Garden Park MB Church in Denver, Colorado, has dissolved after a 63-year ministry and is in process of becoming a second campus of Lighthouse Church, a USMB church in Lakewood, Colorado.
Final service revisits past, looks to future
Garden Park held its final service Oct. 28. The service included Scripture reading, music, sharing praise and prayer concerns, revisiting the past and looking ahead to the future, communion and prayer for transitioning leadership facilitated by Southern District Conference minister Tim Sullivan, and a welcome to Lighthouse Church by pastor Josh Shaw. Two charter members of Garden Park attended the service.
“The final celebration of ministry for Garden Park Church was a fitting tribute for a church whose vision has been to share the good news of Jesus along the front range of Colorado,” Sullivan says. “Garden Park Church leaves a legacy of people’s lives being changed and churches being planted out of the vision and generosity of Garden Park’s members. That Garden Park will continue to live on through the ministry of Lighthouse Church is also a testament to the desire to bless what God continues to do in Denver through our MB churches.”
Church grows out of Bible study
The first meeting of Mennonite Brethren in Denver took place Jan. 15, 1955. Mennonite Brethren men drafted into 1-W alternative service had begun meeting for a weekly Bible study the year before, and John J. Gerbrandt met with the group and proposed the idea of starting an MB church.
The first Sunday service and congregational meeting were March 6, 1955, with 53 people in attendance, and formal recognition of the church took place Aug. 25, 1955, with 28 charter members. The church adopted the name Garden Park MB Church of Denver Oct. 6, 1955. J.J. Gerbrandt served as the church’s first pastor.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the church’s new sanctuary was held Sept. 30, 1956. The construction process spanned three years, and the new building was dedicated March 13, 1960.
With continued growth, a building was completed Feb. 14, 1967, with a gymnasium, classrooms and kitchen. In 2011, the church expanded the gym’s kitchen, and in 2016, remodeled the sanctuary.
In the 1970’s, the church began using the gym for community outreach. Throughout the years, the space has been used for a coffeehouse for young people, a meeting space of the Ruby Hill Neighborhood Association, the housing of interns, a space for Youth for Christ counseling offices, space for a Spanish speaking congregation to meet, a foster parent clothing bank and a space to house Community Ministry, a 501(c)3 supported by 25 churches from 11 denominations.
Garden Park had a long-time informal relationship with Community Ministry, with church people occasionally attending Community Ministry meetings and volunteering, but in time the relationship deepened.
With an abundance of donated clothing for the foster parents association stored in the gym, Joyce Neufeld, who, in addition to her roles as Garden Park elder and church administrator, now serves as executive director of Community Ministry, began looking for other places that could use it. She suggested that Community Ministry expand its services to include a clothing bank and in the process learned of the need for a space for Community Ministry to consolidate its services. The need matched what Garden Park had to offer, and a new relationship was formed.
In 2001, the church decided to do a major gym remodel to accommodate Community Ministry, whose mission is to help meet basic needs of qualified people experiencing economic hardships in southwest Denver. Garden Park and Community Ministry split the renovation costs, and by May 2002, a certificate of occupancy was given to allow Community Ministry to open its food bank, clothing bank and offices in the gym.
To continue to help meet needs in southwest Denver—a place that still has many people living in poverty, as evidenced by the more than 90 percent of school children who qualify for free and reduced lunches, according to Neufeld—Lighthouse Church intends to retain ownership of the gym and parking property and negotiate leasing for Community Ministry.
Ministry includes camp, church plants
Over time, the ministry of Garden Park included church plants, radio programming and partnerships with other churches.
On Dec. 7, 1962, the congregation voted to purchase 120 acres of land, which became Deer Creek Camp, a church-related, family-oriented camp with spiritual and recreational focus used by the Southern District Conference and other organizations. The camp was donated to World Impact in 1994 and later sold to an individual.
In the early 1970s, the church began to consider expansion. A guiding committee met weekly to consider church planting in southwest Denver, and in October 1972, 45 people met for the first Sunday service at Loretto Heights Center. The church later met at Bear Creek High School, and chose the name Belleview Acres MB Church on March 24, 1974. The church changed its name to Belleview Acres Community Church in 2003, and in 2017 merged with The Rock Community Church, a congregation in Littleton, Colorado, affiliated with Converge, formerly Baptist General Conference. Following the merger, The Rock also affiliated with USMB.
The North Denver Fellowship Group was organized in January 1973. Ten years later, that group became Koinonia Christian Fellowship, which later disbanded. Additional church planting efforts were made in Aurora, Castle Rock and Greeley, but these did not survive.
Garden Park also partnered with other churches over the course of its ministry.
In 1985, a Korean Presbyterian Church began renting Garden Park’s facilities for regular services, and the church joined USMB in 1993 before closing its doors in 2001.
More recently, Garden Park merged with a Spanish-speaking congregation, forming a bilingual congregation in January 2017. A number of circumstances caused the model to collapse after five months.
Church focuses on community outreach
After experiencing a “mid-life crisis” in September 1988, when a series of events initiated a dramatic change for church ministry, Garden Park moved toward a focus on community outreach.
A demographic study of the neighborhood showed Garden Park in a low- to middle-class neighborhood becoming more and more Hispanic. After considering and approving, but later rejecting, consolidation with Belleview Acres Church, the congregation adopted a new three-phase plan for ministry, including allowing members who wanted to join Belleview Acres to do so, while Garden Park ministry would divide its focus on continuing its traditional congregation and community outreach.
Garden Park’s community outreach included basketball teams, vacation Bible school and neighborhood block parties, Neighborhood Watch meetings, a single parents’ support group and a school’s out party, hosting summer interns, an after-school kids’ club, a senior citizens’ lunch program, a community basketball program, a Community Education Center, neighborhood garage sales, a fall festival, a Sunday evening serve in the gym, a summer carnival, a community Christmas festival, a Spanish class for English speakers, cooking classes, a Wednesday evening meal, the Garden Park Job Assistance Center and service projects. The church hosted youth groups and Tabor College students to learn about urban ministry and helping with outreach.
A new direction
In recent years, the church experienced a decline in attendance and pastoral turnover. The church had, in the past, experimented with a multi-pastoral leadership model.
Pastors—including full time, half-time, quarter-time or interim—of Garden Park Church were: John J. and Marie Gerbrandt, Harold and Susan Schroeder, Don MacNeill, Rev. and Mrs. Dan Friesen, Roland and Lois Reimer, Arno and Linda Wiebe, Daryle and Marie Baltzer, Lowell and Sue Entz, Chuck and Beverly Goertz, Glenn Balzer, David Williams, Steve Johnson, Justin Hiebert, Peter Heim and Vanessa Guzman.
When most recent pastor Peter Heim concluded his ministry in August 2018, the congregation was again left to evaluate its future.
“The congregation did several assessments about what their core values were and what things were non-negotiable for them,” Neufeld says. “Remaining an MB church was high on the priority list, as well as solid biblical teaching, worship, community and outreach.”
Conversations between Neufeld and her husband, acting on behalf of church leadership, SDC minister Tim Sullivan and Multiply’s Chris Douglas, led to the Neufelds approaching Lighthouse Church with the possibility of being adopted for a revitalization ministry. Through the conversation, they learned that Lighthouse Church, a four-year-old MB church plant of Mountain View Community Church (Fresno, California), had been actively looking for a place to expand their ministry to a second campus. As Lighthouse experienced growth, recently hitting 400 in attendance, the church experienced a need for new spaces to meet.
“When we met with Josh Shaw, he told us that Lighthouse had been looking for a campus to expand their ministry to for almost a year and had not found the right fit yet,” Neufeld says. “Their values were inline with what Garden Park wanted, and they were MB, young, growing and excited.”
A vote was taken Oct. 15 to dissolve Garden Park Church and join with Lighthouse Church to enable the future ministry of Lighthouse Church in the Ruby Hill neighborhood beginning in fall of 2019.
As a campus of Lighthouse Church, Garden Park will gain a new identity. All existing Garden Park boards, committees and leadership will be disbanded.
A name for the campus is still being considered, with options including Lighthouse Church South and Lighthouse Church at Ruby Hill, according to Garden Park’s website.
Shaw, pastor of Lighthouse Church, will be primary preaching and vision pastor across multiple campuses. Each campus will have a campus pastoral couple.
“We are excited about reaching a new area of the city in Denver,” Shaw says via email. “And we are excited about the chance to take risks and do things that we never thought possible as a young church like ours. In some ways, it is a good fit because Garden Park was ready for a transition and Lighthouse was looking to expand.”
Lighthouse Church Lakewood Campus will continue with two live Sunday services and one repeated live-stream service. The Ruby Hill Campus will have a large screen on stage, onto which a life-sized, live-stream of the Lakewood service will be projected, including music and preaching.
As the campuses grow, video elements of the service may be replaced with live counterparts.
Other Garden Park ministries will be replaced with Lighthouse Church programming and community outreach.
“Most of the Garden Park people have been doing faithful ministry for a long time, almost to the point of exhaustion, and we are most excited to love them and shepherd them in this season,” Shaw says. “We believe they will be incredible assets to our church in the future, whether they stay at our Lakewood Campus, or make the switch to South Denver, whenever we launch that campus. Our highest priority is loving them and honoring them in this season.”
According to a proposed timeline on the Garden Park website, the Garden Park campus will temporarily close while the legal transfer occurs. After remodeling and repairs initiated by Lighthouse Church, including installation of a screen and technology for live-streaming and seating optimization, the location will reopen in the fall of 2019 as a campus of Lighthouse Church.
Garden Park attenders will attend the Lakewood campus during the interim.
Because the campuses are close in proximity—the locations are less than 8 miles apart—it’s anticipated the campuses will have joint worship nights and block parties.
“Garden Park through the years has always sought to follow Jesus and reach the community for Christ,” Neufeld says. “They did that by offering many opportunities for people to enter into the GP family through worship services, youth programs, classes, support groups, Bible studies, sports programs, community meals, etc. Lighthouse is not going to be coming to the community and having to work on hard ground because GP has prepared the soil and sown the seed. Our hope is that Lighthouse will water the seed and reap the harvest for a new generation of believers.”
—Historical information adapted from “The History of Garden Park Mennonite Brethren Church, 1955-2018”