LANCASTER, PA–Seeing the simple Sunday morning makeover of Lancaster County Christian School’s gymnasium into a temporary sanctuary, one might be tempted to tell the leaders of the Living Waters Christian Fellowship, “I love what you’ve done to the place.”
Neatly facing rows of blue chairs are a small lectern and a side table with a Bible, band instruments, a screen for PowerPoint visuals and six vivid banners. All of it is portable and quickly packed up and loaded onto a truck each Sunday at the end of worship. Adorning one banner is a thin wooden cross with a vision statement: “To know Jesus and make him known.” The other five proclaim individually the ways that vision is achieved: “Worship,” “Connect,” “Grow,” “Serve” and “Share.”
This 14-year-old congregation with a new-church feel took the “Connect” part of its mission a big step further on Father’s Day, June 15, when it fully joined the United Methodist connectional family as a chartered church with 85 new–but not so new–members.
Fifteen charter members in 2000
Fifteen charter members gathered in the Rev. Jody Sambrick’s home basement in 2000, along with his wife Laura and their two children. That fledgling start began the fulfillment of what he considered his prophetic calling to plant a new church. Indeed, it was also a dream he had heard then-Bishop Peter Weaver announce to the annual conference.
On this special Sunday those 15 members and many more of all ages quietly stood to be “read in” by Sambrick as members of the newly chartered church, some joining the denomination for the first time.
Making the day even more special, it was Bishop Peggy Johnson’s first church chartering in her six years as bishop; and it was the Rev. James Todd’s last significant act as outgoing Superintendent of the Southwest District. New Superintendent Bum Koo (“BK”) Chung was also there.
Todd preached on “Rivers of Living Water,” from John’s Gospel, recalling miraculous moments that revealed water as a precious life-sustaining resource in both scripture and during his recent visit to Sierra Leone, where fresh water is hard to come by. He taught that for water to be alive and healthy it must be deep and flowing, not shallow or standing still. Then he noted that Living Waters is living up to its name by supporting clean-water projects around the world, among other mission efforts.
Todd began the chartering service, joined by Bishop Johnson, Sambrick and Genice Wade, the new United Methodist church’s Staff Parish Relations Committee chairwoman.
‘Start another church’
“Don’t stop here,” Bishop Johnson challenged leaders. “Start another church–Living Waters South, or East or West. Reach out with the love of Jesus Christ into this world, where there are a lot of people who don’t know what true love is.”
Her words must have touched a chord in Jody Sambrick, who in a later interview said his personal guiding scripture is Acts 1:8, where Jesus promised the disciples just before his ascension that the Holy Spirit would bring them power to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
After several years of alcohol and drug addiction, he confessed, he had “hit rock-bottom” when he clearly heard a voice tell him, “Go to church.” He went and fell on his knees at the altar, asking God what to do next. The answer led him to join church, become an active member, enter seminary, and become a youth pastor, associate pastor and part-time pastor at several churches–all providing a training ground for starting a new church.
‘Church in a box’
Living Waters has moved several times, too, before landing at Lancaster County Christian School, a location ideally adorned with Christian signs and decorations, but still a temporary location for this mobile “church in a box,” as Sambrick calls it. A recent capital stewardship campaign yielded $194,000 in commitment pledges by Easter Sunday.
“We hope to either renovate an existing building for our new home or buy land to build,” said the former teacher and part-time tennis coach and instructor. Either way, he added, the choice will be a frugal one.
When asked how this self-described “seeker-sensitive” congregation has grown and attracted so many young families with children, Sambrick’s answer was simple. “Like many new churches we’re so desperate for people, we will actually go out and do the Great Commission.”
By John W. Coleman
EPA Conference Communications Director
Featured photo: The Rev. James Todd leads the June 15 ceremony to charter Living Waters UMC in Lancaster, along with (from left) SPRC Chair Genice Wade, the Rev. Jody Sambrick, pastor, and Bishop Peggy Johnson. John Coleman photo