The Rev. Pete Santucci will be leaving his call of 11 years to begin a new one. He’s going to be planting a new church for a new denomination in Oregon.
Santucci, his wife Charlene and their four children will be starting Crux, the first church plant for ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians since its formation in January 2012. The Santuccis will move two hours west from their current call at First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon to establish the new church in Bend.
A town of about 78,000 people, Bend is located east of Eugene in the central part of Oregon, just across the Cascade Mountain Range.
It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, offering ample kayaking, biking, climbing, fishing and hunting opportunities. Bend is also a predominantly unchurched area. Santucci noted that only 11 percent of the population there is involved in church, and Oregon leads the country in terms of people with no religious interests.
“It’s a ripe community, but it will be a different community for the Gospel,” he said. “It’s an area in transition. As a planter I’m looking forward to people in transition who may be open to new relationships and new experiences. Hopefully, they’ll come to know Jesus and be part of this new experience.”
Santucci said he and his wife have been exploring the option of becoming church planters for a number of years, viewing the possibility as a call of God in their lives. A potential opportunity presented itself about four years, but the timing was not right, and the notion was put on the back burner.
But the launch of ECO in January 2012 sort of rekindled the fire burning in the Santuccis, Pete especially. He and Charlene began talking and sought the counsel of others, eventually determining that God was calling them to plant an ECO church.
“As ECO launched, I became excited, and the desire to be part of a church plant movement captured my imagination,” Pete said. “I thought of how we should not focus on battles of the past but move forward. I began to think when I was 80 years old and looking back, what decision would I be happy with? Taking the more difficult of options and moving to plant (a church) or staying where I am? That was personally clarifying for me, and we determined this was what God was calling us to do.”
While the launch of the new church is still several weeks away, Pete has been busy making trips across the Cascades every four weeks or so for the last year. When he travels to Bend, he visits restaurants and coffee shops to meet people, talking with them about what he is doing and establishing fundraisers to help support the church his family will be planting in the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re raising the funds on our own, starting from scratch so to speak, and building from the ground up,” he said, noting that it is a true leap of faith to leave a firm call in Lebanon to plant a church with no established salary or community, those things people look for in terms of job security.
Pete said the fundraising aspect had been the greatest challenge thus far, noting that ECO remains a relatively new denomination that is still forming and does not have financial resources to pour into such an endeavor yet. Establishing a home with a wife and four children in a new town also has been a concern, but Charlene already has found a job as an art teacher in Bend, a position she also held in Lebanon. The couple’s children – Emett, 16; Lydia, 13; Josiah, 11; and Matthias, 8 – also have embraced the decision and relocation to another town.
“That was just further confirmation for me,” Pete said, adding that out of the blue, Matthias spoke up and told him that he wanted to live in Bend when he was older – before he even knew of the possible move across the mountains.
So far, Pete’s efforts to build the church from the ground up have been fruitful. He has met several people in Bend who have made commitments to be part of Crux, and a number of people from Lebanon are planning to make the move with him. In fact, the church will start with about 20 people serving God.
“I get to enter into conversations with people I’ve never met before,” Pete said. “I have some good friends now that I’ve met (in Bend), and they plan to be part of this new Christian community that is moving forward.
“We aren’t the only ones called to do this; others have sensed the call as well. Seeing the excitement on the faces of people about what is taking place … that’s another confirmation for us.”
Pete noted the faith of Abraham in giving up his securities to follow God’s chosen path for him. He spoke of Abraham’s vision of a heavenly city that he would not see but having faith to go where God led him. He also mentioned Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in chapter 29 when God tells the people to build houses, plant gardens and settle down.
“We have to come together and form a community, establish missional DNA,” he said, “That’s not something I as a founding pastor will do, but something we as a community will do together as we share our faith.”
The name of the church is taken from the cross. Crux is the Latin word for cross, and Pete wants it to be central in the proclamation of the Gospel and the way the people of the new church in Bend go about their lives together. He said there sometimes can be a lack of the cross in Christian discipleship but reminds all that it’s the method to salvation.
“It’s the important part of where we want to be living our lives – at the cross,” he said. “It’s time for us to pick up our cross and follow Him.”
The Santuccis are doing that, and Pete expects to slowly ease those forming the new church into the ministry. Following the lead of Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three gather in my name, here am I with them.”), Crux worshipers might engage in a variety of non-traditional meetings in various settings during the church’s early stages of development. Cookouts and hikes, Bible study and teaching with the picturesque landscape of Bend as a backdrop may be part of meetings for Crux in its infancy.
“We’re looking at something that may be a bit slower than church plants of the past. Weekly Sunday worship may not take place for up to 18 months,” Pete explained. “We have no illusions that this will be an overnight success, but if God wants to move faster, we’re certainly fine with that. We know it may take a while, and that’s OK. We knew that going in. We just want to be true to God and honor His call.”
Pete acknowledged there is an air of excitement about what lies ahead, though tempered at times by a bit of trepidation.
“There are moments of self-doubt, never doubting God but myself,” he admitted. “I don’t like the fundraising, but I love talking with people about what God has called us to do. I feel privileged to get to join God in His work this way (as the Great Commission found in Matthew 28: 18-20 commands). I’ve already seen God bringing people together, and that’s awesome.
“We’re not just planting one church but helping ECO grow. It’s not just a safe harbor for churches leaving the PCUSA. It’s becoming the church planters it promised to be. This moves forward the kingdom of God, and I’m happy to be one of the first to get this movement going.”