By Eric Parry
LONDONDERRY — On a recent Sunday, the Rev. John Mokkosian welcomed 19 new members to the Londonderry Presbyterian Church.
It's been a regular occurrence over the last year. The church now has 224 members.
That's much bigger than it was a year ago, when the Londonderry church resolved its schism with the more conservative New Wineskins Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which splintered off and formed the Orchard Christian Fellowship.
"Our first service there were 39 people," Mokkosian said.
In September 2007, a majority of the congregation members felt the Presbyterian Church had drifted from traditional teachings and voted to switch affiliation to the New Wineskins. At the time, there were 375 church members.
Mokkosian and his followers who stayed with the Presbyterian Church were left without a home. They gathered for Sunday services at the Tupelo Music Hall because they had been locked out of the Pillsbury Road church.
A four-day trial took place in Rockingham County Superior Court last August. A settlement was reached soon after, giving the minority group ownership of the historic church, but giving 15 acres of adjacent, undeveloped land to the conservative group.
Since the resolution, officials from both churches said they have made changes, but are growing and relating well to the community.
The Rev. Kenneth Glasier of Orchard Christian Fellowship said his parish has grown about 20 percent from last September to 450 members. Glasier was elected to the Londonderry church last summer, but received his formal installation service on June 14, in front of friends and family from around the country.
"It was a great celebration of my being pastor of Orchard Christian Fellowship," Glasier said.
His church is still using Matthew Thornton Elementary School for its Sunday services. Right now, they have no plans to build a church of their own.
"We're still at a point of praying about it," Glasier said.
They also received a fund, hand bells, Bibles and furniture as part of the settlement.
The Orchard Christian Fellowship staff has grown, too.
A youth ministry director, Graham Buck, was recently hired and will start in August.
The Londonderry Presbyterian Church is growing as well.
Last summer, Mokkosian was the only pastor at the church. Now, they employ eight people, including two associate pastors and several support staff.
The church recently received a $75,000 grant from the national church organization, which will help it pay staff salaries over the next three years, Mokkosian said.
"We've moved from survival mode to thriving mode," he said. Since taking over the church, Mokkosian said they have removed some of the pews and replaced them with tables to make Sunday services more family-friendly.
Later this week, Mokkosian said the church will open its doors to a 100-member choir concert and is inviting people from all area religious organizations.
"That's the kind of thing we're doing to connect with the community," he said.
This summer, the church is hosting a children's Bible camp with other churches in the area.
"It's really encouraging for me to see our church cooperating with other churches," Glasier said.