In the summer of 1993, Pastor Robert "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 nine 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.
Our Vision and Mission statements have gone through several rewrites and now read; Vision: Ambassadors of Reconciliation for Jesus Christ to All Ethnicities. Mission: As followers of Jesus Christ, New City Fellowship of Fredericksburg is a worshipping family intentionally seeking to make disciples from every nation, tribe, people, and language reflecting the grace, mercy, and justice of God in our communities, our nation, and our world.
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 10:00 am followed by the worship service at 11:00 am. 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 take on different names, “News Around You” and most recently Literary Discussion Group.
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.
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 Philadelphia to start Redemption Fellowship. These two pastors and churches later combined their congregations to create Christ Redemption Fellowship.
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 changed 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 Growing
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.
Through the work of Kevin Hardaway and Bob Becker, New City saw its separate non-profit ministry, Open Hand of Fredericksburg, incorporate in 2004, receiving its tax-exempt status in 2005. The physical property of NCF was expanded to include a fellowship hall. This 1910 building was refurbished in 2006.
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 Assistant and 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. Open Hand of Fredericksburg seeks to partner with at-risk youth and their families to secure sustainable employment, through education, leadership development and long-term committed relationships. In 2011, Open Hand hired Theresie Houghton as co-Executive Director to work alongside Pat Sherwood. In 2013 with the resignations of both Pat Sherwood and Theresie Houghton, Open Hand hired several Executive directors from 2013 through 2017. Presently Open Hand of Fredericksburg has two New City members working as their Program Directors. Michele Neverdon is the Program Director of our GRAD Program (Gaining Respect And Determination for My Life’s Purpose). GRAD is our Summer internship program whose purpose is to propel at-risk youth into the workforce while providing them with the resources that inspire confidence and foster the skills that will secure sustainable lifetime employment. Paid summer employment, mentoring, workshops, job preparation, life skills, character formation and leadership development is included. Andrea Reed and Kathy Phillips are Program Directors of our PEARLS (Providing Education And Readiness for Living Successfully) Program. Open Hand of Fredericksburg through its PEARLS Program partners with Planning District 16 high schools' alternative education programs to strengthen job readiness skills and/or life skills through classroom instruction, character building and career/college exploration.
NCF also continues to go into the community in other ways by working with local organizations like the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter and Rebuilding Together. Some of NCF’s community outreaches are Vacation Bible School, Classical Conversations, 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, Georgia, Belize, Romania, and Turkey.
As of 2018, New City supports two church planters--Pastor Ronny Perry of New Song Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Pastor Stan Morton of Crown & Joy in Richmond, Virginia. We also support Randy and Joan Nabors with the New City Network, and Hernando Saenz, Hispanic Ministry Coordinator of Mission to North America of the PCA. In the past, we have supported several church planters, church planting networks, and coordinators. Pastor Santo Garofalo of New City Fellowship in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Pastor Lance Lewis, now pastoring Soaring Oaks in Elk Grove, California, Pastor David Baggett now living near Lynchburg, Virginia and Pastor Leon Brown now living in Los Angeles, California.
New City also has worked diligently to bring more ethnic diversity to the PCA and specifically to the James River Presbytery both through its culturally and ethnically diverse congregation, and having elders, deacons and staff of different ethnicities.
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 his wife Clarissa moved back to serve in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2010, our Associate Pastor for 9 years, Jerry Gill, retired moving to Richmond with his wife Sharon to be near their grandchildren. Since that time NCF has been looking for a replacement for Jerry Gill, and in June 2012 we found one. Pastor Leon Brown was hired as Assistant Pastor and in less than 2 years was sent to Richmond, Virginia to start a PCA cross-cultural church. On October 26, 2014 the mission church Crown & Joy Presbyterian Church held their first service. As of April 2019, the church is averaging around 70 in attendance and is now under the pastoral care of Pastor Stan Morton. Praise God!
Of course, this meant we needed to find a replacement for Pastor Leon Brown. This time we were looking for a pastor who would lead our youth and children ministries instead of a church planter. In July 2014 New City hired Joe Johnson as a pastoral intern to lead our youth and children ministries. Mr. Joe Johnson left us in January 2016 to pursue church planting in Savannah, Georgia. In September 2017, we hired Mr. Mark Hertenstein as our Director of Youth and Children Ministries. As of 2019, NCF has 2 teaching elder, 11 ruling elders, 10 deacons, 4 deaconesses, 3 trustees, 4 fulltime and 3 part-time staff.
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–an over 250 member 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!