New Hope Community Church—Steeves Mountain and Berry Mills, New Brunswick.
Like the rest of us, Brock Symonds and Gordon Horsman could never have foreseen the challenges COVID-19 presented for New Hope Community Church, the congregation they are pastoring. Nor could their congregation have imagined opening a new church facility in the middle of the pandemic.
Yet God was at work in this rural neighbourhood, a few minutes’ drive west of Moncton, New Brunswick.
“I think the first thing that people need to remember [is to] get over saying, ‘this will never happen, we can never do this.’” Says Rev. Gordon Horsman, reflecting on the story of New Hope.
“You’re right; we can’t do it. But we have to realize that God can do it. It’s amazing what God can do when you just admit that. It’s tremendous.”
The story of New Hope Community Church has many chapters, and on every page, you will find both Jesus and people who trusted Him with the next steps in the journey. It’s a story of God doing something new in two congregations who joined together. New Hope isn’t just a good name; it’s at the heart of this rebirthed congregation.
Rev. Brock Symonds, Senior Pastor, sees that God has been in control all along: “God worked through the pandemic. God knew the timing. God knows what he’s doing.”
Steeves Mountain Baptist Church and Berry Mills Baptist Church were vibrant congregations in this corner of Westmorland County with long histories. Spurred by the growth of the Baptist movement in the middle of the 19th Century, these two groups formally came into being over a century ago: Steeves Mountain in 1906 and Berry Mills in 1922. Over the years, these churches had varying degrees of relationship with one another. For a time, they shared a pastor and had one youth group; for another period, they pursued ministry independently of one another.
Rev. Gordon Horsman has been a witness to a significant part of the story of these congregations, serving as a youth leader for them approximately 50 years ago. A little over a decade ago, he began serving as the pastor of the Steeves Mountain congregation.
The years 2013-2015 were a pivotal turning point for the two congregations as they both struggled to grow. Horsman remembers an important meeting with the Steeves Mountain congregation. He shared two scenarios: he could help them move into a kind-of palliative care in their declining years, or he could help to facilitate conversations with Berry Mills about a merger.
This situation is not unique; congregations in nearly every community of Atlantic Canada have faced such decisions at one time or another. The causes are myriad and complex: it could be population decline, shifting cultural trends, challenges among the membership or leadership, or something else. And it can be painful when it seems like the “heyday” of the church is in the past.
No matter the causes, these are often uncomfortable moments. And they should move us to ask big questions.
God, what are you up to? What would you have us do?
For congregations asking these questions, a merger isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Maybe God is calling your church to something else. But we must ask these questions, trust Jesus, and be willing to go where He leads.
What we see today with New Hope is the result. It wasn’t a fast process—“you’ve got to go slow,” says Horsman—but two congregations eventually voted to become one. They renamed themselves New Hope Community Church and began a building project to expand their ministry in the neighbourhood. They selected a site on the Homestead Road, almost perfectly on the border between the communities of Steeves Mountain and Berry Mills.
In 2018, they called Symonds to be their senior pastor. Symonds’ joy and energy are immediately apparent when you meet him; it’s no surprise that the building project picked up speed from this moment onwards. Horsman stepped away to allow Symonds to settle in, and then he returned as Pastor of Prayer and Care.
Having a building project be disrupted by a pandemic is an event that’s neither predictable nor preferred. But once again, God was at work. Along with the rest of the CBAC family of churches, New Hope had to pause in-person gatherings in March 2020 but began to experience a surge of growth and reach in the community, thanks to online and phone-based ministry tools. Then as the first wave of the pandemic subsided in June 2020, they opened the new multipurpose facility and began meeting in person. The new space allowed for social distancing and other safety measures. While COVID-19 is not finished yet, New Hope has continued to innovate in new areas of ministry and community partnership.
If you get the chance to listen as Symonds and Horsman talk about their journey, you’ll hear something unmistakable in their voices. It’s a certainty in what God is doing amid unexpected and unprecedented times. It’s a vibrant excitement for the Gospel at work in this neighbourhood. It’s hope.