Our team arrived for the 10 am service and was greeted warmly with welcome packs including a book and a complimentary pen. The spacious auditorium like sanctuary was filling up as I passed many smiles while making our way to our seats. The worship team sat ready and waiting to begin, and I was pleasantly surprised when they did. Old hymns like “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” with a bluegrass/country feel get you pumped up about church. They have 3 different worship teams at Bethlehem Community, with different people and styles. The worship consisted of several guitars, a flute and a unique instrument I had never seen before called a marimbula, a Caribbean instrument which lends itself to a bass guitar. Songs like “As the Deer” were refreshingly new again. I love the fact that this church is not afraid to play songs and styles outside of our modern culture. I also noticed a young man in his early teens playing along on guitar, a wonderful example of discipleship in action.
A baby dedication followed and it was so sweet to hear the father of Baby Nehemiah recite, from memory, Nehemiah’s prayer from chapter 1:4-11. It was a powerful demonstration of a father’s love. Senior Pastor Frank Wray announced there would be a newcomer’s lunch following the service. Oh boy, did we pick the right day for a Church Journey! They have these lunches every other month to meet newcomers, enjoy fellowship and a nice lunch as they share who they are as a church.
His message was entitled “It’s Your Choice” and he began by clarifying the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is fleeting (externally driven); JOY is forever (internally driven). We hear many teachings that happiness is what God wants for us, but that is not the Gospel. JOY is what God desires and it is fruit in our lives. It is not based on circumstances around us. “Always be full of the joy of the Lord.” (Philippians 4:4). He then talked of how the Apostle Paul, being filled with joy, sang while he was in prison bound by chains. Right then Pastor Frank then broke out singing “How Great Thou Art” and the entire congregation sang along. It was so cool to hear the voices and see the smiles as the entire congregation sang in UNITY. The fullness of joy is found in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 16:11).
We made our way to the newcomer’s lunch, and I was so extremely impressed to see all 3 pastors and an elder all present to share about their church with this small group. Executive Pastor Geoff Ekstein did most of the speaking, while Senior Pastor Frank Wray and Associate Pastor Tom Patterson added some comments. Some of the things he shared about the church included:
- Doctrinally conservative – independent, nondenominational evangelical church
- A Missions driven church
Sister church “Harvest India” lead by Pastor Samuel Jacob (www.harvestindia.in) Supports about 55 pastors building churches in other nations (Africa, Central America)
- Local Missions / Community Outreach Strong connection with the Capital City Rescue Mission (Albany) Food pantry
- They are blessed with a strong team of faithful stewards Three worship teams (non-paid) Directors for – Youth, Children, Missions, Discipleship, Connections, Women’s Ministry, Men’s Ministry Deacons and Deaconess
- They teach cheerful giving as opposed to having to give as a requirement of the law
- Church membership is for the purpose of holding each other accountable:
A) Small groups are recommended; discipleship is a strong focus
B) Bethlehem desires that all believers move into deeper levels of intimacy with God
C) Antioch groups meet weekly and are modeled after the early church
D) Core groups are gender specific with 3-5 committed followers who press into the definition of Discipleship, “One person helping another person to do so that Christ may come alive in both of them”.
The leaders of Bethlehem Community Church have the joy of the Lord and it is contagious. It flows out of them and into those God has placed here. These pastors make themselves available and are always willing to meet with you. They are following the mandate God has given not just to them, but to all believers – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:19.
To the leadership and saints of Bethlehem Community Church: Be assured that you are having a powerful, enduring impact on your community. It is better because of the light you continue to bring. “Do not grow weary in your well doing.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
Church Website – http://bccdelmar.org
By Donna Hansen Munafo
(Contributing writer Michael Frati)