"An Unusual Congregation" is the subtitle of the Rev. Charles D. Spotts's book chronicling the history of St. Peter's United Church of Christ, 816 Buchanan Ave., from 1897 to 1970.
Forty-three years later, the description holds.
"Our unofficial motto is 'Not church as usual, but church unusual,'" says the Rev. Anabel Proffitt, one of three new co-pastors at the church and associate professor of educational ministries at Lancaster Theological Seminary.
The historic German Reformed Church, for many years known as the Franklin & Marshall College church, once thrived with 550 members at its peak in the mid-1950s.
But F&M pulled away from the UCC, Proffitt says, and in the last two years, membership at St. Peter's fell to about 25 people. The consistory discussed closing.
Then an extraordinary intervention came along and today the church is growing and changing.
It all began when the Rev. Susan Minasian, F&M chaplain, and Proffitt had the same reaction to the news that St. Peter's needed a new pastor.
"We both said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to re-establish a connection with F&M,'" says Proffitt, 57.
The pair came up with a plan for four diverse, bi-vocational co-pastors to transform St. Peter's from an aging, white congregation to one of diversity, one that reflects its leaders: Lance Mullins, an openly gay man; Naomi Leapheart, an African American woman; Minasian; and Proffitt.
Minasian, who worshipped at St. Peter's many years ago, gave up her position as co-pastor following the recent death of her husband, the Rev. Frank J. Stalfa. But it was her connection with the church that made the transformation possible, Proffitt says.
The congregation has welcomed the trio "very enthusiastically," Proffitt says. "No one left. Some have come back."
The first thing the congregation did was vote to be open and affirming.
"It was a unanimous vote," Proffitt says, "which is very rare."
"We needed everyone to realize how serious we were," Leapheart says.
"Our original model was to have a diverse leadership team building a diverse community," Mullins says.
Mullins, 39, managed the Cokesbury Book Store at the seminary until it closed recently and is a part-time teaching assistant and preacher there. He hails from Atlanta and was a pastor for 7 1/2 years before coming to Lancaster. He has dual standing in the UCC and the Metropolitan Community Church, an inclusive church.
"In a way, a dimension of our mission here is each of us bringing who we are and our own histories and traditions and experiences authentically in a way that resonates during the work of transition," Mullins says.
Leapheart, 31, grew up in a Baptist Church in Detroit and is in her second year of a three-year program at the seminary for a master of divinity degree. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in urban studies. A musician, she plays the piano and clarinet, "but singing has become my instrument."
At St. Peter's, she leads the congregation in singing a wide range of music, including spirituals and songs accompanied by drums, getting worshipers on their feet, swinging and swaying and clapping.
She gave her first sermon at St. Peter's.
"It was serendipity," she says.
"We call it the Holy Spirit, or her wisdom." says Proffitt, who has dual standing in the UCC and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Proffitt marvels at the "synchronicity" with which the co-pastors came together - "Lance's availability, Naomi's willingness to come forward to this historic German Reformed Church."
The new chapter in the life of St. Peter's, "one in which the congregation is committed to exploring new ways of 'being church' and embodying God's inclusive love in the surrounding area of Lancaster city," Mullins wrote in an email, includes an enhanced name: Wisdom's Table at St. Peter's UCC.
"It signals to the wider community our commitment to engaging the world around us in ways that are fresh and imaginative," he says, "while also remaining faithful to the history and values of the United Church of Christ."