And It Grew and Became a Tree: Reflections on Planting Covenant Fellowship Church

April 8, 2019

I set out walking down the steep driveway on my morning fitness ritual here in sunny Costa Rica where my husband and I are taking a break from the gray winter skies of home. Above me, a chittering mob of green parrots swoops about in a frenzy. As I walk further this February morning, I notice the black and yellow oropendolas purposefully building their colony of bag nests above the guards’ station at the entrance to Loma del Mar.  A hummingbird hangs suspended for a second above a scarlet hibiscus flower and then is gone.

These tropical birds building their nests remind me of a passage in Luke: “He said therefore, what is the kingdom of God like?  And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made their nests in its branches” (Luke 13:18). And that passage, in turn, reminds me of our church-planting days.

In late 1983 my husband, Bob, and I were asked by Bill Patton if we would consider moving from suburban Washington D.C. to the Philadelphia area to help plant a church. Although we said that we would pray about it, we were both immediately quite certain that a door had opened for us.  

We had one child, a cherubic 6-month-old named Martha, and that very day had started looking for a larger house to move into. Our families lived in New Jersey, and we harbored a desire to be closer to grandparents and other relatives there. Yet, Bob had a great job in the Maryland suburbs. Moreover, we had for several years been very committed to our church community, Covenant Life Church. Bill’s request for us to think about relocating was both a challenge (What about Bob’s job?) and an invitation to step toward a faith adventure.

For some time we had been absorbing teaching on finding your place in the body of Christ, specifically in a local church. We were all in on that. But the prospect of an entirely new church plant was another level. What form would it take, and who would come? How would we even get started in a place where we were strangers?

Eventually, a group of twelve adults and their assorted children became the core that relocated from the Washington suburbs to Delaware County, PA for the new church startup. We were the first to move–into a gracious older home on a shady street in Springfield, PA. As the Pattons waited to complete the purchase of their new home, they stayed in our hot, unairconditioned third floor for six weeks with their three children. The rest of the team including the Redrup and Campbell families also migrated over that summer.  We met together often to pray and strategize.

Late that summer we rented space in a Newtown Square school turned community center known as the Gauntlett Center. We hosted a series of teachings on marriage and family life to which we invited the public. We let those attending know that in October we would be starting Sunday worship meetings at that same location. We were joyous when 35 people showed up at our first Sunday meeting (including team members and their kids, of course). From there it grew, almost weekly. We shared a sense of wonder that God was using such as us with our meager and ordinary talents. This tree was growing and birds were coming to nest in its branches.  

As I look back on that time I recall the strong emphasis on inviting people into our homes, especially to share a meal. There is something inherent in this kind of breaking bread together that sets a stage for friendship and mutual understanding.  Efforts made in planning and preparation of meals communicate honor and worth to the guest. The pattern is laid out in Acts 2:46, and it was fundamental to our growth as a church community.

Today, so many years after that first Sunday meeting, this large tree is where God has placed us. It’s been an amazing journey to see that “day of small beginnings” become a large church that has sent out many church plants of its own. In a more personal sphere, it has been a nurturing place for raising our daughters; they are following Christ with their godly husbands and are in turn desiring to raise their children in the admonition of the Lord.  

And I am so grateful for the people that we linked arms with, so long ago, when a vision got ignited.  “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23).

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