North Fresno Church (NFC), a USMB congregation in Fresno, California, celebrated its 50th anniversary with a year of activities that culminated Nov. 23-24, 2019, with Celebration Weekend.
The congregation hosted a family picnic and mush ball game Saturday, Nov. 23. Former NFC pastor Larry Martens preached in both Sunday morning worship celebration services, reflecting on the “Cloud of Witnesses” who have come before and continue to impact the church.
That evening, nearly 500 people gathered for the Gala event. The program honored the past and celebrated the present through acknowledging charter members and pastoral families, song, videos, stories and a catered dinner. Decade panels were created for the weekend and will be a permanent display in the lobby sharing a bit of the NFC story. The evening culminated with a congregational responsive prayer and singing the doxology.
Anniversary emphasizes gratitude, reconciliation
Other Jubilee year celebration events included paying off the mortgage for the sanctuary building project in February 2019 and ongoing “Gratitude Projects” to thank four organizations that were instrumental in launching the church. Throughout the year the congregation completes projects of service at San Juaquin Gardens, United Church of Christ and Bethany MB Church, who took leadership in the NFC church plant as the parent church. The final project, honoring Elmer and Phyllis Martens for their significance as NFC members and for their roles at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, will be completed in early 2020 and will be at the seminary.
The congregation also began a reconciliation initiative, reaffirming their commitment to be a community that has been reconciled to God and others. It involved both internal and external reconciliation efforts.
“On more of the external side, there was reaching out to former members of the congregation to ask if and how the church had caused harm to them,” says Rhonda Dueck, associate pastor. “In instances of harm, we invited dialogue about that so that we could seek to repair the relationships. On more of the internal side, the Initiative cooperated on an Adult Sunday School series, the summer sermon series on ‘one another’ texts and a special service of acknowledgement and lament. This service was important in terms of corporately naming and taking responsibility for ways that we hurt one another, even when we have good intentions in our actions.”
NFC traces its beginning to the summer of 1969 when a small group of folks gathered to meet and pray about beginning a church in the north part of the city, an area that was growing and had few churches. Bethany MB Church took leadership as the parent church.
In September, 30 families, led by Pastor Elmo Warkentin, gathered for the first time in the Prayer Chapel on the grounds of what was then called MB Biblical Seminary. There was significant excitement surrounding this new endeavor. The group quickly outgrew the Prayer Chapel and began looking for a more permanent meeting place. Soon after, a church property located at 5724 N. Fresno St. came up for sale and the group prayed and processed the possibility of purchasing this property. Escrow closed on Aug 12, 1970, and it was purchased for $102,000.
The congregation is grateful for the excellent leadership of the five pastors who have served the congregation over the past five decades: Elmo Warkentin, Ray Wiebe, Marvin Hein, Larry Martens and James Bergen.
There have been three significant building projects, including a Multi-Purpose Family Center, a three-story Christian education building and a new sanctuary and office building.
In the 1990s an intentional decision to stay in the changing neighborhood re-energized the church’s focus of commitment to the neighborhood and specifically focused attention on an apartment complex nearby that had a high volume of under-resourced families and high crime rates.
NFC reaches out to community in new ways
In the 2000s a significant ministry called SART (Social Action Response Team) was begun that focused on reaching out to the community. The church also began to intentionally cultivate a relationship with Robinson Elementary School just down the road to further their presence in the neighborhood.
In 2010 NFC began partnering with the church in Portugal through their connection with Multiply workers Otto and Marjorie Ekk.
In 2013, NFC launched Fresno Area Community Enterprises (FACE0 to meet the systemic needs of the Robinson Elementary School neighborhood. Currrently FACE has three social enterprises, a tutoring club, Summer Adventure Club and offers care and support while equipping under-resourced neighbors in finances, education and job skills.
Also in 2013, the Micah Project was launched as a 10-month leadership discipleship urban ministry program where interns live in intentional biblical community, are mentored, volunteer at NFC and FACE and spend time learning about social justice issues.
“Celebrating North Fresno Church’s 50 years is an amazing testimony to God’s goodness as faithful followers have continued to live out the call to be a light in the Robinson neighborhood,” says Dueck, who was part of the anniversary celebration planning team. “We celebrate that North Fresno Church has grown into a thriving community of believers. We look with anticipation to what the future holds as we listen to God and we continue to love God and love our neighbors.”
With files from Rhonda Dueck