Grace Presbyterian Church, a new congregation, forged by the merger of Covenant Presbyterian Church (CPC) and University Presbyterian Church (UPC), was chartered January 8, 2017. The seeds for merging (CPC) and (UPC) were sown over a cup of coffee and a conversation between Reverend Cathy Hoop, minister of University Presbyterian, and Covenant Presbyterian Elder Natalie Adams on February 24, 2015. The original intent of the meeting was to explore the possibilities of offering a joint Summer Experience/Vacation Bible School in summer of 2015. Yet, as God does, the two were led in a very different discussion that focused on the possibility of a merger between the two congregations. In March 2015 both sessions agreed to a joint meeting of the two sessions at a neutral site to explore whether or not such a merger was desirable or feasible. On May 3, 2015 the two sessions met at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse Annex. Also in attendance were Commission on Ministry representatives Reverend Ben Acton, COM liaison to CPC, and Claire Nichols, COM liaison to UPC. The bulk of the meeting was devoted to getting to know each other as individuals and to learn more about each other’s goals and missions. Frank discussions were held about what would be gained by such a merger and what would be lost. The utmost concern expressed by UPC was whether or not CPC members would be welcoming of LGBTQ+ worshippers. In this meeting, the two congregations jokingly began using the language of dating and marriage. At the end of the meeting, they decided that we wanted to “go on another date” and agreed to have another meeting to discuss further the possible merger. Both congregations also agreed to start planning some events and missions together.
From June to December 2015 multiple combined fellowship events, worship services, and committee/Session meetings were held. From the meetings came the decision to form an Exploratory Committee comprised of members from both congregations to explore more intentionally the possibility of a merger.
Throughout 2016 the merger conversation moved several steps forward: we began worshipping together on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month – meeting at CPC on the first Sunday and UPC on the third Sunday that was followed by either coffee or lunch. We also decided that Revered Hoop should preach at CPC so that both congregations could get accustomed to her being in the pulpit. The Exploratory Committee met monthly, and each of the congregations held several meetings for their members to talk about the merger. This time of information-gathering and frank discussions was an important stage as the two churches had to prayerfully consider what God was calling them to do and how to abide by God’s call, knowing the frailties, vulnerabilities, fears, and flaws inherent in human beings.
April 19, 2016, the Exploratory Committee wrote the following resolution and presented it to the congregations on June 12, 2016 for vote:
Be it hereby resolved that Covenant Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, AL merge with University Presbyterian Church in Tuscaloosa, AL to operate as a new church with a new name at the location of 113 Hargrove Drive, Tuscaloosa, A: 35401. Be it further resolved that the Session at Covenant Presbyterian Church/University Presbyterian appoint 4 members to serve on a steering committee with 4 members selected by the session of University Presbyterian Church/Covenant Presbyterian to create a Plan of Union that will guide the two congregations through the merger process. The vote from both congregations was overwhelmingly in favor of the merger. Our dating days were over, and we now entered the engagement phase of our relationship. This was a joyful time of praise as we looked to the future while simultaneously a bittersweet time as each of the congregations recognized the passing of its church in its former state.
In June 2016, each Session appointed 4 people to serve on the Merger Steering Committee (MSC), that was charged with crafting a Plan of Union to facilitate the actual merger, including naming the new church. On August 25, 2016 the MSC met and decided, based on the votes from both congregations, that Grace Presbyterian Church would be the name of our new merged church. Late October, 2016 was set as the deadline for the completed Plan of Union.
October was a busy month as we held several worship services to celebrate what was and is to come. On Sunday, October 9, University Presbyterian celebrated its 50th Anniversary. On Sunday, October 16, we held a reception after church to honor the work and leadership of CPC’s Temporary Supply Pastor, Dr. Neil McCarter. On Sunday, October 23, CPC held its final service during the worship hour, and UPC held its final service later that day. Also, on October 23 copies of the Plan of Union and the terms of call for Reverend Hoop were distributed after the morning service.
On October 30, we worshipped together and then held separate congregational meetings. Both congregations remained in the sanctuary for discussion of the Plan of Union. After the discussion, the two congregations met separately (CPC in the sanctuary and UPC in the fellowship hall) to vote on the Plan of Union. After the vote we then met together in the sanctuary for prayer. We were now unofficially Grace Presbyterian Church. Rev. Jay Wilkins, Transitional Presbyter for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, presented the Charter during 11:00 worship and officially pronounced us a congregation. The new elders of Grace Presbyterian were also ordained and/or installed for service. After worship a brief congregational meeting was held to approve Rev. Cathy Caldwell Hoop’s terms of call as pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church.
Grace Presbyterian Church joyfully announced the installation of its first minister, Rev. Cathy Caldwell Hoop, Sunday, February, 12, 2017. Rev. Cathy Hoop’s installation marked the grand finale of a merger process that began over two years before when Covenant and University Presbyterian members began a conversation to answer the question, “Can we be stronger together?”
Today, less than two years later, the beginnings of this church are still being written as the new Grace Vision Task Forced, commissioned May 27, 2018 prayerfully considers ways for us to live out our mission, “Celebrating Christ’s universal love, we seek to do justice, embrace kindness, and walk humbly with God.”