In the summer of 1993, Pastor Bob Becker and his family visited New City Fellowship, PCA, in Chattanooga, TN. The church’s cross-cultural vision, passionate yet practical preaching, creative blend of different musical styles along with the congregation’s unashamed affection for the gospel and each other, reminded Pastor Becker of Kermit Bible Chapel in Buffalo, NY, the church where he was saved at age 14. In January 1994, Pastor Becker and his family returned to Chattanooga for what was scheduled to be a six-month sabbatical from his position as Associate Pastor at New Life in Christ Church in Fredericksburg. In April Pastor Becker presented a vision statement and philosophy of ministry to a core group in Fredericksburg from which ten families and three singles committed to tithe and start the new church.
The church would be called New City Fellowship of Fredericksburg, VA. Along with the commitment to be part of the Presbyterian Church in America, NCF adopted the motto “A Reconciling Force For Jesus Christ” as it moved ahead to begin the journey of fulfilling the following cross-cultural vision statement drawn from the scriptures of 2 Cor. 5:16-21, Eph. 2:11-18, Rev. 7:9-10 and 1 Peter 4:8. We are called as a fellowship of God’s people to be a cross-cultural church, ministering to black and white, rich and poor, male and female, young and old. By God’s grace through Jesus Christ, we are committed to evangelizing and discipling the lost, building multiracial friendships, having multicultural worship, being involved in multiethnic community development and being long-suffering with one another through joys and trials.
The vision was later simplified to read: To be a cross-cultural church, centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that preaches the whole counsel of God to the whole person—black and white, rich and poor, male and female, young and old—creating a community of believers that acts as a reconciling force for God, reflecting His grace, mercy, and justice.
Along with support from PCA and local ministries, New City Fellowship, PCA, began to grow. The first service for NCF met on Sunday morning, May 15, 1994, in the rented concert hall above Picker’s Supply, a music store located in downtown Fredericksburg at 902 Caroline Street. Sunday school classes were at 10am followed by the worship service at 11am. Approximately fifty adults and children were in attendance. The main room eventually was able to seat up to 125 people on folding metal chairs after rearranging and moving an eclectic collection of antiques, memorabilia (including life-sized, hand-carved cowboys and Indians) and a seemingly endless supply of musical instruments and equipment. From the main entrance off the alley to the creative use of space for Sunday school classes and the nursery, the new home at Picker’s signaled NCF was not your typical PCA church. The creaking wood plank floors and century-old brick walls allowed every sound to travel unencumbered. The small concert stage hosted the worship team and tiny music lesson rooms were transformed into the nursery and children’s classrooms. Teens met in the foyer outside the bathrooms while adults met in the main room for Sunday school.
Growing the Vision
From 1994 to 1999, NCF continued to meet in the Picker’s Supply Concert Hall while continuing to grow in numbers (from 50 to 140 attending) and developing as a church. Lance and Sharon Lewis arrived with their family in early ’95 from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia as he came on board as the Assistant to the Pastor. As an African-American from a large city, Pastor Lewis brought perspectives and exhortations that often challenged stereotypical traditions common to many churches without a cross-cultural vision. Sunday evening “Fudge Ripple” meetings served as a forum for many lively and thought-provoking discussions on race issues dealing with the historical and present church struggles in this sensitive area. Many often overlooked contributions to American history from the black community were presented and these meetings would eventually form into the “News Around You” discussion groups. In June of 1999, Lance and his family heeded the Lord’s calling, first to work with a PCA church in Atlanta and then to return to Philadelphia to start Christ Liberation Fellowship, PCA. Lance Lewis was the first church planter supported by NCF. David Baggett became our second church planter also called to Philadephia to start Redemption Fellowship. These two pastors and churches later combined their congregations to create Christ Redemption Fellowship.
From 1996 to 1998, Raul Hernandez made weekly trips from his home in Charlottesville, VA, to help begin the Hispanic Outreach Ministry as NCF endeavored to reach into the entire Fredericksburg community to build bridges and relationships. Michelle Neverdon started the NCF newsletter “The Reconciler,” and on November 10, 1996, NCF changed its status from a Mission Church to a Particular Church in the PCA, receiving its commission from the James River Presbytery. Pastor Becker was installed as Teaching Elder and installed as Ruling Elders were Mike Taylor, Doc Murdock and Lance Lewis. Greg Ritchie was installed as the first Deacon.
Under the direction of Carol Becker, the music ministry expanded while exploring opportunities for cross-cultural expression. Music became an immediate avenue for many to have a new appreciation and understanding for the wonderful variety of expression within God’s family of believers. In 1997, Mary Hains helped start WIC (Women in the Church) which was given by the Session responsibilities including fellowship, child care, discipleship of women and hospitality. This ministry's name was later chnaged to New City Women (NCW). As NCF continued to expand the need for a permanent home with sufficient space became a priority.
Home Sweet Home
By 1996, NCF had grown to 113 members and the space at Picker’s Supply had already become insufficient for the growing church. In 1997, after much searching, NCF began negotiations to purchase the old Southern States factory located on just over 2 acres near the downtown railroad station at 200 Prince Edward Street. The sprawling abandoned grain factory was both an eyesore and haven for illegal drug activity. Of course, this would be the perfect home for the young PCA church to build on its cross-cultural vision. The property owners finally agreed to sell the property in 1998 at a price the church could afford and the demolition began. The renovation of the new home for NCF would eventually take until the summer of 2000 before the first service would be held there.
As attendance grew at Picker’s Supply, two Sunday services with Sunday school classes in between were necessary and numerous issues from heating to air conditioning made it necessary to secure a temporary home while renovations pressed on at the old factory. On July 18, 1999, NCF began its year-long stay at the Fredericksburg Christian High School Campus. The modern facility provided many comforts and conveniences and the church continued its growth during that time from 167 to 191 members and Assistant Pastor Tony Bryant was added to the leadership.
On Sunday, July 23, 2000, NCF celebrated its first service at the new home on 200 Prince Edward Street with a sanctuary able to seat over 400 people. The site of the decaying factory had truly become “born again.” The transformation of the building now stood as a physical testimony to God’s faithfulness. Also, under the leadership of Trustee Bob Duffy, parking spaces on the church property were leased to the VRE (Virginia Railway Express) providing NCF with much-needed funds allowing the parking lots to be paved, the tower area to be finished and more.
Growing and Going
Since the first service at the 200 Prince Edward Street, NCF membership continued to grow along with its staff. Associate Pastor Jerry Gill and his wife Sharon returned from seminary in St. Louis to join the staff in 2001. In 2002 the Summer Youth Intern Program began with Timothias Pope and in 2003-2004 Jawaan Wilson filled the position. From 2002-2005, Kevin Hardaway served as part-time Community Development Director with help from Keith Ferguson, our first summer intern for community development in 2002. In 2003, Kevin also assisted Pete and Heather Gross with the Youth Ministry. In 2004 Matthew Grise served as the first Summer Intern for Hispanic Ministries. In September 2004, Elaine Ramos became our first fulltime Music Director and Carol Becker remained as Assistant Music Director.
Starting in 2004, NCF started a separate non-profit ministry called Open Hand of Fredericksburg. From 2006-2007, Mike Steele took over the Executive Director spot from Kevin Hardaway, and in the summer of 2007, Open Hand received its tax exempt status (made retroactive to 2005). Additional staff in 2007 included Patricia Mitchell as our Administrative Assistantand Skip Pierce, our first fulltime Director of Youth and Family. Skip took over for Pete and Heather Gross who served our youth ministry part-time for 4 years. Also in the summer of 2007, NCF hired Pablo Ayllon as an intern for Hispanic Ministry. NCF’s staff and leadership continued to grow. In 2008, we hired Pat Sherwood as our Executive Director of Open Hand of Fredericksburg, our separate nonprofit ministry which secures summer employment for youth and mentors them to be great contributors in society now and in the future. In 2011, Open Hand hired Theresie Houghton as co-Executive Director to work along side Pat Sherwood.
The physical property of NCF has expanded to include a fellowship hall. This 1910 building was refurbished in 2006.
NCF continues to go into the community working with local organizations like the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter, Rebuilding Together and Adult Basic Education. NCF also has its own mercy ministries such as the Food Pantry, tutoring children in the Hazel Hill community, Open Hand’s Summer Youth Worker's Program hiring youth ages 16-18, and meeting emergency mercy needs of those in community. Some of NCF’s community outreaches are Vacation Bible School, Post Boomers meetings, Highest Praise concerts, and fun social events. Beyond the community of Fredericksburg, NCF has supported mission trips to Mississippi, Alabama, Chattanooga, Manipur, India, Peru, New Orleans, Yakama, Washington and in 2012 to Dalton, Georgia.
New City presently supports three church planters. Santo Garofalo who is planting a NCF in Atlantic City, NJ; Irwyn Ince who is organizing a church in Columbia, Maryland called City of Hope Church, and David Baggett in Philadelphia, PA working with Lance Lewis in Philadelphia, PA as co-pastor of Christ Redemption Fellowship.
There have been some sad goodbyes, not to mention trials and tribulations along the way. In 2009, we lost Skip Pierce due to the economic downturn and he and Clarissa moved back to serve in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2010, our Associate Pastor for 9 years, Jerry Gill, retired moving to Richomd with his wife Sharon to be near their grandchildren. Since that time NCF has been looking for a replacement for Jerry Gill. As of 2012, NCF has 8 ruling elders, 4 deacons, 2 deaconesses and 3 trustees.
Back to the Future
There is much to do and the workers are faithful, but few. The question is who will choose to play a part. New City Fellowship is not a building, a parcel of land, a list of programs nor a budget. It is a church–a congregation of God’s faithful who assemble to accomplish far more together than separately. We pray that more of God’s people choose to be part of fulfilling this most difficult but rewarding cross-cultural vision. To Him be the glory, Amen!