They called it a wedding, complete with a nine-month "courtship," but it was actually two Lodi churches coming together as one on Sunday.
Heartland and Crossroads community churches became a single congregation before about 400 well-wishers Sunday at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds.
"This is the craziest wedding I've ever been at," Crossroads Pastor Scott Hubbard told the newly blended congregation Sunday.
The new name is Crossroads/Heartland - Better Together! That will be the official name until the congregation comes up with a new name early next year, said Chris Chavez, Heartland's senior pastor since December 2002.
"We're excited," said Ruth Rowe, who worshipped at Heartland. "The term 'better together' says it all."
Husband Ken Rowe, who served on Heartland's management team, added, "We needed a better facility, which they have. They needed more members, which we have."
Sunday's wedding blended Crossroads 150 members with Heartland's 350. Chavez and Hubbard will be co-pastors. They will attend all four weekend services, at least until the end of the year so that the blended congregation can get used to both pastors.
Starting next week, services will be held at the Crossroads location, 2223 W. Kettleman Lane.
"It's not about two leaders, two churches or two groups of people," Hubbard told the newly blended congregation. "It's about two churches deciding to bring God first and come together. This is about God doing something in our city."
The two pastors had been friends who had been meeting the past couple of years. It was at Panera Bread in January when Chavez popped the question to Hubbard.
"At first, it was such an out-there thought," Hubbard said. "It got serious real fast."
Both pastors developed pluses and minuses to the "wedding" idea. Both were concerned about losing their identity. After all, Heartland has been in Lodi for about 15 years, while Crossroads is five years old.
Before discussing a merger with Hubbard, Chavez said he had three goals: a second pastor for Heartland; have a theological affiliation rather than remain non-denominational; and a permanent home.
Crossroads was a Nazarene church and Crossroads owns its church building and two undeveloped acres on Kettleman Lane. Heartland rents space in a strip center on North Cherokee Lane.
Before merging, Crossroads had to get the Nazarene Church's blessing. Hubbard and Chavez knew all along that they think alike theologically. Hubbard describes the Nazarene faith as in "the same camp as the Baptist Church and the Assemblies of God."
"Nobody from Heartland will see a difference," Hubbard said. "Our mission and values line up."
Although the "wedding" was held Sunday, the two congregations worshipped together for the first time Sept. 28 at Jessie's Grove, where a large barbecue was held after the service.
After a six-member band played a few Christian numbers, Chavez asked the 400 people at the service to greet each other and say, "Welcome to the family."
Noting that they billed Sunday's service as a wedding, Chavez told the new congregation, "I want to pronounce you Crossroads/Heartland - Better Together! Congratulations."
Crossroads/Heartland at a glanceCo-pastors: Chris Chavez and Scott Hubbard.
Location: Services will be at 2223 W. Kettleman Lane, Lodi (Crossroads), while offices will be at 651 N. Cherokee Lane (Heartland).
Service times: Saturdays, 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.; Sundays, 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.
Youth services: Saturday 6:30 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m.
Web site: www.heartlandcc.org. It will be revamped in the near future to include Crossroads.
Source: Crossroads/Heartland - Better Together!
The congregation stood and cheered wildly.
Tower Park resident Dorothy Dutra, who has attended Crossroads for several years, described the merger as "scary."
"I like the friendliness and smallness," Dutra said. "You get to know everybody. The church will get a lot bigger, but I'll get used to it. There are a lot of new faces."
But another Crossroads veteran, Carrie Taylor of Rio Vista, sees the merger differently.
"I love the excitement of it," Taylor said. "More people getting together to worship is awesome."