There is so much history in our fellowship. Amazing history. Looking back on our history enables us to understand ourselves better, especially as we look to the future. I wonder if many of our younger members have ever heard of Barton W. Stone, Alexander Campbell, the Crossroads Church of Christ – or what a little 30-page article titled “Honest to God” written by Henry Kriete ignited within our churches back in 2003? Our history. Some good. Some bad. But our history enables us to look within ourselves to determine what kind of church we want to be moving forward.
I was baptized in Athens, Georgia, in the campus ministry at the University of Georgia on May 1, 1994. When I first met Sam Laing, I was excited to hear about his early days as a campus minister at the University of Florida. I was so inspired by what I was told that day…how God used Gainesville and the Crossroads Church of Christ to ignite a movement that would one day change my life forever! Although I was inspired, it was still the University of Florida…home of the Florida Gators. As a Georgia Bulldog, that’s one place I’d never want to go! God has a sense of humor.
In October 2012, while leading the Clemson Foothills Church in Clemson, South Carolina, I was visited by John Porter from the South Florida Church. John explained that the church in Gainesville was looking for a minister. He asked if I’d be interested in talking to them. Without hesitation, I responded, “NO.” I told John that I was super grateful that he thought of me and Stacey but that we were comfortable right where we were in Clemson. Later that evening I told Stacey about the conversation. “Jarrod, what if God wants us to look through this door? What if we’re supposed to go? You told him we were comfortable? What were you thinking?” Her questions prompted me to call John back that evening. I apologized for shutting him down and told him that we’d be very open to talking. A few days later Sam Laing called me, encouraging me to talk to Gainesville.
Less than a year later, we had a Gainesville, Florida, address.
Stacey and I both felt compelled to move to Gainesville to lead the church, but at the time I couldn’t completely see why. We loved our brothers and sisters in Clemson but we felt pulled to be in Gainesville. Stacey’s parents, John and Lois Schmitt, were converted at Crossroads back in the late ‘70s. Stacey grew up there and felt spiritually indebted. For me, I just knew in my heart that Gainesville was where we needed to go. So we did. Not for one minute have we ever regretted that decision.
In moving to Gainesville, I was inspired by and curious about the Crossroads ministry during the ‘70s and ‘80s. I reached out to the minister of the old Crossroads church, now called Campus Church of Christ. Over breakfast, we had a good talk, but it became clear over time that the minister wasn’t that interested in furthering or strengthening our connection. I was disappointed, but I began to pray that God would open doors.
A few years later, I thought that I would try to connect with the Campus Church through some cherished friendships. My mother-in-law had authored a children’s book in the 1970s with Joyce Price, now a CampusChurch elder’s wife. I learned that another elder’s wife, Barbara Brunson, is Jeanie Shaw’s sister (Jeanie is a ministry leader in the Boston Church). So, Stacey and I invited both the elders and their wives over for dinner on two separate occasions. We had such a great time that Jimmie Brunson and I decided to meet every Wednesday morning to talk and pray, getting to know one another better.
Before our first meeting, I called Wyndham Shaw in Boston to get his thoughts about his brother-in-law, Jimmie. I asked how I might approach this new relationship. I am so grateful for Wyndham’s input and guidance. His deep love and respect for Jimmie and barbara helped me to recognize the kind of heart I’d be connecting with in my relationship with Jimmie. In that first year, mutual trust and respect fostered a deep friendship. Soon, our breakfast times included Don. We began talking about “What if…” What if your churches began doing some things together? What if we could, somehow, someway, work toward becoming one church?
Our Gainesville Christian Church elders, Randy Scott and Alan Henry had their spiritual roots in the Crossroads Church but ultimately found themselves serving in various ways in the International Churches of Christ. For years, the leadership of both churches discussed a possible merger, but the timing wasn’t right and hearts were not ready. But they never gave up hope of the possibility. In the spring of 2017, Sam Laing and JP Tynes traveled to Gainesville to talk with both leadership groups. That July, the brothers and sisters of both the Gainesville Christian Church and the Campus Church of Christ met at the old Crossroads building on Second Avenue and worshiped together for the first time ever! And for the first time in over 30 years, Sam Laing preached the Word in that building. What a powerful service! Jimmie and Barbara began joining our Florida Regional Leadership Retreats, reconnecting with so many folks who had come out of Gainesville during the old Crossroads days. The elders from both congregations began to talk more regularly and I continued to get with Jimmie and Don on Wednesdays.
In late fall of 2017, JP Tynes stepped down from leading the Orlando Church of Christ, deciding to retire in Gainesville. In moving back to Gainesville, JP and his wife, Pat, were returning to their spiritual roots. Both became Christians in Gainesville and JP was the first campus minister trained and sent out from the Fourteenth Street Church of Christ, (which became Crossroads) in 1972! But God was not ready for JP to retire. Soon JP began joining me, Jimmie, and Don for our Wednesday morning breakfasts. I could not believe how many doors God opened and how many prayers he answered.
Within a couple of months, Jimmie and Don let go of their current minister and hired JP to be their interim minister beginning in January 2018. Then the leadership of both groups began meeting regularly. JP, Kyle Eastman (evangelist and Campus minster at the Gainesville Christian Church), and I carefully considered what both leadership groups needed to agree upon in order for our two churches to become one; after that, we could begin talking about whether or not merging would truly be in the best interest of both congregations. In time, we unanimously agreed that it was.
In spring 2018, many prayers and discussions ensued about the details of merging. In taking many faithful steps, the leadership of both congregations made an ecclesiastical decision to merge during the summer. In late September and early October, both congregations took a member vote on merging and 98% of both groups were in favor.
It was really happening! The Gainesville Christian Church and the Campus Church of Christ would become ONE. So many prayers were answered…so many old relationships were rekindled and brought back together after having been divided for so long. And on October 14, 2018, the Gainesville Christian Church and the Campus Church of Christ met at the old building on Second Avenue for the first time as one fellowship…one church.
This was the first big step…there is still so much to do in bringing our two church cultures together under one roof, but we are so excited to see what God is going to do with all of us. Next, our goal is to rebrand as one church and come up with a new name. We want to dream together about how we might reach Gainesville – the students at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, the neighborhoods, and the surrounding areas. I am so proud of my brothers who have diligently and faithfully worked together to get us to this place: Jimmie, Don, JP, Randy, Alan, and Kyle. The humility, the love for God, and the love for his church is an upward call.
Please keep Gainesville in your prayers. It is our vision to have a homecoming celebration sometime in 2019. We would love for our brothers and sisters from all over the world who were at one time part of the Crossroads Church of Christ, the Campus Church of Christ, and the Gainesville Christian Church to come and celebrate what God has done and will continue to do!