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So after several years, the congregation set out to find a new home, and in 2009, DiVietro, who took charge of the church in 2004, applied for the opening at Grace Baptist, offering to bring the congregation Omega Constellation Automatic Chronometer Officially Certified Gold
"I'd like to welcome you this morning," DiVietro said Sunday, greeting the congregation, "to the first meeting of the Omega Speedmaster 57 Wrist
"We're back to how it used to be, with the music and the children," Mary Johnson, a Merrimack resident and 30 year Grace congregant, said of the band. "There's so much energy around this church. We're back where we should be."
In Merrimack, attendance at the Grace church, founded in 1974, had dwindled to 30 or below after Rev. John Schmitke left in 2007, leaving the church without a regular pastor, congregants said this week.
Sunday's Mass capped off a long and tumultuous few years for the two congregations, which each found a number of roadblocks on the path to each other.
Meanwhile, the Heritage church had gone through a number of leaders and tried several different locations before it found space in a converted boat store in Hooksett.
The transition hasn't always been smooth, DiVietro said last week.
"Even though we've known it was going to happen, it's a relief to have (the merger) done. .. It's like one of our church elders said, 'Now that it's finished, it really begins.'"
At the newly crowned Bedford Road Baptist Church, the phrase, posted on the front lawn sign, is more of an invitation than a motto.
the new Bedford Road name.
In the year to come, congregants plan to further extend the church into the community, holding concerts and other community events, they said. They want to bring prayer groups, which currently meet at congregants' homes, to the church, and perhaps launch knitting groups, among other activities, DiVietro said.
"That's right," DiVietro responded with a broad smile. "We're in the process of getting a new sign, getting new letterhead. But we're excited to be here together this morning.
"There are new people coming in now that don't know we were ever (separate)," he said. "To them, we're just one church. And that's what it feels like to us.
"There were some questions at first," said Donald Busch, a church elder who headed Grace's pastoral search committee at the time. "There's always concern that the (Grace) congregation is going to look at it as their church. Or (Heritage) is going to look at it as their pastor. .. But it really didn't work like that. It's been a great fit."
Nearly a year after first meeting, the two congregations formally approved the merger last week, and they held their first official service Sunday under Omega Watches Geneva
The building, the former home of the Grace Baptist Church, has seen some dramatic changes in the past year. In addition to the new name, it has welcomed a new congregation from the former Heritage Baptist Church in Manchester. Through all the changes, the church's mission has stayed the same, according to Pastor Erik DiVietro. And this has provided the base for the new church as it has grown and evolved.
Congregation has first mass together
While congregants share a common vision for the church, they don't always see eye to eye on its daily operations, he said clashing at times over Omega Speedmaster Vintage Black business or music, among other elements, DiVietro said.
One family, from Candia, has left the church due to the distance, but together, the congregations have grown to about 140 up from Grace's 30 and Heritage's 60 before the merger, DiVietro said.
They've reshaped the youth ministry, painting the walls of the church classrooms to provide a more intimate feel, and they've refigured the sanctuary sound system to accommodate the new band, made up of both Grace and Heritage congregants.
"Bedford Road Baptist Church," a chorus of energized congregants shouted in response.
"It's like if one family moved in with the other, there's this 'who's in the bathroom now?' kind of thing."
"We're still trying to figure out who does certain things," he said with a laugh. "Who does the collections? Who's going to play the guitar?
MERRIMACK "New Name, Same God."
In their year together, the two congregations have moved past their differences to grow their new church, congregants said.
A four piece band, including a drummer, two guitarists and a vocalist, led the congregation Sunday in several spirited singalongs.
The limited space, which shared a bathroom with a neighboring pizza parlor, couldn't contain the congregation's growing numbers, said Debbie Goupil, a congregant from Manchester. "We made the best of it, but it didn't always have the feel of a church," she said.
"We had lost a lot of people," said Sean Donahue, head of the church youth group, who had attended Grace Baptist for 15 years before the merger. "It was a pretty tough time.
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