Wisdom’s Table at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ is a revitalization of the life and ministry of the historic St. Peter’s United Church of Christ on the corner of Buchanan and College Avenues. Staffed by persons with close ties to Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wisdom’s Table at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ is the latest iteration of the church’s founding commitments to education and civic engagement with the city of Lancaster.
In 1897, St. Stephen’s Reformed Church (the church of Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary) began a Sunday School on the seminary’s campus to serve not only the children of the congregation, but those of other Reformed Church families in the neighborhood. Some Reformed Christians in the area who were not associated with F&M College felt that St. Stephen’s was too distinctly academic in its character, and they wanted another church in the northwest community. Eventually, St. Stephen’s approved and funded the organization of a second church for the local community.
In 1906, Seminary faculty members began conducting worship services in the seminary’s Chapel for the attendees of St. Stephen’s Sunday School. A Consistory was elected November 1, 1906, and the organization of the church was completed with a membership of twelve. Within a month, the membership reached 30. Over the next few years the congregation continued to grow and in 1916 it started its own Sunday School.
Fast forward to 2013. The church’s membership had dwindled, the members were aging, and folks recognized that the models of church that worked in the first half of the twentieth century just weren’t working in today’s culture. A few pastors who also worked at either the college or the seminary, got together to dream about what might be possible for this congregation, given its proximity to these other institutions of higher learning.
What if we changed the model to one of multiple bi-vocational pastors and leaders who would represent a diverse constituency (racial, sexual orientation, theological background) who would bring a variety of gifts and graces together to partner with the congregation to create a powerful, vibrant and meaningful ministry at the corner of College and Buchanan? A hallmark of the St. Peter’s congregation was its welcoming attitude to all who entered its doors. The continuing commitment to learning and spiritual growth was a promising indication of potential openness to new ways of being disciples. A history of being a “Just Peace” church of the United Church of Christ spoke to the heritage and commitment to connecting the life of the church to civic engagement.
Together, these pastors brought a passion and skill set in the arts, community organizing, faith formation, leadership development, worship design and implementation, education, administration and pastoral care. Modeling a collegial style of ministry, they hoped to invite the congregation into new ways of sharing ministry and being church.
They approached the congregation about being the site of a new model of ministry. After several months of meetings, the congregation decided to pursue this model. They voted (unanimously) to designate themselves as an open and affirming (ONA) church and called their first openly gay male pastor, along with a white woman, Armenian woman, and an African American woman as the founding team.
Open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit blowing through this exciting site of ministry, the team continues to shift and grow, as the church and its ministry responds to changing circumstances, demographics, and ministry opportunities. Today we fly the rainbow flag proclaiming God’s immense and unconditional love for all. The complexion of our congregation is changing month by month—a rainbow hue of colors, ages, sexual orientations, and gifts for blessing the world in Jesus’ name.