Two Minden churches once divided now united

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The Rev. Dee Anders, center,  prays during a special gathering of both congregations of First Assembly of God and Sheppard Heights Assembly of God on New Year’s Eve. Anders will serve as senior pastor of the united church, delivering his first sermon this Sunday.  Michelle Bates/Press-Herald
The Rev. Dee Anders, center, prays during a special gathering of both congregations of First Assembly of God and Sheppard Heights Assembly of God on New Year’s Eve. Anders will serve as senior pastor of the united church, delivering his first sermon this Sunday. Michelle Bates/Press-Herald

Two churches that split over differences of direction years ago are now coming together again under one name and moving in one direction.

First Assembly of God and Sheppard Heights Assembly of God have merged following a unanimous vote by both church congregations.

The Rev. Russell Snider, pastor of First Assembly of God, said two different things brought the churches together.

“Back in August of this year, the Holy Spirit really impressed upon me that these two churches need to be one and now is the time to do it,” he said.

He said he stopped in to see the Rev. Dee Anders, pastor of Sheppard Heights Assembly of God, and told him it was time to “get serious” about merging the two churches. Snider says over the course of a few years, he and Anders built a relationship, and somewhere along the line, God began to speak to him about the merger.

Anders said at first he didn’t believe the two churches would come back together. And it wasn’t until he had a second “vision” with “knowledge” that he believed. At the time, then-pastor, the late Raymond Sewell was ill and Anders was praying for his healing.

“I knelt down and began to pray,” he said, “and when I prayed, an amazing thing happened. I said, ‘Lord, please touch Bro. Raymond Sewell and heal him,’ and when I did, I saw this vision of me standing in this pulpit (at Sheppard Heights). These things don’t happen to me. Immediately, I felt bad because I felt that somehow I was selfish and wanted this man’s pulpit.”

He said he prayed and repented for his perceived feelings of selfishness, saying he didn’t want a “dying man’s pulpit.”

“For two days I didn’t pray because I was so shocked, and I didn’t know it was the Lord,” he said. “So two days later, I finally mustered up enough courage to pray again. I went back to my bedroom, knelt down again and said, ‘Lord, I ask you to heal my friend Raymond Sewell.’ And the whole thing happened just like that again.”

The knowledge he spoke of gaining when he had the second vision centered on pastoring the two churches as one. And not only did he have the “knowledge” that he would lead both churches as one, he said he saw the “third phase,” pastoring both churches in a new building.

At the time, he didn’t tell many people about any of it, because he didn’t know when it would happen.
“I literally kept my mouth shut, because I didn’t want to influence any part of this at all,” Anders said. “I didn’t want to end up with an Ishmael; I wanted an Isaac.”

He referenced the Book of Genesis, Chapter 17 in the Bible. He explained that the Bible says Abraham and Sarah prayed for a child, and God told them they would have a child. As the years wore on and the couple grew older, no children had come.

So, they came up with a plan for Abraham to have a child with Hagar, and to that union, Ishmael was born. It was 13 years later, when both Abraham and Sarah were both well past child-bearing age, that God gave them Isaac. While both sons were blessed by God, Genesis 17 says it was Isaac who God bore “His covenant.”

Anders said there is a sense of nostalgia, a sense of home at Sheppard Heights.

“This is home in every way you can think of,” Anders said. “We were saved here. My first everything was done here. My first prayer, my salvation; everything was done here, I was baptized here, my wife and my kids, and we did children’s church here and all those things. It’s just a great place of nostalgia and memory for me here.”

First Assembly member and board treasurer David Specht Jr. expressed his sentiment and excitement about the two churches, saying while the church had its hiccups, the mission remains the same.

“My family has been members of First Assembly since 1998,” he said. “In that time, the church has seen its share of ups and downs, but our vision has remain unchanged – to reach Minden and the surrounding communities while helping to spread the Gospel worldwide. The ‘marriage’ between these two great congregations will further that vision in a greater way than ever before. It truly is two parts becoming one whole.”

Diane Davis, a member of Sheppard Heights Assembly of God said she is excited about the change, but is
a little anxious as well.

“It’s kind of mixed feelings,” she said. “I’ve been going to Sheppard Heights about 10 years. I’m looking forward to it, but I’m kind of apprehensive at the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing what God’s got planned, because it is from God. I think God has big plans for us in the future, so I’m kind of excited to see what happens there.”

First Assembly of God was established in 1941, and in 1942, became a part of the “Assemblies,” the national church. The church split in 1975, thus Sheppard Heights was established under the tutelage of the Rev. Leslie Hunter. While neither pastor would go into specifics about why the church split, they both agreed to call it “irreconcilable differences” over an “internal issue at the time.”

For a time, the two church boards will merge, and in April, the combined board will decrease to its normal size of about five or six members. The combined board will serve as a transitional board, the pastors said. The church will fall under First Assembly’s constitution, bylaws and articles of incorporation.

Snider has already presided over his last service as pastor of First Assembly. Anders will take over the pastorship of both churches when the merger takes place. The congregations will meet at First Assembly, under its original name, “First Assembly of God,” for church services and other activities while the youth group will take over the Sheppard Heights building for its activities.

As Snider fades into the background, his calling/focus will not. He said he wants to turn his focus to missions, and although he wears many hats, he wants to bring the word of God to those who’ve never heard “the Word.”

“I’ve got a ministry called ‘Beloved Ministries,’ and it’s a 501(c)3,” Snider said. “I’m going to start off running under it and working as much as I can in the mission field.”

The general consensus between the pastors is a new church, a new year.

“We just felt like this is how it ought to be,” Anders said. “(First Assembly) is what it was to start with, and we felt it was the will of God.”

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