From its humble beginnings meeting at Riverside Public School on Oct. 5, 1975, to now a congregation of 1,000, Woodside Bible Fellowship has plenty to celebrate on its 40th anniversary this Sunday.
“We’re looking back to the past with gratitude for all the people that have made sacrifices to make Woodside what it is today. It’s a day as well where we’re looking ahead to the future with expectancy and just to continue the mission of the church,” senior pastor Dan Allen said.
A group from Wallenstein Bible Chapel who lived in Elmira decided to start holding church in Elmira in 1975. From there, they built a church on the corner of Arthur and Whippoorwill. Soon, they needed more space and built the current church on Barnswallow Drive in 1989, followed by the addition in 2010.
“Seeing how Elmira has grown and changed and evolved, there are a lot more people here. And when I look at Woodside, having grown up here and seen all the changes, how things have grown and how we do things differently, I just feel there’s very much a parallel,” executive director Jeremy Malloy said.
Looking ahead, they see Elmira poised for another big growth spurt with the new housing developments, which may see all churches in the area experience growth. He says they’ll need to be prepared, which could mean expanding the building again, including more service times, or another creative option.“This is a community with many churches and there are a number of churches in our community doing so many good things. So we’re just a part of a broader church,” Allen explained.
As can be expected, the church has seen extensive changes over the past four decades. Music during church service has come a long way from the days of just a capella singing. It progressed to piano, then organ, then the addition of guitars and drums, and now it’s a full band.
“One of the things we feel really blessed about is as the changes happened over 40 years, we haven’t met a lot of resistance to that. The people here have been very understanding of there are many things that are a lot more important than what your personal preference is of how you do church,” Malloy said.
He notes there’s a feeling of unity within the church, from children to seniors, which can sometimes be a challenge for churches.
Allen emphasizes the church continues to be intergenerational. A lot of their ministries are built around younger families, with a children’s ministry, a youth ministry, but also a senior’s ministry.
“To see a 17-year-old trying to mentor and help a seven-year-old, who at the same time knows a 77-year-old and is gleaning wisdom and counsel from them … just seeing so many young people is so encouraging,” Allen said.
And the church’s young people are certainly putting their knowledge to good use. They’re on mission trips in Nigeria, the DRC, Colombia, and Malaysia. The church also works with a church and a camp in Ecuador, refugee housing in Austria, and ministries involving street kids.
It’s equally important for them to be doing good in their own community too.
“So many of our people are integrated into the community. They’re out in the community, working, playing, serving. But as well at Woodside we want to be a welcoming community where everybody’s welcome here,” Allen said.
The addition of the gym has given them the ability to provide a safe place for youth to hang out and also reach out further to the community, hosting floor hockey with the Sugar Kings and people with special needs, and partnering with Elmira District Community Living for Special Olympics.
It’s also exciting for the church to see increasingly more people coming to the church who aren’t sure what they believe, maybe they didn’t grow up going to church, but they’re curious about what Woodside has to offer. Allen says their mission is to share Jesus Christ’s message and to help others live out their faith.
At the celebratory service on Sunday, church members will share some of the values that have remained the same over the 40 years, to remind people of its mission. They’ll also sing songs from different eras, and recognize the changes, Allen said.
The people who were at that inaugural service some 40 years ago, never imagined it would have grown to this size, he adds.
“Forty years ago when we first met, we didn’t ask them to turn on their electronic device to look at today’s scripture, but yet that mission has been the same and just trying to make a difference in the community and in the world,” Allen said.
The church’s message is an everyday part of their lives, and not just something they practice on Sundays, Malloy says. With numerous parenting, marriage, family, and children’s activities, they’re looking forward to watching the next generation of the church grow and continue their missions.
“When we think of how many people call this church their home and the positive effect we have on them, that extends out in the community, whether that’s in their workplaces, whether they’re coaching a hockey team or just cheering on as a fan or whether they’re interacting at the park. We see that positive influence flowing out of the people and it’s people living their faith in everyday life,” Malloy said.
The 40th anniversary services will be September 20 at 9:15 a.m. and 11 a.m.