In Phoenix, Ariz., two classes (regional groups of churches), one in the Reformed Church in America and one in the Christian Reformed Church, are cooperating to share resources and offer ministry in a neighborhood and building where both have history. Orangewood Community Church, a joint church plant of Classis Arizona (CRC) and Southwest Classis (RCA), offered its first public worship service June 14, 2020.
The young church is continuing a running legacy. “The work that the previous congregation was doing in the community was amazing. I believe that our community engagement will be our strength, and our mission is to serve them well,” said lead OCC pastor, Fred Bates.
The church was built by Orangewood CRC, a congregation founded in the 1950s. A public school near the property was a ministry opportunity where the pastor connected well, but the church, partly composed of commuters, disbanded in 2015. From mid-2015 through 2019 the property was rented by Christ’s Community Church, a Reformed Church in America congregation in Glendale, Ariz., that used the Orangewood location as a satellite ministry. When Christ's Community Church ended that arrangement in December 2019, Classis Arizona and Southwest Classis “began conversations almost immediately about what could happen at this location and how quickly could that take place to not lose momentum,” Bates said.
Bates is a commissioned pastor in the RCA and stated clerk for Southwest Classis. He served the Glendale-based Christ’s Community Church and became lead pastor of the OCC in May. In July, Kelly De Young joined as OCC’s associate pastor. De Young has history at the site too—she served as pastor of the Orangewood location while Christ’s Community Church ministered there.
Since the first service in June, the new Orangewood Community Church has worshiped weekly, with an average attendance of 62—low enough to comply with Arizona COVID standards. The crisis of the pandemic could actually be considered beneficial, said Bates. “When we opened, we had no idea who would even show up. By June, people were seeking the support and comfort of the in-person church.”
Orangewood Community Church is now made up of more local community members than in the previous congregations that met on the site. Bates said people are feeling “welcome and accepted and feel the love of Christ in our midst. That is what we want, people to feel as though they have found their way home.”
Supporting OCC is falling equally on both classes. The CRC furnishes the building, the RCA the personnel. RCA contributed funds to repave the parking lot; CRC owns the property. Together they appointed a joint oversight team. Rodney Hugen, CRC commissioned pastor, church planter, and head of Mission Southwest (a mission committee shared by Classis Arizona and Southwest Classis, which helped spawn Orangewood Community Church), said OCC “doesn’t fit the boxes. It’s collaboration at its best.”
Despite roadblocks—like CRC church order rules preventing commissioned pastors in the RCA from participating in CRC assemblies; logistical differences in how the two denominations hold property; concerns over doctrine or fear that potential church splits in either denomination will complicate joint ministries—Hugen believes that the two denominations can “live together in our disharmonies and do missional work, things that matter.”
It’s a living out of a collaboration agreement signed by the RCA and CRC at a joint synod in Pella, Iowa, in 2014. “I was at Pella,” said Hugen. He remembers “the joy of meeting with RCA and CRC folks with the belief that we will work together in every way possible. I really took that to heart.”