On Easter Sunday, forty-one-year old Kim Eisert stood in front of the congregation at Covenant Fellowship Presbyterian Church (The Cove) a new church development and 2011 Walton Award winner. As she and twenty other adults were introduced as new members, Eisert found herself reflecting on how her life had changed since she started attending The Cove’s mother church, First Presbyterian in Santa Rosa, Calif.  Although Eisert met Christ in a very “profound and real way” as a teenager, she’d never dreamed she’d be standing in front of a congregation, let alone Presbyterian, as a baptized member.

She had veered away from Christ. She hadn’t lost her faith or doubted what she believed, but she was feeling “stale” and didn’t know how to make a connection to a Christian community so that she could grow in her faith. Searching, Eisert and her husband, Steve, started attending First Pres.  Eventually he became a member, but Kim wasn’t ready to be baptized. “At that point it just wasn’t in my comfort level to stand up in front of church people,” she says. “Part of me was still thinking ‘I accepted Christ,’ that’s good enough.   The church was loving.  It was me: I was struggling.”

But in 2008 things began to change. “Kim’s daughter [Anna] was part of the children’s choir at First Pres., along with my daughter,” says Jeff Johnson, pastor of The Cove which was birthed by First Presbyterian church in 2002, to reach folks like Kim. “Being a new church we were too small to have a children’s choir, but we provided a remote venue where their choir could perform.” Kim came with her family to hear Anna sing, and they’ve been coming ever since.”

“There was something about The Cove that was very reassuring,” says Eisert. “It was a very safe place for me.” After Eisert had been in worship for a year, Johnson approached her about baptism. “It was very emotional for me,” she says, “but he was calm and supportive. While he understood my feelings, he told me I needed to consider baptism as coming full circle in the journey of my faith.”

Johnson talked to Eisert about the two types of baptism – she could be immersed or sprinkled with water. “He told me that the teens that I was going to be baptized with were so excited they wanted full immersion,” she says. “That was amazing to me because it made me remember what I had experienced as a teen. I said, ‘Okay, this is the right church for me.’ Still I chose to be sprinkled.”

Eisert remembers Johnson putting his hand on her back on that Sunday morning in October 2010, then with his other hand putting water atop her head – baptizing her – the water running down her.   “A peace came over me,” she says. “I felt love and compassion and welcome. I think the Spirit of the Lord was definitely there.”

“Kim has been in process in her journey back to faith for some time,” says Johnson. “First Presbyterian had started The Cove because they wanted a faith community that would express worship in new and different ways that would connect with folks like Kim. Because of her relationship with both churches, we got to see again that we can trust in the work of God, in every person’s life, even when we don’t see it, even when it looks dormant for a number of years.

“The General Assembly Mission Council has been incredibly supportive of new church developments all over the country that are innovative and sometimes don’t look like anything that’s ever been done.”

– Jeff Johnson

Now Eisert describes herself as a growing disciple of Jesus Christ. “I’ve never talked more about church. I encourage my friends to come because something good is happening,” she says. Whether it’s feeding somebody in my neighborhood who is hungry through our new food pantry at church, or being a light in my work or home, I am learning how to follow Jesus, showing Christ’s love.”

When Eisert heard The Cove was chosen as exemplary new church development, receiving $50,000 as a Walton Award winner to further Presbyterian mission in their community, she felt a sense of pride. “We take Jesus seriously here, but it gives me comfort too that we are grounded in something really solid, and that the Cove is not some small, independent church,” she says. “The echo of support for our little church is shocking to me. Like a stable family, Presbyterians everywhere have shown us they believe we can grow our church.”

Johnson is also grateful for support of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  In addition to this year’s Walton Award, The Cove received $105,000 from mission program grants in 2004 – paid over six years.  “The General Assembly Mission Council has been incredibly supportive of new church developments all over the country that are innovative and sometimes don’t look like anything that’s ever been done,” he says.  “Thanks to God, through Presbyterian Mission, we’re growing spiritually – as disciples of Jesus.  We’re adding new members, baptizing infants, teens and adults.  We’re becoming a cornerstone in our community.”