Grace Bible Church is one of the non-denominational churches in Shelton, and it has a strong message.
“We believe God has a hope and purpose for each individual,” said Richard Lynn, pastor of the church at 269 Coram Ave., across from City Hall. “The Bible is at the forefront of our teaching,” Lynn said.
Pastor Lou Santoro started Grace Bible Church in Derby, but it’s been a part of Shelton’s landscape for 23 years.
Originally located in a Howe Avenue storefront, Grace Bible bought the 130-year-old Shelton Congregational Church on Coram Avenue three years ago, about the time Lynn took over as pastor at Santoro’s request.
Born and raised in West Haven, Lynn was “a regular Jew and bar mitzvahed,” later becoming a messianic Jew. “Messianic Jews believe Jesus is the messiah of Israel,” he said.
‘I gave my life to Jesus Christ’
Eventually, Lynn’s spiritual path led him to the Church on the Rock in New Haven, and he describes himself as having “a Pentecostal background. At age 26, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.”
After attending several Bible colleges, he served as a minister at Church on the Rock and later as an associate pastor and youth pastor in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He earned a doctorate degree in theological studies.
He and his wife Mary are the parents of son Dylan, 19.
Mary Lynn helps her husband conduct Sunday services at 10 a.m. that consist of worship, a message, prayers, an offering, and a good deal of music.
“We sing songs, modern contemporary Christian songs and mix in a few hymns,” Richard Lynn said. “I lead the music here. I make a joyful noise unto the Lord.
“We’re in the process of looking for a worship leader,” he said, to help with the services.
Mary Lynn also leads the women’s ministry group that meets each month for a breakfast and a message, and there’s a women’s tea in the spring.
The men in the church help with cleanup chores. The church building “needs a lot of work,” Lynn said, and the membership is saving money to make repairs. “There’s a long way to go,” he said.
Seeking younger members
Grace Bible Church has about 30 members, who hail from Shelton, Ansonia, Derby, Seymour, and New Haven.
Most congregation members are senior citizens, but younger people, especially in their 40s, are starting to attend. “We’re looking for members of all ages,” Lynn said.
People find the church through word of mouth, the church website (www.gracebiblechurchsheltonct.com), and by attending coffee houses that take place on the third Saturday of the month from 6-9 p.m.
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Between 30 and 40 people attend the coffee house outreach events that feature performances by musical groups playing a range of songs from Christian jazz to country.
“We’ve had some success,” Lynn said, attracting new members from the coffee houses. “Music is very important to the message of salvation.”
An offering is taken for the musicians, refreshments are provided and there’s a “salvation call” at the end of the evening.
‘A process of salvation’
“We’ve seen people give their lives to the Lord,” he said, and they include Lynn’s mother Sylvia, who “came to know Jesus” and now attends the church.
Some who are “called” may choose not to attend the Shelton church. “We give them a Bible and direct them to a Bible church,” Lynn said.
A central message of Grace Bible Church is that “Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised again,” he said. “When we trust in him with all of our heart, a process of salvation begins. It’s a long walk with him from that point forward.”
Promoting the message
Lynn records many of his messages on CDs that are offered free of charge or with an optional donation.
Two movie nights replace the coffee houses during the winter. There’s also a Christmas caroling night in December. An hour-long worship service is conducted on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., with prayer at 7 p.m.
Lynn said he’s working on putting a program with a gospel message on local public access television and may do the same on YouTube.
Mission work is priority
Despite the modest size of its membership, Grace Bible Church conducts a large amount of mission work, locally and internationally. “We help where we can,” Lynn said.
The church donates money and canned goods to Spooner House and Bridgeport Rescue Mission, and donated clothing to those displaced by the large Howe Avenue fire last winter.
Help goes to Samaritan’s Purse, an international, nondenominational Christian relief agency, and Grace Bible Church members fill Christmas shoe boxes with school supplies for children overseas.
Church donations also support the Fishers of Men Ministries and mission work in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where Lynn conducted a mission trip for teenagers in 1997.
One of his goals is to grow the youth ministry at Grace Bible Church as he did at the Niagara Falls church, where he conducted outdoor sports tournaments and picnics for young people.
Worked with incarcerated youth
Lynn’s work with young people also included a 20-year stint as a prison minister at Manson Youth Institution in Cheshire, a correctional facility for young men ages 14 to 21. He spread his message there a few Sundays a month and led Bible studies.
At Grace Bible Church, there is Sunday school for children, and plans include conducting a week-long vacation Bible school this summer.
As part of the wider community, the church opens its doors to AA meetings, United Girls Choir rehearsals and Flowing Spirit ministries services.
What makes Grace Bible Church a place where people would want to worship?
“I would hope it’s the loving, friendly atmosphere,” Lynn said.