Editor’s note: This is the 20th in a series of stories about congregations engaged in significant outreach and evangelism ministries, reflecting the General Assembly’s commitment to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.” ― Jerry L. Van Marter

When Nathan Roe Dorner was baptized on Sunday, May 3, he wasn’t the only one to experience rebirth and new life in Christ. Standing with him at the threshold of renewal were four generations of Dorners, together with the whole of the Starmount Presbyterian Church family.

As the first child to be united with the church in Starmount’s newly revitalized sanctuary on its Rededication and Homecoming Sunday, Nathan’s baptism marked the ending and the beginning of a long journey for both child and church.

In fact, when Nathan’s great-grandmother, Clara Jane Dorner, first arrived here with her husband, Frank, in 1957, Starmount was a new church development with only a modest chapel and no grand worship space. The elder Dorners, after initially joining First Presbyterian Church, did not call Starmount their church home until their son, Frank, Jr., and daughter-in-law, Ann, first discovered and invited them to the congregation’s new sanctuary in the early 1970s.
“The first Sunday that we visited Starmount, we were hooked,” Ann Dorner said. “The next month, we were already working with the youth program. From the very beginning, it was a family, the kind of church where you knew everybody and everybody knew each other.”

The extended Dorner family was attracted to Starmount by the unique warmth of the church’s members and staff. But they, like many members, found that the worship space, with its poor seating, sight lines and uninviting color scheme did little to enhance the congregation’s overall appeal.

When Starmount’s current pastor, the Rev. John L. Odom, announced early last year that the church leadership had decided to embark upon a major capital campaign to renovate the sanctuary, the Dorners stood in full support.

“We saw that it was intended by God,” Ann Dorner said. “It was needed for our church to continue to grow.”

Undergirded by the faith and support of families like the Dorners, the church’s ambitious fundraising campaign — called Faithfulness to All Generations — was successful in raising nearly $1 million for both the sanctuary’s revitalization and the hiring of a new minister of outreach, a position filled May 4 by the Rev. Laurie Valentine. The campaign attested to God’s abundance even in bleak economic times.

“Proclaiming God’s ‘Faithfulness to All Generations’ is our response and our responsibility for a faithful future at Starmount Presbyterian Church,” Odom said. “We are following in the footsteps of this church’s bold leaders of the past. They stepped up and stepped out, sharing the steadfast love of the Lord with generations here in Greensboro. Today, our call is to respond to this very same God who has continuously and benevolently blessed us.”

In designing and implementing Starmount’s 2008 capital campaign, Odom and the Faithfulness to All Generations committee followed the call to Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide, a churchwide initiative adopted by the 218th General Assembly that invites all Presbyterians to work collaboratively to grow the church through evangelism, discipleship, diversity and servanthood.

“Growing Starmount deep and wide begins with the completion and dedication of our newly revitalized worship space, which is often the first point of contact that potential members have with a church,” Odom said. “Growing the church in numbers and diversity will then build through the work of our new minister of outreach, while new programming will aim at growing our current membership in faith and discipleship. It’s a win-win to the glory of God.”

The renovated sanctuary was rededicated during worship on May 3. After, a time capsule that was placed behind the sanctuary corner stone in 1969 was opened, its contents revealed and then supplemented by members of the congregation with items that evoke 2009.

Throughout the revitalization process, Odom has enjoyed hearing church members speculate as to what the time capsule might contain.

“I love the element of surprise,” he said.

With Starmount’s up-to-date worship space and in its renewed commitment to community outreach, the Dorners have great hope in the church’s future and in its ability to attract new members.

“You can already feel the difference in the way people are responding,” said Frank Dorner, Jr.  “There’s a real feeling of optimism now.”

That positive outlook is shared by Nathan’s parents, Daniel and Nadine Dorner, who, like Daniel’s parents, now serve as volunteer leaders with Starmount’s middle school youth program.

“When I first walked in to Starmount, I was warmly welcomed,” said Nadine Dorner, who had little previous church involvement. “Now I’m excited that our son will grow up in this church and do what his dad did.”

“It’s really cool to see all the new babies coming into the church right now,” Daniel Dorner said. “I know that our new church and all of the new stuff will keep them here, giving Nate a great group of kids to grow with and to play with.  We’re definitely excited to keep going to see where it all leads us.”

Emily Enders Odom is an associate for mission communications based in Greensboro, NC. She is married to the Rev. John L. Odom of Starmount Presbyterian Church. This story was also published in the Greensboro (NC) News and Record on May 2, 2009.