THE CHURCH WE SEE
In the Greek of the NT, 'church' is ekklēsia- 'the called-out ones.' To be called out of the patterns & practices of this world's sinful & broken systems into the economy of God's grace is to BECOME church."
This is why we gather, not for religious entertainment, not for something we hold for ourselves. Rather, we gather to hear ourselves called out by the living God, we see that his heart is kind and it is for us, and we follow him out into the world as he goes in love to the margins.
On January 7th, 2018 about twenty people gathered in the Graham’s living room to simply worship. We had the sense that God was wanting to do something within and through us but at that point it was only a sense. We began to build community, to seek the Lord, and to ask the question what might God be doing here?
In March of 2018, we were officially assessed and approved for planting by the Evangelical Covenant Church joining us to a larger multiethnic family of mission-minded churches across the United States and North America.
In September of 2018, as our community began to grow, we began monthly worship services in order to invite our friends, neighbors, and coworkers into the life of our community. During this season, we began the process of discerning a space to meet weekly.
On November 25th, 2018, we hosted our first service in the Princeton Garden Theatre right in the heart of downtown Princeton. We continued meeting at the Garden Theatre for the next several months into early 2019 as we searched for a permanent home and moved towards our launch. All during this time we were welcoming people into the community and asking the question: “God who do you want this church to be?” We would gather in homes, around tables, seeking simply to be a community who deeply loved Jesus and one another.
On April 14th, 2019, Ecclesia hosted its first launch service. We saw over 150 people come through the doors of the John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton. This service was the incredible culmination of 15 months of hard work, prayer, uncertainty, and most of all hope.
But this moment was not an end in and of itself. It was the beginning of the next chapter of our story. We now meet weekly at 10:30 AM at the John Witherspoon Auditorium and we are expecting that God is going to write stories that are beyond all that we can ask or imagine. And you, no matter where you are coming from, are invited to be a part of the story.
Why Plant A Church?
According to citydata.com, there are 173,000 people in Mercer County who do not affiliate themselves with a religious organization or institution.
I am Courtney’s husband.
Evie, Rory, and Sullivan’s dad.
I am a pastor, church planter, musician, songwriter, reader, and writer. I look for Jesus, the one who made all things, in every corner of life and love finding him in unexpected places. I think the Scriptures are a lot more beautiful, interesting, honest, and difficult than they are usually given credit for and my hope is to help us recover our imaginations when we hear and read the words of God.
I am a third-year M.Div. student at Princeton Theological Seminary. There, I serve as a research assistant to the Asian American Program and as a lead researcher of the Imagining Church Project of the Lily Thriving Congregations Initiative. Here, I approach the worship team as primarily a space for discipleship—encouraging and building each other up as we develop our musical gifts for the common good. If you catch me at church, let’s chat about the NBA, my cat Howie, or the best coffee shops to visit! Currently, my favorite books are Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, Unscripted by Ernie Johnson, and Rilke’s Book of Hours.
Throughout his life and ministry, the table is the center of Jesus’ work. Jesus announces the coming of the Kingdom, literally the most important news the world has ever known. But then Jesus proceeds to live his life in relatively ordinary, unforced rhythms. He gathers with people in their homes, telling people stories that evoke something of the sort of Kingdom and King that he is proclaiming. This is endlessly profound in our reflections upon hospitality, love, power, even politics. Towards the end of his life, Jesus is worshipped by a woman who pours out her most expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet while reclining at the table. Jesus, in turn, washes the dirt-stained feet of his closest friends and companions and tells them, “As I have done to you, do likewise to one another.”
And then he institutes a meal, bread and wine, as the remembrance and celebration of all that he has done and is about to finish forever on the cross. He breaks bread and hands it to his friends saying, “This is my body broken for you.” And he invites them to dip this broken bread in a cup of wine as he pronounces, “This is the blood of my new covenant poured out for you.” At that moment, the disciples probably felt the weight of the moment but truthfully didn’t understand what he was saying. But on the other side of the cross and resurrection, their eyes are opened, and they understand. Just as Jesus shared meals with them during his earthly life, now he comes and he dwells among and within them as the one who has overcome the world.
At Ecclesia, when we gather for worship at church on Sunday’s, when we gather in small groups in homes, when we welcome those who do not yet know the way of Jesus into our own homes, when we share a meal with those who are poor and disadvantaged in our context, we expect that Jesus meets us there.
What this also means is that there are no compartments to our lives. Jesus’ presence in the most (seemingly) ordinary places means that every moment is holy, an invitation to behold and worship God in freedom and joy. There is no secular and sacred divide. Life is an integrated whole, our physical world is infused with spiritual significance and the table is where these physical and spiritual realities intersect.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. [John 13vv3-5]
Words Create Worlds
The story of our world begins with God. God’s dreams of a creation into which he can pour out his boundless love is not brought about by a mighty feat of strength but rather, God speaks. God calls light to be and then in slow succession, he speaks skies, and trees, and elephants, and tigers, and squirrels and peonies, and mountains and redwoods. All of this culminates in the calling to be of daughters and sons, women and men made in the image of God to join him in the grand project of stewarding this wild and dynamic world.
God speaking the world to life is no small detail. It tells us the sort of God that we are dealing with—a God who speaks is a God in relationship. God is not conducting some cosmic monologue, he speaks that there might be a response, he speaks that he might be known. And in the person of Jesus, the word of God that brought the world to life puts on flesh and bones like our own and moves into the neighborhood. Jesus is the full and final word of God to the world, the announcement that God is a God of unending, self-giving love.
As a church community, we seek first to listen to the Word of God that has been spoken over us. In the library of books and genres we call the Bible. we find a story, a long narrative of God’s love for us and his mission in the world. And we hear Jesus inviting us, “Come follow me.” The Scriptures are not simply a reference book, proof-texts for what we believe at a given moment, they are a living voice that guides, corrects, and empowers us to live the full life that Jesus has for us.
Because God is a speaking God, we know that our words have infinite potential. We speak to the world around us, in both word and deed, about what Jesus has done in his life, death, and resurrection. We speak to one another words that call out gifting, life, and encouragement. We speak to ourselves the truth about who God says that we are. And we speak to God in thanksgiving, in prayer, in desperation. We open up the whole of our life to God.
Life With Jesus Is Cultivated
Jesus uses horticultural imagery when he talks about our life with him. He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches, remain in me and you will bear much fruit.” We all want to bear fruit, we want to live lives of significance, of meaning, of blessing to those around us. Jesus’ direction to remain may seem passive or sedentary but how do we stay settled in a culture that pulls and pushes us in a hundred different directions. What does it mean to remain in the love of Jesus? As a church community, we embrace practices that help us in this remaining. To remain in Jesus is our active response to his free grace. We divide these practices into four layers we call the 4 C’s.
Contemplative | All of us were made to know God deeply, to delight ourselves in him, to find ourselves embraced by him. As a people, we make silence and stillness a part of our daily rhythm. We allow God to speak his truth and life over us and find that in spending time in his presence we are being formed into his image and likeness.
Community | The way of Jesus is not a road that can be walked alone. We need time alone with God but we need a community of people committed to walking with us to make sense of that time. The church around the table is just as important as the church in rows. We need a group of people to grow with, to serve and to serve us, to challenge us, and ultimately to love us.
Congregation | Our weekly Sunday gathering is a time where we hear a word from the Scriptures spoken over our whole congregation, to read the Scriptures together, to pray in expectation, to live out our true identity in extravagant worship, and to receive from the table of Jesus. The church in rows gathered around the cross is a glimpse into heaven when people from all different stories, ethnicities, and cultures come together to proclaim and receive the life of Jesus.
Commission | Jesus sends his disciples out into the world as witnesses. We bear witness to the world of what he have seen, Jesus has overcome the world and thus he gives us power to speak life into every area of brokenness. We only grow as followers of the way of Jesus by embracing this call. We don’t wait until we have it all figured out, we simply are present in the ache of our city as salt and light, working for justice, for truth, and beauty.
Reliance Upon The Holy Spirit
It is not common in our world to acknowledge realities that cannot be seen, touched, or measured. But for Christians, we trust that God is present with us always not just conceptually but actually in the form of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit communicates God’s love, truth, leads us to repentance, performs miracles of healing, announces truth for us individually, and creates unity in our community.
When we gather, we expect that the very real, active, and life-giving presence of God will meet us there. When we live our lives at work, at school, through the course of our daily rhythms we anticipate that God is speaking, leading, guiding, and transforming us through it all. And as we embrace the gift of the Holy Spirit we find the miraculous all around us. We find that as individuals we are able to love the world with the love of Jesus, that we are slowly becoming more joyful, patient, kind, self-controlled, that addictions and anxieties don’t get the last word.
We find that as a community, we can be a sign and a wonder to the world by the presence of a people knit together from different ethnicities, stories, and perspectives living as one. We find that bodies are healed, lives are restored, and new possibilities emerge where it seemed all hope was lost.
Honesty For The Journey
Princeton, NJ is world-renowned for its academic heritage. It is a bastion of learning, culture, and excellence. As a church we see that not as something to run from but to embrace. Paul encourages the church to distinguish herself from the patterns of the world but the way to that distinction is not by rejecting the mind but renewing the mind.
For us at Ecclesia this renewal works itself out in two very important ways. First, asking honest questions. As a people we find that knowing God is not simply accepting a set of propositions but continuously plumbing the depths of who God is. He invites us to know him, to approach him boldly, and to live honestly before him. The second way we seek intellectual honesty is through humility. We have all been formed with presuppositions, biases, and blindspots. When approach the Scriptures, we don’t try to contort them to fit our own designs but rather to allow them to speak to us, to shape us, and to challenge us.
WHAT WE BELIEVE
We believe in one God.
There is one God who made everything in the whole universe. Additionally, he has crafted every single person in his image. This means that every individual reflects the beauty of the heavenly Father. This means that life is not devoid of purpose and meaning but is a theater of grace, where God communicates his love to us and invites us to partner with him in restoring the world.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
The full and final revelation of God’s character and love has been shown to us as God became a first-century Jewish man, Jesus. He lived a life of complete intimacy with the Father through the Spirit, a life proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God and good news for the poor. He gave his life, dying on a Roman cross to forgive us our sins and to disarm sin and death which held all of humanity in bondage. By the power of God, because of his righteousness, he was raised from the dead and now is the true Lord of all the earth and of every part of life.
And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
The Holy Spirit is our participation in the life of God. Through the Spirit, God reveals himself to us in his word, empowers us to be transformed by grace, and beckons us to carry on God’s mission in the world. Through the Spirit, we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and people who are far from God hear and respond to God’s love.
And we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Though Ecclesia is a new church, we are an expression of the communion of people who proclaim the name of Jesus both historically and globally. Our faith is a gift passed down to us by the faithfulness of previous generations and our hope is to express the essence of God’s love, revealed in Jesus, in ways ancient, modern, and culturally varied.
We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Baptism is our participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Upon baptism we begin to live a new life in our world. We long for the beauty, restoration, and justice that will be in the age to come and we work to bring glimpses of that glorious future into our homes and neighborhoods.