Paint was still being rolled onto the walls inside Crossroads Christian Ministry as Pastor Mack Granderson showed me around. It was a fresh white coat that would welcome churchgoers into the space, newly claimed by the congregation.
Granderson proudly walked me through the meeting rooms, sanctuary, the spacious fellowship hall and a room that would become the library. There was still work to be done—there was even talk of knocking down walls for more space. But Granderson and fellow pastor Martin Romain kept saying how perfect the building was.
“God has provided for us,” Romain said. “This is what we deserve after everything we’ve been through.”
In September, I wrote a story on the 10 United Methodist Churches in Harrisburg that were forced to close over two years ago by the local oversight body, the Susquehanna United Methodist Conference. I talked to pastors and congregants of churches that were shut down and how they’ve fared since. In the story, Granderson and Romain shared their experience—the loss of their church, formerly Derry Street UMC in Allison Hill, in the name of consolidation.
It was a time, they said, full of pain and closed doors. They had to leave the neighborhood they were rooted in, and Granderson was even stripped of his license as a UMC pastor.
However, the pastors also shared hope. They expressed gratitude to The Rock Church in Harrisburg for allowing them to share building space while they searched for a new home. When COVID hit, they found joy in meeting for services outside or online. For as many doors that were closed, Granderson and Romain found others that were opened.
And one of those doors just happened to be the entrance to an old Masonic lodge just outside the city in Oberlin, a community in Swatara Township. With a fresh coat of white paint on the walls, this would be their new church home.
“It felt like we were the Israelites in the wilderness,” Granderson said. “But, guess what? Canaan—it’s here.”
Crossroads pastors and members gathered on a Sunday morning in October for their first service in their new building on Harrisburg Street, near the Harrisburg Mall.
Unlike Canaan, the building wasn’t flowing with milk and honey when congregants arrived, but it did have plenty of off-street parking, which may be the modern equivalent for people used to fighting for spots at the former city locations. The pastors pointed that out a few times—50 spots and room for more on the acre of land that came with the building.
Granderson preached the sermon that first morning. It was about Crossroads’ story and everything that changed over the past few years, about how they made it to where they sat now. It was less about the loss and more about the restoration, Granderson said. The message elicited lots of tears. It was needed.
“For everything that’s been taken away from us, I don’t know if there’s anything that can make up for what we’ve gone through,” Romain said. “They can’t repay us, but what we can do is forgive. That was just a part of our journey. Now, we can let that go and move forward.”
They don’t really have an option as their congregation is growing fast. They’re busy. Sundays average anywhere from 100 to 150 attendees, a number that they haven’t seen since their days on Derry Street, before the closure and pandemic.
It’s a diverse group. Some people who attended Crossroads have stuck around, making the drive out of the city to the new location. Others come from Enola, Middletown, Linglestown and other surrounding areas. Still others join their streamed service online, even people from out of state. And then there are neighbors of their new Oberlin location who have come in to check it out.
It’s a racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse assortment of members—who all are welcome, Romain said. Services are in English and Spanish, something they’re proud to provide.
“The Bible is clear when it teaches that we are to treat everyone with love and kindness,” Granderson said.
Harrisburg resident Cheryl Allen attended Derry Street Church, and later Crossroads, for about 47 years. There are a few other people who have been there as long, she said, some possibly longer.
She remembers when they got news that Derry Street would close. It was difficult.
“I still miss Derry Street. It was a beautiful building,” she said. “But it was more important to keep the family together.”
This family-like bond has been the church’s not-so-secret weapon, the thing that has kept Allen and others, she believes, around through the closure and the pandemic. The diversity of the members only makes the body stronger, in Allen’s opinion.
“We are one big family,” she said. “I love everybody.”
Allen is “thrilled” to be in the new location. She loved the Derry Street church, but doesn’t let the forced exit bother her anymore. Her family is intact—that’s all that matters.
The pastors echoed that sentiment, expressing a renewed realization that a building can’t be their foundation, lest it get pulled out from under them.
“People—that has become the centerpiece of my focus, not things,” Romain said. “Because things are temporary. Our true ministry isn’t the carpet, the paint, the walls or the ceiling. It’s the people—and that hasn’t changed.”
“All of this stuff could disappear, and we would still have a church,” Granderson added. “How do we know? Because we’ve been through it.”
When Crossroads was located in Allison Hill, community outreach was a huge part of their mission. They haven’t forgotten that neighborhood. Granderson assured me that they would still be making connections there. But he’s excited to reach the church’s new neighborhood in Oberlin, too.
“We are going to blanket this community,” Granderson said. “We are going to let people know who we are and what we are about. If you want to be a part of it, you are welcome, no matter who you are.”
Crossroads Christian Ministry is located at 350 N. Harrisburg St., Oberlin. For more information, visit www.thecrossroadsministries.org.
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