministry and other ministries as God leads.
Other churches, such as Barre Evangelical church, in Vermont, Hope International Church and Valley Christian Church, both from Massachusetts, while not having sent visiting teams yet, have fully supported every annual ministry project at Canaan such as wedding, water, medical, and construction ministries.
This summer, our construction ministry is the building of a large multipurpose community room adjacent to the clinic that will serve as a shelter for the community during hurricanes and violence in lower Port au Prince, a family waiting room during the regular vaccination drive by the Haitian Red Cross, a reception room for wedding celebrations, and a meeting room for leadership seminars. The foundation has been laid already. About $ 7500.00 will bring it to completion. We are inviting you to make this dream a reality through a generous contribution for this summer ministry. Our team will leave on July 2 and return July 9, 2019
Another urgent and most important prayer need is to have Bibles available for each child for morning devotions in school along with a teacher for regular Bible lessons throughout the curriculum. Adults in general have Bibles at home, but it is too expensive for families to provide Bibles to their children, and in many cases prohibitively expensive.
Three hundred bibles will cost approximately $3000.00 US dollars, a one time expense, and a Bible teacher's salary will be about $2400.00 for the year. This constitutes our greatest spiritual need at this time.
As you are thinking of Canaan:
1. Keep us in your prayers for the Lord to provide for the Summer ministry, for the safety of our team in Haiti, and the success of the ministry.
2. Keep us in your prayers for the Lord to provide Bibles for the children in schools so that each child will have a Bible.
3. Keep us in your prayers for the academic year September 2019 to June 2020 for the Lord to provide $2400.00 a month for teachers salary (12 teachers and aids), and $1400.00 a month for feeding about 300 kids.
Any NEDA church can provide a one time gift to any ministry or a recurring gift toward the teachers' salary or the food ministry. Above all, keep us in your prayers for the Lord to allow more teams and leaders from NEDA churches to visit Canaan, and to bless Canaan as they will certainly be blessed.
We do need your urgent prayers and your support as we will be heading to Haiti this July. I can be contacted at 617-893-0563 or by text or by email. Any contribution may be sent to
Elim Evangelical Church... memo line Canaan
89 Albee street, Fitchburg, MA 01420
God Bless! -Arthur Demosthenes, Pastor
It was a pivotal moment late 2017 when our friend, Foye Belyea. shared a passage that he believed the Lord led him to give us: Joshua 3. It was our time to step into the Jordan. As a church plant, we had been meeting in a home for two years, trying to figure out how to do this well. Outnumbered by kids by about a 2:1 ratio, our worship experience was as joyful and as taxing as parenting is in the early years. Kids leading prayer time, kids puking during communion. Joyful noises during singing, tantrum screeching during the message. Our more than patient and supportive team was willing to endure as we learned, but after almost two years, we felt like our wheels were spinning. Who were we as a church? What was our vision? How would we meet and incorporate newcomers? Some of us were running on spiritual fumes. I was battling depression and anxiety, and wondering if we could keep it going. I wasn’t sure. I was seriously considering retreat.
The fresh air came in several forms: Foye’s timely word, dear friends coming alongside to partner with us, and a God-ordained vision to not retreat, but to reset. What would a new chapter of church planting look like if we allowed God to re-shape who we were, and how we engaged each other and our community?
For years, we had tried to understand what our former District Superintendent, Ves Sheely, had meant when he encouraged us to think about church planting as pictured in Luke 10, specifically looking for houses of peace and proclaiming the Kingdom in places that are welcoming to our presence. It seemed so hard to mesh this vision of church life with the traditional structures and methods that we had come to know in a lifetime of church experiences. Our default was to do what we’d always done, and yet we sensed the Lord was calling us into an expression that was a “new wineskin” of sorts. We looked around at the places we had been serving and that had welcomed us: a local nursing home, and a homeless shelter. We realized we had already found houses of peace that we were engaged with, but that something about our meeting in the home for weekly worship wasn’t translating in our community.
We decided to begin renting space in a very popular downtown area in southern Rhode Island. We were within walking distance of the homeless shelter, and friends that we had met there starting meeting with us weekly. Our identity began to materialize as we realized that the Lord was coordinating appointments and locations for us.
After about a year in our new space, physical issues in the building left us quickly displaced, and just as we thought we were “settled in,” we found ourselves without a home. Very quickly, the Lord catalyzed another house of peace for us in the YMCA. The Y invited us to come and use their community room for our worship times, but has also asked us to be involved in other ways, including speaking at their summer camp and mentoring teens. The YMCA is very much a hub for community activity, and we have been so pleased how God has taken what seems to be speed bumps, and turned them into wide open lanes for ministry.
On Easter Sunday of this year, the YMCA was closed, so we needed to find a place for worship. A local apple winery that several of us had made connections with invited us to use their space for Easter worship. The owners have since invited us to consider meeting there regularly. Another potential house of peace.
Our time at the local homeless shelter and soup kitchen has given us such a rich opportunity for ministry. We had the privilege of marrying a believing couple that had been staying at the shelter, and are now on their own and hosting Bible study and prayer in their new honeymoon apartment. A couple of Sundays ago, the majority of adults in Sunday worship were either from the shelter, or recently connected to it. Among those friends, God has been gracious to answer prayers for inner healing and or freedom from some addictions. We are all grateful for the favor that He has on his children. The Lord has been brilliantly piecing together a mosaic from what seems at times to be a mess.
We praise God for all of your support, prayers, and partnership. We take heart in the fact that even though our abilities may be wanting, our vision may be shortsighted, and our fervor at times seems to wane, He is building His church, and establishing it in His power and strength, and not ours. We’re grateful too, for the presence of our children in church, who still lead us in prayer and worship, and also remind us of His faithfulness to use us and delight in us, wiggly as we may be. —Brian Browne, Pastor