New Life

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Local church works to preserve historical Lynchburg churches through merger

Nestled among gas stations, empty buildings, and single-family homes, Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church has remained an impressive figure in the neighborhood for more than 100 years. While the church building itself may not have changed much over the past century, its residents have.

For over the past three years, Gospel Community Church has been part of the Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church story once the previously nomadic church found a home beneath historic stained glass windows and pews.

Since its founding in 2009, Gospel Community Church has always met in unexpected places, according to GCC Teaching Pastor Andrew Moroz.

“There was a convention center, a school, and a night club,” Moroz said, referencing the former Phase 2 building on Odd Fellows Road. “On some Sundays, we’d be getting to the club to set up as concerts were ending and bartenders were heading home for the night. There was definitely some overlap between the events.”

Set-up crews would arrive as early as 6 a.m. on Sundays to transform the club into a church. Once services were over, they’d pack everything up, staying well into the afternoon.

“I think it was off-putting to people at times,” Moroz said of the haphazard set-up and non-conventional meeting space.

Despite the unusual arrangement, Moroz said they didn’t feel an urgency to find a new space as their congregation flourished. But as their church body continued to grow, and quickly, they realized that finding a permanent space had to be a priority.

In 2017, they began sensing that God would lead them to a new home. The leadership of GCC began working with a realtor and touring properties around the area, even toying with the idea of building their own space. Nothing seemed to be the right fit.

“The cost of building a new building—and the type of building which would satisfy all of our needs—was astronomical,” Moroz said. “We seriously explored the option of converting other non-conventional spaces into a church building such as shopping centers or warehouses.”

Meanwhile, across town on Rivermont Avenue, another congregation was trying to figure out how to keep their doors open.

Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church first began on Cabell Street in 1896. Founded by the Young Men’s Missionary Society of the First Baptist Church, the group worked for 10 years to build their home on Cabell Street after they, like GCC, were mobile as well—holding Sunday School in the old Danielstown Schoolhouse and tent meetings around the Rivermont area.

The church called Cabell Street home for nearly 15 years, until they realized they had outgrown their space. They moved to Rivermont Avenue in 1911 and officially changed their name to reflect their new home.

Over the years, the congregation was passionate about ministering to the local neighborhood. But as decades went by, their numbers dwindled, and they needed a plan on how to breathe new life into their beloved church.

For Scot Podosek, RABC was more than just a church—it was home.

“We had been there for the past 25 years,” Podosek said. “It was just this amazing place and we were there any time the doors were open.”

The RABC leadership formed a work group, which included Podosek, to research their options.

Then, on a return flight to Lynchburg, a chance encounter between GCC Worship Pastor Brian Friberg and Podosek led both churches down a new path. The two struck up a conversation that eventually led to what each of the two churches was trying to accomplish.

“[Pososek said], ‘Isn’t it funny how churches like yours occupy schools or nightclubs and then you have churches like ours that are in need of a congregation? …We really want to breathe life into these buildings,’” Friberg said in a video about the merger.

Podosek and Friberg came back to Lynchburg and scheduled a meeting. After that first in-person chat with one another, it was clear that there was the real possibility of a solution.

“That first meeting was enlightening,” Podosek said. “These folks wanted to invest in what we were doing [in Rivermont]. A church is more than just a building. It’s about the people. But this building was special, and we were thrilled to see it being used to its highest potential.”

Moroz admits being impressed by not only the leaders he encountered, but also the historic beauty of the Rivermont church building.

“You walk up and there’s a balcony that overlooks the sanctuary,” Moroz explained. “It just took our breath away. Here was a space that had been a comfort and a haven to the Lynchburg community for decades.”

Becoming Gospel Community Church Rivermont and merging two churches under one roof was a challenge. Both had their own philosophy, culture, and demographic. But despite the changes, both congregations always came back to the fact that RABC and GCC shared a common goal of loving God and loving people, as well as a deep desire to impact the city.

From there, the church transformed into something new as they began a new era in the fall of 2017.

“You go in on a Sunday and you still see people who have called [RABC] home for the past 50 to 60 years,” Podosek said. “You have people who grew up here and then people who are entering Lynchburg for the first time.”

It didn’t stop there. During their search for a building, GCC had connected with College Hill Baptist Church, only a few miles away on Floyd Street.

Like RABC, College Hill had also made its mark on the Lynchburg community for decades—since 1876. There, a small team of 20 people were working diligently to save their church.

“Caring for a historical building is no easy task,” Moroz said. “Here were 20 people who were using their own resources to upkeep the building. …The CHBC congregation needed help with their worship services and core ministries. The pastors of Gospel Community stepped in to help,” Moroz said. “Ministering to the congregation eventually led to the conversation of a formal merger.”

Over this past summer, GCC officially merged with College Hill—which is located across the street from R.S. Payne Elementary School and only a few blocks from Dunbar Middle School.

“There is an incredibly high concentration of kids and teenagers in this part of the city. That’s an incredible opportunity for us to come alongside them and their families and to provide support and biblical encouragement,” said GCC Communications Director Jennifer Redmond.

It’s also, like Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church, adjacent to the thriving Downtown Lynchburg area—as well as the 5th Street and Bedford Avenue corridors.

“It’s been exciting to be in that sector and building relationships with businesses, families, and neighbors,” Redmond said. “We have also worked diligently to connect with our immediate neighbors and some of the existing ministries that were already established in the Rivermont neighborhood.”

Moroz said they are also working to establish the church as a meeting space for local nonprofits, groups, and ministries.

“We want to take that money and pour it right back into preserving these buildings,” he said, adding that they are working to transform and renew the buildings to work for modern needs, such as handicap accessibility. “It’s about sustainability. I truly believe that people want to see a healthy, thriving church in a neighborhood.”

According to Moroz, a healthy church doesn’t just mean having a building full of people. A healthy church has a congregation that is always focused on the greater good.

Because of the merger, GCC was able to continue a RABC ministry called the Connecting Point, which provides food for those in need and houses a summer learning program for school-age youth. The main church building also continues to house the Rivermont Early Learning Center.

In both neighborhoods, GCC has hosted events such as block parties to engage their neighbors and let them know that they are available to them—now, and hopefully well into the future as well.

“[RABC] has always been part of Rivermont,” Podosek said. “Now it gets to stay that way.”

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