SUMNER HILL—The new Hope Central Church took over a historic church at 85-87 Seaverns Ave. this week, as one of Jamaica Plain’s oldest Christian congregations merged with one of its newest.
Central Congregational Church, which was founded in JP nearly 160 years ago and built the church building at Seaverns and Elm Street, merged with the 8-year-old Hope Church, a progressive church that has long shared the worship space.
The merger came from “a real sense that God was putting us together,” said Hope Central’s interim pastor, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade. The two congregations joined on Feb. 28 in a “holy union service…like a wedding,” she said.
The newly combined congregation has about 130 members. Miller Olapade was the interim pastor of Hope Church. Rev. Michael McSherry, the pastor at Central Congregational for the past four years, is moving on to another church, according to Miller Olapade. McSherry did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.
The church is well-known for hosting community arts and music events, which will continue and probably expand, including possible joint concert programming with the nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“That’s part of the DNA of JP,” said Miller Olapade of the arts programming.
Other uses also will remain the same, including the Mosaic School preschool and the commuter parking lot across the street. The Hispanic Community Church of Boston will continue worshipping at the church as well.
Central Congregational had ongoing problems with building expenses and a shrinking congregation. Meanwhile, Hope Church had been growing.
“They had shrunk to the point they couldn’t do some of the exciting ministries they want to do,” said Miller Olapade of Central Congregational. “They were looking at their truth and realized they were ready to do something radical to continue to be an affirming, progressive church.”
“In my view, the Holy Spirit moved them to see the possibility of resurrection,” said Miller Olapade.
Maintaining the church building had been one of Central Congregational’s challenges, and Hope Church has never owned its own building before. Taking the leap “brought anxiety” to Hope Church, said Miller Olapade, adding that the building has some solid sources of income in the school and parking lot.
“We have a saying at Hope Church that we’ve been building the airplane while flying it,” she said.
Central Congregational, a United Church of Christ (UCC) affiliate, was founded in 1853. Its original church was at Centre Street and Greenough Avenue, where an apartment building now stands, according to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. Central Congregational later moved to Seaverns Avenue, where its church building was later destroyed by fire. The current church is the one rebuilt after the fire in 1935.
Hope Church was founded in Roslindale in 2002 as an affiliate of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) by Liz and Matthew Myer Boulton. Liz Myer Boulton is now ministering elsewhere, while Matthew Myer Boulton is teaching at Harvard Divinity School.
Hope Church moved to JP in 2004, when it first shared the church building with Central Congregational. Hope Church then returned to Roslindale, only to return to the Central Congregational space in recent years.
Hope Central will retain Hope Church’s founding principles of addressing “people who may have been hurt by the church” and being an “open and affirming congregation” for anyone, said Miller Olapade. She described the church as having a “funky, edgy, hip” approach and a “high-energy, modern style of worship.”
Hope Central is part of what is known as the “emerging church” movement. Miller Olapade described it as “based more in things bubbling up from the community” rather than a tradition-based approach of, “‘Here’s the way we always did it,’ and a big book of worship plopped down on people.”
Hope Central is still in the process of searching for a permanent pastor, which can take years. Miller Olapade has served as Hope’s interim pastor for about a year-and-a-half.
For more information about the church, see its web site at www.HopeBoston.org.