Two Bangor churches with very different worship styles and histories are exploring the possibility of merging. If successful, it would be a first-in-the-nation event in the American Baptist denomination.
Members of Columbia Street Baptist Church, founded in 1845 as a mission of First Baptist Church, and Destiny Worship Center, founded in 2009, will vote Oct. 28 whether to merge their congregations. In the meantime, they are holding joint worship services, Bible study, prayer meetings and choir practices.
If they vote to merge, the Rev. Brian Hurst of Destiny would become pastor of the new entity and the Rev. Stan Moody would focus on the Columbia Street Project, a ministry of Columbia Street Baptist, where he currently is pastor.
“We’re really developing a new church concept,” Moody, 78, of Glenburn said after Sunday’s service. “We’re kind of highly structured and they are more go-with-the-flow. We’re trying to meet somewhere in the middle.”
About five years ago, Columbia Street began looking to partner with a congregation seeking to minister to the residents of the neighborhood, including the Penobscot County Jail, the youth who hang out in Pickering Square and the homeless camped along the waterfront. Members of other churches joined the congregation to serve a noontime lunch each Sunday. Merger talks with other entities never got as far as they have with Destiny, according to Moody.
In 2015, Moody spearheaded an effort to raise money for the funeral and burial of Robert West, a homeless man who was struck and killed while crossing a street in downtown Bangor. The minister also conducted West’s funeral as part of the church’s outreach ministry.
The biggest common denominator between the two congregations is a commitment to community outreach, said Hurst, 51, of Bangor on Sunday.
“We understand that we can do better together,” he said. “There’s a lot they are doing that we can’t do in our current location [the chapel at the former Bangor Theological Seminary on Union Street].”
Moody said that the congregation at Columbia Street is aging and mostly white, while Destiny is mostly made up of young families and is racially diverse. Columbia Street has a large sanctuary, a lot of classroom space, a gym and offices that a younger congregation such as Destiny could put to better use than Columbia Street does now.
Each congregation draws between 70 and 80 worshippers on Sundays outside the summer months. Between 130 and 140 attended Sunday’s service. The Columbia Street sanctuary can seat 700 to 1,000.
The biggest difference between the two congregations is worship style and music. Hurst is an animated preacher who gets into a rhythm that often is musical. He asks worshippers to repeat phrases in his sermons and many spontaneously shout out, “Amen” and “Praise Jesus.”
Moody and most of Columbia Street’s recent ministers have a style more akin to a teacher than a preacher in the evangelical vein. The two men’s Sunday dress this week represented a difference in style — Moody wore a gray suit and a clerical collar while Hurst was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt that sported a drawing of a cross.
Destiny is known for its choir, which is in demand in January to perform gospel music at celebrations marking the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It performs modern praise music each Sunday with a band rather than a piano or organ, the more traditional church instruments. The lyrics to the songs are projected onto a screen above the altar rather than being sung from a hymnal.
Destiny’s music director Raenicha Johnson said Sunday the singers are working to blend some old-fashioned hymns with gospel and praise music.
“This is almost like Destiny is starting up anew,” Johnson, 39, of Bangor said. “We have people here in their 90s and we have toddlers. Through these services, we are getting to know one another better and becoming more accepting of one another.”
Clayton Rogers, the organist at Columbia Street since 1955, is not in favor of the merger.
“We need the Gospel, but not the Pentecostal style [of worship],” Rogers, 90, of Brewer said Sunday.
Will Dairyko, who has attended Destiny with his family for about four years, favors the merger.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “God is God. We don’t have to agree on everything. The main thing we have to agree on is the Bible and we agree on that. Unity is always a good thing.”
The newest project the two congregations are working on together is National Back to Church Sunday on Sept. 23. Members of both congregations will invite friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers to worship with them. While it is a national project, Moody and Hurst see it as a way to share what is happening on Columbia Street with more people in the community.
Columbia Street Baptist Church and Destiny Worship Center hold services at 10:15 a.m. Sundays at 63 Columbia St. in Bangor. Sunday school for children and adults is at 9 a.m. For information, visit csbcbangor.org or 945-6616.
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