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January 16. 2013 11:06PM

FaithBridge Church hits 1-year anniversary

MANCHESTER - Members of the South Main St. Church decided against a traditional search for a new pastor, seeking instead another church.

They found a match in Grace Haven Baptist Church and one year later members of FaithBridge Church have no doubts the merger of faith and congregations was the right move.

"When you bring this many people together you would expect a few hiccups but it's gone very smoothly," said the Rev. Rich Clegg, pastor of parishes that combined to form FaithBridge last January. "It's been exciting to see what God has done sine he brought together our two churches."

South Main Street Church had been a fixture at the corner of Main and Milford streets since the 19th century and the current brick building has stood since 1917, when the South Main Congregational Church was rebuilt after a fire. It was a protestant, nondenominational congregation in 2011 when church leaders decided to look to a merger instead of another full-time pastor.

Grace Haven was still relatively new, founded just five years before when Clegg and assistant pastor Matt Hasty brought their families to New England after completing their master's studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina. Clegg had spent a summer at Hampton Beach with Campus Crusade for Christ during his undergraduate days at Virginia Tech and felt New England - not exactly a Southern Baptist stronghold - was where he and Hasty should start up a new parish.

The church initially shared a space with a Seventh-Day Adventist Hispanic congregation for a year before moving to the front of a former used furniture store. Grace Haven had been looking for a space that matched the small but growing parish's needs and South Main Street was in search of a congregation that would be a fit theologically.

Leaders found the similarities outnumbered the differences.

"We had several discussions on that. We saw the spirit of the churches coming together for the purpose of sharing the Gospel," Clegg said. "The doctrine and function we were very similar. That's one of the reasons we've been so successful."

The two churches decided to become one in late 2011 and the inaugural service of the merged parishes was Jan. 8, 2012. As part of the one-year anniversary, the parish set placed a memorial of three stones upon the altar. The two former parishes were each represented by one stone and the third had a cross, symbolizing both were united now under Christ, Clegg said.

Clegg said the church lost a few families in the transition and has gained a few since. After a year of small adjustments, Clegg and Hasty hope the parish will continue to grow and expand its ministry in the community.

"The first year was really one of building," Clegg said. "We had to consume a lot of energy just building a foundation."

The parishes were initially known as Grace Haven South Main Blended Church before the name FaithBridge was officially adopted in July.


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