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After merger & growing pains, New Seasons envisions growth

 

Kent Harville/BP

Warm welcome - New Seasons members greet visitors and each other before Sunday worship at the year-old multiethnic San Diego church.

SAN DIEGO (BP) – Bancroft Baptist Church was an aging Anglo congregation of perhaps 40 people; pastor Cal Samuels knew that disbanding the San Diego congregation was probably inevitable.

“I got to thinking, Am I going to give this to someone I don’t know? A non-Southern Baptist? No!”

Samuels had met A.B. Vines, a younger but experienced black pastor at Highland Park Baptist Church, a congregation of about 200 “just a few miles away from us” in the city’s Paradise Valley area.

“He had a tremendous vision of what we could do in San Diego,” Samuels said. “I didn’t have a vision, but I had the heart. I visited his church. The preaching was phenomenal; there was energy, life, momentum” and a dynamic faith in God.

After the two churches met and got to know each other, they voted to merge in January 2005, becoming New Seasons Church. Both congregations lost members after the decision and a two-month transition, but a multicultural New Seasons Church emerged out of the chaos.

 

Merging congregations

The churches decided that the English-speaking New Seasons congregation would meet at the larger Bancroft facilities and Highland Park’s two growing language churches – a Tagalog-speaking Filipino congregation led by Richard Lee and a Spanish-speaking Hispanic congregation led by Guillermo Monje – would stay at the smaller Paradise Valley site.

Vines’ first decision as pastor of the new church was to call Samuels as executive pastor, citing a lesson learned from his training in the FAITH/Sunday School Evangelism Strategy. “One thing [we learned in FAITH] is that your church will grow, so don’t put off planning for the growth,” Vines said. “I know that right now it may not make the most sense for me to have an executive pastor, but this is an investment in the future.

“Pastor Cal [Samuels] and I are learning how to work together, how to trust each other,” Vines continued. “That takes time. This way, when the growth happens, he and I already trust each other and know how to work together. We won’t miss a beat ministering to the people. You have to look to the future and plan your staff accordingly.”

Kent Harville/BP

Same team - A.B. Vines, foreground, pastor of New Seasons Church in San Diego, preaches as Cal Samuels, background, the church’s executive pastor, listens. The two men, who led churches that merged a year ago, complement each other’s skills as they minister together.

New Season’s ministerial staff is far from traditional, but reflects the congregation – black, white, yellow and brown.

 

Multicultural staff

When they go out, the multicultural staff sometimes gets attention. Samuels laughed when he recalled being “the only white person [at Black Church Leadership Week at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center last summer] as a member of a predominantly black church staff. That was unusual, to say the least.”

What’s even more unusual, Samuels added, is for a white, older pastor to work under the authority of a black, younger pastor. In fact, Vines, at 40, is the youngest person on the ministerial staff.

Vines described his staff in sports terms. “On a football team, you’ve got the quarterback and, sure, he gets lots of attention. But you also have a guard. Is a guard a quarterback? No. But is he necessary to the team? Yes. Is he a great athlete? Yes. The kicker – he may just get in once or twice in a game, but he’s often the one who wins the game. Everyone has to play his role. I love and appreciate the whole team here.”

New Seasons’ blended staff, each with his own specific ministry area, is united in their focus to reach the lost of San Diego. The new congregation began to grow as members caught Vines’ vision for being a spiritual hospital and a lifestyle transformational center for the city.

“I just believe God,” Vines said. “Nothing God does dies, but you can’t experience the growth unless you have faith. We don’t do anything from a small mentality. About 500 people now attend the two Sunday morning services. We plan for 1,000.”

Samuels said there are still some growing pains. While some of the old members have started coming back, there are still some people “who ... still won’t speak to me [because of the merger], but that’s okay. I know the Lord is pleased with this. Most of the members are glad to be here. There is a God-given energy that we never had before.”

Any growing pains, however, are not apparent on Sunday mornings. People hug and hold hands in the service. A little African American girl runs and hops in the lap of a white woman, giving and getting a hug. A young teenage girl helps a stooped elderly woman find a seat and then sits with her.

It’s quite a change from the first days of New Seasons. “There were some people from his church who said, ‘I’m not going to have a black pastor,’” Vines said.

“That’s true,” Samuels said, “but those were the same people who weren’t crazy about me either!”

Samuels’ wife, Pam, said the merger was a godsend. “I love going to this church! I love sitting under the teaching of Dr. Vines. I love that Cal and I have found our perfect niche. Cal is doing exactly what is perfect for his skills. He is happier than he has ever been.”