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Since she was 4 years old, Maxine Vaden has worshiped with fellow Christians in Mount Vernon, Ohio. But when she was 10, the town’s Church of Christ split due to a dispute.
Now, at age 70, Vaden is excited to see the church come back together again.
“It feels like a family is whole again,” she said. “It just feels right.”
For the past six decades, the Newark Road Church of Christ and the Eastside Church of Christ met separately in this community 40 miles northeast of Columbus.
However, the two bodies recently decided to merge and become the Mount Vernon Church of Christ.
On Jan. 12, the newly formed church celebrated with a special Sunday service followed by a ribbon cutting as members made the merger official.
Although she was only 10 at the time of the split, Vaden recalls that a dispute over the appointing of leadership sparked it.
Over the years, she said, she recalls a number of occasions when the two congregations had attempted to merge. However, some of those involved in the original dispute resisted, disrupting those plans each time.
But in recent years, the two congregations had been on good terms with many members maintaining relationships across both.
“Mount Vernon is not a huge town — I think the population is around 16,000, something like that,” said Ben Driver, who became the preacher for the Newark Road church in August 2015.
“So with two Churches of Christ in town, you run into people. You know people. A lot of people have kind of gone back and forth between the two congregations over the years,” added Driver, who will remain as the preaching minister for the newly merged Mount Vernon church.
Driver explained: “At one point we were talking about our Sunday evening services, and we were trying to think of some different things we could do, just to give us more variety. Someone said, ‘Well, what if we do a combined service with some of the folks at Eastside on occasion?’ And so we started doing that about once a month.”
“It just kind of seemed to be the right thing at the right time.”
Those monthly, combined worship services began in 2018. After a while, members started suggesting combining the two congregations. Each body of believers had an attendance of 40 to 50 people on Sundays, so it just made sense, members and leaders said.
“It just kind of seemed to be the right thing at the right time,” Vaden said. “And everybody was in agreement with it.”
So the congregations made it official. On the special Sunday, the Mount Vernon church had 133 in attendance, with an estimated 50 guests.
Matt Thomas, a former member of the Newark Road church, was the guest speaker. Thomas and his wife, Monica, were members at the church in the early 1990s. Back then, they were starting their family and beginning their journey into ministry.
“Many of those people shaped my faith and influenced my family,” said Thomas, now the minister for the Pickerington Church of Christ in Fairfield, Ohio.
The theme for the event was “A Fresh Start,” according to Thomas. He spoke on the church developing proper character and aligning itself with the mission of Christ — to make disciples as its main work.
He hopes the Mount Vernon church finds its niche in both its character and mission and also in providing inner strength through the common fellowship. He also prays that the congregation proves faithful and fruitful in reaching its small community with the Gospel.
“As they move forward, the young minister, Ben Driver, is very capable,” Thomas said. “He is quite capable of helping them to establish good leadership for the future.”
The church began in 1900 as just a small group of people, Vaden said, and it has continued for more than a century.
“We’ve had a history of both congregations having several preachers come out of it,” Vaden said. “So, even though it didn’t appear that we were doing very much, we really were in the long run. And so, therefore, I think that that will intensify as we go forward as one body.”
She, for one, is excited about the future.
“There’s been no major issues,” she said. “Everything seems to be moving forward beautifully, and everyone seems like one great big family.”
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