Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship (Goshen, Ind.)
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Getting Started: 1979
Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship held its first worship service in the summer of 1979. Waterford Mennonite Church (Goshen, Ind.), East Goshen Mennonite Church (Goshen, Ind.), and other congregations in the Goshen area were active in planting this new church. The congregation’s first name was West Goshen Fellowship. The church began 1) to relieve overcrowding in several area congregations, and 2) to provide a church for people on the northwest side of Goshen, the fastest growing residential area in the city. The congregation first met for worship on July 28, 1979 at Bethany Christian High School. Attendance ranged from 28 to 50 persons during the first few months. In November the Fellowship moved to the Mennonite Mutual Aid building in Goshen, where the congregation met for nearly two years. Don Blosser served as an interim pastor from November 1979 to June 1980, and attendance reached 135 by the time the congregation moved to its current location.
Becoming Berkey Avenue: The 1980s
Two important events occurred in January 1980. First, the church began negotiations with a German Baptist Brethren congregation for its vacant meetinghouse at 2509 Berkey Avenue. Second, the congregation called its first full-time pastor, Art Smoker, to begin serving that spring. The property was purchased on May 17, 1980. In June the congregation installed a new pastor, adopted a statement of faith, confirmed 73 charter members, and affiliated with the Mennonite Church (now the Mennonite Church USA).
In August 1980, the church changed its name to Berkey Avenue Fellowship in anticipation of the move. In November, BAF broke ground for a 4800 square foot addition to the building which they had purchased but not yet used. Extensive remodeling also took place with much of the work done using volunteer labor. The congregation celebrated its first service in the new building on Easter Sunday of 1981, although the building was still unheated since the remodeling work was not yet complete. The congregation officially moved into the new facility on July 19, 1981, and the dedication service took place on October 25, 1981. Over the next year the church continued to grow rapidly. The average worship attendance in 1982 was 189, which remained the highest attendance until 2004.
In 1982, BAMF formed a Vision Committee. Over the next two years the committee developed statements on belief and practice in four areas (worship, nurture, fellowship and caring, and witness), and explored new leadership patterns for the church. In April 1984 the church adopted a new leadership pattern which created five commissions (Worship, Christian Education, Fellowship and Caring, Stewardship and Finance, and Mission) and a team of elders consisting of 6 people plus the pastor(s).The congregation continues to use this structure, emphasizing the gifts of members. The high degree of lay involvement at Berkey Avenue is by design.
Highlights of 1984-1988 included: 1) adopting a constitution, 2) changing the church's name to Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship, and 3) hiring Ruth Liechty as administrative elder in September 1986. In the next four years (1989-1992) many changes took place, particularly in pastoral leadership. Art Smoker left in August 1989 after serving nine years.
New Leadership and Growth: The 1990s
Peter Buller was called as interim pastor and served from the spring of 1990 to March of 1992. In January 1991, Mary Borntrager was called as part-tim youth minister. In April 1992, Richard Litwiller came to BAMF to serve as pastor. In September 1992, the congregation adopted a motto that came out of a church leaders' retreat in 1987: "Called to be Christ's loving, healing, caring presence." The church agreed upon a new vision and enthusiasm began to build. Worship attendance began to increase after reaching a low of 113 in 1991-92. Several significant changes took place in the next four years (1992-1996). One was in the area of church staffing. In November 1994, Ruth Liechty moved from her salaried Administrative Elder position to working on a volunteer basis. She continued in this role until September 1996. Mary Borntrager resigned her position as Youth Minister in April 1995.
In May 1995, the congregation decided to build an addition which included a Christian education wing, offices, and a library/conference room. Construction began in September 1995 was completed in March 1996. A dedication weekend took place in April 1996 with a congregational landscaping day on the 13th and the dedication service on the 14th. Finishing this project marked the fulfillment of a dream that began soon after the congregation had moved to the present site.
The congregation has experienced much numeric growth since then. In 1997 the congregation again established a Vision Committee to help determine the priorities of the church for the future. Berkey Avenue unanimously approved a "Vision and Strategy for the Future" in June 1998 that reaffirmed the motto "Called to be Christ's loving, healing, caring presence," and that embraced intimacy and invitation as primary values. This vision recognizes the tension that can exist between these values but encourages the church to value them equally. It further encourages the church to maintain strength in worship, mission, and nurture while strengthening its welcoming ministry. As a result of the Vision Statement, 1) Anita Kehr was called to join the pastoral staff on a half time basis on February 9, 1999; 2) the church office was remodeled to include a second pastor's study; 3) the Bethany support plan was changed to include students who want to attend the middle school; 4) emphasis on mission has included increases in the mission budget and finding ways to personalize mission; 5) the congregation explored the possibility of beginning a church plant in cooperation with other local congregations.
Dan and Anita: The 2000s
In early 2000, Richard Litwiller told the congregation that he would not seek another term of service. Peter Buller then came as an interim pastor in Summer of 2001 and served through January 2002. In November 2001 the congregation asked Dan Schrock to join the pastoral team beginning in May 2002. Since then Anita and Dan have each served 3/4 time, dividing pastoral responsibilities as needs, gifts and interests dictate.
In 2002, BAMF began archiving its weekly worship materials to the church website.
In the fall of 2004, average attendance reached about 225, the highest in the congregation's history (which is also near the outer limit of what the current building can handle). To allow for expansion, the congregation purchased three and one-half acres to the west in fall 2004, and began discussions about how to respond to these challenges. One effort was a building land-use committee which surveyed congregational needs and gave a report to the congregation in spring 2005.
In early 2005 the congregation approved a new mission statement.
The elders commissioned a group that became known as the 'New Endeavor' committee to explore the idea of a church 'swarm.' The committee met during the summer and fall of 2005, and recommended that a group form a Sunday evening worship group. That group held planning meetings in January 2006 and met from February to April. The group leaders eventually decided that while some were interested in a new church, critical mass was insufficient.
Therefore in 2007 the elders commissioned a building committee to work on a plan for meeting the church's need for more worship, Christian Education, fellowship, and parking space.
Most of this information is taken from the Berkey Avenue Mennonite Fellowship website.