“We want the same thing. We’re both just praying for peace and asking God to move his people.”
Those are the words Pastor Lorone Shepard from Christway Full Gospel Church in Rochester, a primarily Black congregation, uses to explain her church’s partnership with Peace UCC in Rochester. The two congregations have been sharing worship space on Sundays for the past two years, but the relationship has grown in other marvelous ways, says Rev. Paul Bauch, senior minister at Peace.
In non-Covid times, Peace holds two services on Sunday mornings; Christway then holds its service at 1 pm. In between, the two congregations join for lunch and a time of fellowship. On Easter this year, the two congregations joined for a parking lot worship. Earlier, they held a Black Lives Matter service. “We are intertwined in many ways,” says Bauch. “We do special services together and we attend each other’s services. It’s just beautiful what has happened.”
Pastor Shepard moved to Rochester 16 years ago and found few welcoming clergy in the area. “I thought I had made a mistake, but I started having services and the ministry started growing,” she says. “I learned it’s not easy when God tells you to do something.” When she outgrew the space she was using, a friend told her to talk with Bauch. “I came to the church and we talked and talked and right away I knew the Spirit was present,” she says. “We both love God, and it was like we’d known each other forever.”
Bauch, too, says the connection was immediate and profound. “We hit it off,” he says. “Pastor Shepard just exudes love. I felt at home with her and knew we could worship and praise God together.” Bauch says Christway has fully embraced his congregation’s commitment to being an Open and Affirming church.
Shepard says, “Personally, the best part of this arrangement is that it makes no difference your age or color. God’s people are just God’s people. When you truly love God, you can worship and pray together. My congregation loves Pastor Paul.”
Bauch echoes her words. “Honestly, it’s like a big, loving embrace, methaphorically and literally. You can feel God’s love when we are together. And we have had very open and candid conversations about what is going on in the world. It has been enlightening in so many ways. We have very different cultural and theological backgrounds, but we have found common ground in the center of God’s love.”