As Hoboken Grace celebrated its birthday this past week, the Writing Team sat down with Pastor Chris and his wife, Ana, to talk about some of their favorite memories since launching the church nine years ago.
When Chris and Ana look back, they recall not just specific moments – the first Easter Egg Hunt, the first service at 301 Garden — but also things that happened over several years – watching people grow into leadership roles, seeing prayers answered and dreams fulfilled.
Here are nine things they’re celebrating about the past nine years:
1). Seeing Lives Transformed
For Chris and Ana, much of what makes the past nine years special have been other people’s stories. They think of the people they’ve watched find their way back to God, find community, and even find love.
They think of baptisms, and also weddings. And after nine years, there have been plenty of each.
“It’s always special when Chris gets to marry people who not only have met at Hoboken Grace, but have come to know God at Hoboken Grace,” Ana said. “So you see this transformation of one life … and then you see how it can change multiple generations.”
2). The Moments That Made Them Laugh
“This isn’t one of my favorite memories, but it’s one that makes me laugh,” said Ana. “In the beginning, I was in charge of hospitality, and all the food and drinks and the greeting and setup. And one Sunday I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was doing, but I put out the bread for communion with the little cups.”
Halfway through the service, the entire room started to smell like garlic.
“I realized that I had put out garlic bread instead of regular bread for communion,” Ana said. “So when people started breaking it apart, you could smell it. It was the first time all the communion bread was completely gone.”
3). The Things That Were Totally Unplanned
Some of the most memorable moments are the things that happen that you know you didn’t have anything to do with, says Chris.
“Last Easter, we had decided to do this chalkboard thing onstage – really to save money, so that we weren’t creating new things for every series. We could just draw them on the chalkboard,” he said. “We had no idea that the chalk would glow. We did those eggs on the board and we were like, ‘Oh, that looks good.’ And then we turned out the lights and we were like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ It was the weirdest thing. And it was totally unplanned.”
4). Easter Memories
“Easter is always so special,” said Ana.
That includes Hoboken Grace’s second Easter, which Chris and Ana hoped would be a huge service. They spent weeks planning — while also preparing for the birth of their first son.
“The whole nine months, Chris kept going, ‘Don’t be born on Easter weekend. Don’t be born on Easter weekend,’ Ana said. “And then he was born two weeks early. On Easter.”
Chris’ dad filled in, delivering the sermon that day. But first, Ana says, they had to kick everyone out of the hospital so their family and friends could keep an eye on things at Hoboken Grace.
“We were like, actually, can you go to church?” she said. “That’s our first baby, so we need you to take care of that one and we’ll take care of this one.”
5). Watching Teams Grow and Leaders Develop
Years after family had to fill in the day Caden was born, there’s now a developed team of staff members ensuring everything runs smoothly. None of them were hired from outside the church. In fact, none of them had ever envisioned themselves working in ministry.
Each one of them has grown into their role over the years, Chris says, recalling key moments along the way: there was the first time Nick truly embraced his role leading dinner group leaders; the moment Dana came out of her shell as a worship leader; and the way Anthony grew comfortable communicating God’s word onstage.
Dozens of other people have also taken on leadership roles over the past nine years. Just a few weeks ago, 60 dinner group leaders and coaches came together for a daylong retreat.
Impact teams have also grown over the past few years, so much so that last Easter – one of the most chaotic days of the year – wasn’t stressful for the first time.
“The teams are so strong now. Everybody owns what they do,” Chris said. “So that was really cool to see the development of the teams at that point.”
6). Being Able to Serve the City
One of Chris’ favorite memories is the first Easter Egg Hunt – and seeing how many people made it happen.
“You know what it takes to do it, so you’re really hoping people show up,” he said. “We had over 100 volunteers.”
There’s also a particular 1Day that stands out – when he noticed two years ago how much everyone was enjoying serving the city. “It really felt like the first time they were enjoying loving the community, the way we’d always talked about,” he said.
Even before Hoboken Grace’s first service, Chris and Ana knew they wanted to start a church whose absence would be felt by the community if its doors suddenly closed.
So a few years ago, when the city of Hoboken acknowledged Hoboken Grace with a service award, it was particularly special.
“Getting that from the mayor, essentially the city of Hoboken, awarding Hoboken Grace for its service to the community was just huge,” said Ana.
7). Impacting Entire Families
When Hoboken Grace launched, there were almost no families in attendance – just young professionals who were mostly single. So when the church began holding morning services at 301 Garden in 2009, Ana and Chris thought their son Caden would be the only kid there. Three new families showed up that day, marking the official launch of the kids ministry. (There are now about 130 kids each week.)
Another shift happened a few years later, when the church experienced growth for the first time on Mother’s Day. In past years, most of the young congregation would go home to their family’s church on Mother’s Day. But for the first time, people began sticking around — even inviting their families.
“It was a really special day, because it was the day that we became the family church for Mother’s Day, Easter and the other holidays,” Chris said.
8). Experiencing Community
Another moment that stands out to Ana and Chris was seeing Caden get baptized last year. Part of what made the day special was having so many family members there – and the fact that he was getting baptized in the church they’d started. But it was also the realization that their boys were growing up surrounded by such a loving community.
“There were so many of our friends from Hoboken Grace there, so he felt super loved and super encouraged, and high-fived by a bajillion people,” Ana said. “But beyond realizing that our kids are growing up in a really healthy environment, it’s also an environment that we felt totally okay with inviting so many of our friends outside of Hoboken Grace. So we had so many first-time guests there.”
9). Seeing God at Work Along the Waterfront
When Chris and Ana planted Hoboken Grace, they dreamed of sharing God’s word with not just the city of Hoboken, but the entire waterfront. But for that to happen, they realized, it’s going to take a few churches.
So now that Hoboken Grace is no longer a fledgling church plant, Chris is training a half-dozen other church planters across the waterfront – in Union City, West New York and Jersey City. It’s an opportunity to pass on what he’s learned at Hoboken Grace in the hopes of helping develop more churches.
“It’s kind of the next step in what our dream is,” he said.