A once struggling, predominantly white church in Florida has experienced amazing growth since merging with a predominantly black megachurch.
In January, Ridgewood Baptist Church in Orange Park announced that they were merging with Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville.
Ridgewood became the Orange Park Campus for Shiloh Church and since then the once struggling congregation has experienced a resurgence.
Dan Beckwith, pastor for the Orange Park Campus, told The Christian Post that since January, things have been "nothing short of a miracle."
"With former Ridgewood members, local Shiloh members, and new people coming in from the community we have seen tremendous growth," said Beckwith.
"The first Sunday in November we had over 850 adults and children present in Orange Park for worship."
Beckwith noted that with the merger, Orange Park experienced not only more attendees but also strong financial progress for a congregation once struggling with its budgetary demands.
"Financially the Lord has also blessed this new work. We managed to meet budget and we kicked off a capital campaign to further eliminate the debt," said Beckwith.
"The Lord's hands have surely been on this merger and renewed this church to a place of effective ministry in this community."
Last December, Shiloh Church and the former Ridgewood Baptist garnered headlines when they announced a merger in which the latter congregation would become part of Shiloh.
At a time when the nation was experiencing increased racial tensions, the merger of the two churches was seen as an example of interracial cooperation.
Pastor H.B. Charles Jr., leader of Shiloh Church, told CP in an interview last year that it was "the providence of God" that the merger took place when it did.
"Just a few weeks ago, we were wrestling with the fact that no one really knew what was taking place," said Charles.
"We are excited that our actions are making their own independent statement for Christ in the midst of all of the racial tension that's in the news these days."
Looking back at the coverage of the announcement, Beckwith told CP that "we never expected there to be so much press focused on the racial issues surrounding this merger."
As part of the merger, Ridgewood relinquished control of its church, with Shiloh assuming the burden of both the property and the debt.
A full staff remains at the Orange Park location, with Ridgewood's former senior pastor, the Rev. Michael Clifford, serving as pastor of Christian education for Shiloh Church.
During an interview with CP, Clifford echoed the many points of progress for Orange Park since the merger was finalized.
"The church that once averaged close to 300 in attendance on Sunday when it was Ridgewood now has 700 in two worship services," said Clifford.
"Now giving is up and the church is doing well financially. Membership is up to over a 1,000 with many of those members coming via baptism. The spirit of the church is one of optimism and looking to the future excited about what the Lord has in store for us next."
When asked by CP what message the merger sends to the nation about racial unity, Clifford replied that at "the cross the color of one's skin does not matter. The only color that matters is the color red: the blood of Jesus that covers us all."
"I believe what Shiloh and Ridgewood did is not that special, but it is biblical. We just got back to true DNA as believers," continued Clifford.
"Jesus Christ, and His work on the Cross, broke down every barrier and we as the Body of Christ should convey that message."
Beckwith likewise told CP that the important goal is to make more and "better disciples for Jesus Christ, regardless of race."
"Our desire as a church is that all Christians, regardless of race, status, or age, can connect, grow, and serve together to the glory of God. We have maintained a cultural blend in our services, but we still have a long way to go," said Beckwith.
"We have learned a lot about fostering a multicultural church and we are continually challenged to do it better. We didn't ask for this merger to be about race. Our desire from the beginning was to see the Lord work in a needy community."