The Rev. Paul Cooper of New Life Anglican Church in Mars has been instrumental in planting other churches in Western Pennsylvania. The expansion mission began even before New Life existed. He said the church worked on establishing a new church in Slippery Rock when it was still St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Cranberry Township.
MARS — New Life Anglican Church in Mars serves as more than a church for its 100 congregants. New Life is also an incubator in church-planting efforts across Western Pennsylvania and beyond. In fact, its expansion mission began before New Life itself existed, said its pastor, the Rev. Paul Cooper. Cooper said the church started work on establishing a new church in Slippery Rock when it was St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Cranberry Township. “After a legal dispute between Anglicans and Episcopalians, the former congregation at St. Christopher’s began a new church at a new location. We started fresh under a new name,” said Cooper. The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh split off from the national Episcopal Church over issues of scriptural authority and doctrine. New Life was established in 2010 and meets in the former St. Killian’s Roman Catholic Church at Clark and Cherry streets. “They still own the building, but we use it on Sunday mornings,” said Cooper. “While we were St. Christopher’s, we planted the church at Slippery Rock,” in 2006, said Cooper. He said New Life was also responsible for starting St. Andrew’s Anglican Church College Hill in Beaver Falls. “Subsequently, our church is facilitating the planting of a South Side Anglican Church in Pittsburgh. Technically, it is called a mission fellowship. And we are in the very beginning stages of planting a church in Morgantown, W.Va.,” said Cooper. Starting new churches is part of an Anglican Church initiative called Anglican 1000. The project was started in 2008 with the goal of launching 1,000 new Anglican churches nationwide. “The province has set the ambitious goal of planting 1,000 new congregations before 2015,” said the Rev. David Trautman, the communications director for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. “The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh has committed to planting as many of those thousand as the Lord would call us to plant. And currently we have challenged all of our congregations to consider planting one new congregation in the next two years.” Starting a new church isn’t an exact science, said Cooper. “Many of us came accidentally to it. It’s birthed out of the desire to spread the Gospel in new ways. Statistics show church planting is the best way to get new people,” he said. Cooper, who grew up in Fombell, Beaver County, near Zelienople, said New Life serves as the administrative hub for the new churches. “I work with the people in these locations. I am not the principal church planter, but I am the team leader,” Cooper said. “It gives us a nice team sense that we are all in this together,” he said. “They provide financial support, and they help those church plants get launched by contributing resources, time and people,” said Trautman. The Rev. Ethan Magness, the pastor of Grace Anglican Church, which meets Sunday evenings at Highland Presbyterian Church, 310 Franklin St., Slippery Rock, said the “mother church” provided “prayer, encouragement, sometimes financial aid and even parishioners” at Grace’s beginning. “They were instrumental in helping organize things from the beginning,” said Magness, a Harmony native. “We hit the ground running,” said Magness. “We had a good set of parishioners from the beginning. We grew from eight to 60 in the first year. We have 220 people now.” “There are multiple ways to do it. There is not a one size fits all,” said Cooper on church-planting efforts. “In Slippery Rock, there were people in Grove City commuting to Cranberry Township. There was no local Anglican church. “In Beaver Falls, there was a small church that closed and reopened under a new name with the mission of reaching college students,” Cooper said. He said in the case of the South Side mission, a husband-and-wife team, Sean and Kate Norris, were “parachuted in” to set up a church. “Their mission statement is to reach the wounded and the skeptic,”said Cooper about the South Side mission. “These are people hurt by the church and skeptical of the Gospel. We are going to hit that head-on.” One of the challenges of church planting, Cooper said, is that “the cultural message of the church must be adapted to be heard in our current day and culture.” “Many people are not interested in the Gospel. Our goal is not to shame or judge people but to help them understand what the Gospel is and why they need the Savior,” he said. Cooper noted financial giving to churches is down. “That said, I’m unusually optimistic. I believe the Gospel is free and I believe we can do this work on fewer resources than people think we can,” said Cooper.