My personal history with Northland Church began 42 years ago when I attended the Northland Barn Dance, a church-wide square dance, with friends. It was there that I first met JT, my future husband, who had been attending Northland for several years. He had been sent by his pastor from a different church to help a new nondenominational church start a singles ministry. By the time I began attending, Northland had graduated from meeting in the library of English Estates Elementary School and had grown to 125 people meeting in the school’s cafeteria. Northland was truly a community church, with high involvement and participation from all who attended. Each week, all the equipment to be used in the service had to be unloaded from a storage trailer, tables had to be taken down, chairs set up for the service, the piano lowered from the stage, and Thom Willis’ drums set up to be used for worship. Of course, it all had to be reversed after church. Thankfully, there were teachers who voluntarily offered their classrooms to be used for children’s classes.
What I remember most about those early days at Northland is that regardless of what church background you might have come from, or whether you were unchurched, curious, or a new believer, the church was a place of hearing the truth of God’s Word, learning how to live it and apply it to your everyday life, and sharing what you learned with others. It was a place where discipleship was part of your life, whether you were learning what that meant, how to live it out, or how to pour into the lives of others. Small groups were an essential part of growing in faith and community with each other. We formed lifelong friendships, benefited from people teaching and pouring out their lives into us, and grew in our faith. We had the opportunity to both be discipled and to disciple others as well as to be mentored and mentor others in learning to live out our faith in Jesus through the power of his Holy Spirit.
As people served others and invited them to “Come and See,” the church grew both numerically and spiritually. Due to the exponential growth, we eventually outgrew the space needed to serve both adults and children. The decision was made to begin looking for a space to purchase and that search led to a run-down roller skating rink in Longwood. I remember skating there as a 12-year-old. Not too much had changed when the church bought it. The strobe light still hung from the center of the Rink and the old carpet still remained. Thankfully, there were people ready to tackle the renovations and begin the slow transformation and hard work of turning The Rink into a place of worship. However, the change in location also brought to light differences in what people felt God was calling them to do. Our Pastor felt called to lead a smaller group of people and congregation so Orlando Community Church was formed. Many who shared that view and calling left to be part of beginning that new church.
It was hard to have friends and people we had become close to no longer be a part of our church life. Everything felt unsettled. As others left to attend other churches, I remember struggling with the changes. JT and I prayed and talked about what we should do; both of us sensed God had called us to stay. There was a scripture from Isaiah 43:18-19 that God used to encourage me during that time:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
But I wasn’t alone in God impressing that particular scripture on me. The next Sunday, our Co-Pastor shared that God had been impressing Isaiah 43:18-19 on him and his wife and they sensed God calling them to Washington, DC. While it was affirming that God was speaking, it was not the application I thought He was conveying to me! Now we had an old roller skating rink, a smaller group of attendees, and both of our pastors being called elsewhere. Another scripture from Isaiah was being taught in real-time:
Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
As only God can orchestrate, the Pastor Search Committee that had been established recommended Pastor Joel Hunter to the Governing elders to become the next Lead Pastor of Northland Community Church. It was during one of his first Sundays preaching that Pastor Joel shared how God had begun stirring his heart months before the Search Committee first talked with him and one of the passages of scripture God used was from Isaiah 43:18-19. When I heard him read the same passage God used to encourage us to stay, to encourage our Co-Pastor to go, and to encourage Pastor Joel to come, it was such a faith-building time in my life. I had a much more real sense of what the faithfulness of God looked like in my life, in our church, and in the Kingdom.
Over the next several years, we had the privilege of seeing what new things God was creating within the body at Northland. Small groups continued to be a place to grow in studying the Word of God and living in community and fellowship with others. As our children began to reach the preschool years, a group of us moms got together and began a preschool setting where our children could play, learn about God’s love, and offer support and encouragement to the moms themselves. Since each mom needed to help in creating as well as implementing this start-up preschool, we called it the Northland Co-op. Our first day, we had two classes with 8 children each. We never dreamed how it would grow, become a place to invite neighbors to join with us, and provide lifelong friendships for both the children and the parents.
It was also during those early years that one of the first Bible studies for women was offered in the Rink. I remember showing up to find I was the only attendee and my teacher was one of the Elder’s wives. I assumed we would not be meeting; I assumed wrong. She faithfully taught, mentored, and listened to me over the next 10 weeks. It was a transformative time in my life. It also was a beautiful model lived out for me in how to mentor others. Sometime later, another elder’s wife came to me and asked me if I would consider leading a Bible study and support group for the moms involved in the CoOp. My love for studying God’s Word and total dependence on Him to lead me as I led the group was another faith-building time in my life. Little did I know that it would be the first of many women’s Bible studies I would both attend and have the opportunity to facilitate over the years to come. Presently, I have the privilege of facilitating The Women’s Bible Study at Northland along with 16 other facilitators. I love each and every lady that comes. We grow in our knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, we pray for each other, we laugh together and we share in the tears and sorrows as well. Nothing brings me greater joy than the time spent Monday mornings and Tuesday evenings with these women in God’s Word.
I have also been able to experience the joy of being a part of the Flourish mentoring and discipleship journey. God is at work teaching us both as we meet one on one. I would highly recommend Flourish to any woman who desires to grow in her faith whether it is to be a mentor or to be mentored.
JT and I often reflect on the journey of our lives and how Northland and the people we have met and shared life with along the way have been used by God in countless ways in our lives and the lives of our three children as they grew up. It is such a joy to now have our oldest grandson attending the Co-Op. Even as we find that once again, Northland is searching for our next Lead Pastor, I have the assurance that God is again “doing a new thing.” Having the privilege of being a part of the Pastoral Search Committee has allowed me to see Him at work in the lives of His people, to experience His presence in the prayers of those seeking His will, and the incredible faithfulness He assures us of that He will Shepherd His people and care for His sheep at Northland Church. His Story continues and it is being part of that History that is both humbling and amazing.