FORTVILLE — In any other year, the joining of two congregations into one larger one might have been celebrated with bounce houses and food trucks.
But this is 2020.
For the new combined congregation known as Gateway Community Church Fortville, that means finding alternative ways to get acquainted with each other and welcome the rest of the community.
One of the solutions has been gathering for worship outside, at 10 a.m. Sundays in Landmark Park next to the church. Fortville Town Council recently granted the church an extension to continue having services in the park through October, weather permitting.
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Fortville United Methodist Church and Gateway Community Church got to know each other a few years ago. Gateway, which met at 75th Street and Oaklandon Road, was launching a Fortville campus in 2017. Fortville UMC gave its blessing, welcoming Gateway as it began having services just around the corner in the former Carnegie library at 115 N. Main St.
Gateway’s focus later shifted about a year and a half in, Pastor Matt Lipan said, and it stopped pursuing a Fortville campus.
In early 2020, however, people from both churches began talking about collaborating again — together as one congregation worshiping at 125 E. Staat St.
“The Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church identified Fortville was a place poised for population growth in the coming years, and we wanted to ensure our United Methodist witness could meet the potential growing faith and missional needs of the expanding community,” the Rev. Aleze M. Fulbright, conference superintendent in Indiana’s Central District, wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. She said an exploratory team made up of members of both churches began meeting in January.
“This Exploration Team met over a series of four months, in extensive meetings, for which they compromised, conceded and collaborated beautifully,” she wrote.
Both congregations approved moving forward with a merger, which took effect July 1.
It’s a good blend of each previous church’s strengths, Lipan said.
“There is energy, there are kids, there’s things that maybe haven’t been as abundant in this space for a while,” Lipan said. Meanwhile, “Gateway’s gaining the wisdom and life experience of (Fortville) individuals … who’ve been on this faith journey for a while.”
Albright also sees that blend of strengths.
“The members of the Exploration Team served tirelessly to ensure the merger would celebrate the tradition and history of Fortville UMC, while bringing a new energy of people and organizational structure from Gateway Community Church UMC,” she wrote.
Beth Koselke, a member of the exploratory team, said joining together has expanded the church’s diversity in ideas, backgrounds, strengths, ages and missions. If the church keeps leveraging that, it will be stronger for it, she wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.
“At the end of our discussions, we concluded that we were better together than apart,” she wrote. “If we are able to bring people to Christ through our combined church and outreach ministry, we have achieved our greatest goal.”
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Gateway Community Church Fortville meets at 10 a.m. Sundays in Landmark Park. This Sunday, FoxGardin’s food truck will be available after church for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Landmark Park.
The church has several adult small group studies starting soon:
-9 a.m. Sunday: Adult small group study in Deuteronomy in Friendship Hall
-6:30 p.m. Monday: New women’s study using the book “When God Doesn’t Fix It.” Cost is $12.
-9 a.m. Sept. 17: Study of the the series “Living From the Life of Christ”