ORLAND PARK, IL (March 4, 2010) – When Hope Covenant Church’s Assistant Pastor Ryan Cooper and his wife, Sunni, traveled from Illinois to Beaumont, Texas, last month to pick up their newly adopted baby, their “family” grew larger than they even expected.
The Coopers had been waiting for two years to adopt, but on Friday, February 19, they received a call telling them that a baby was available in Beaumont, Texas, and they needed to travel there right away. Suddenly, and without warning, they were becoming parents.
The couple arrived in the city on Saturday. When they woke up Sunday morning, Ryan wondered whether there might be an Evangelical Covenant church in the area and checked the denomination’s website. To his somewhat surprise, there was one – NewSong Covenant Church, a new congregation.
But when the Coopers drove to the listed address, they discovered it was a park. Ryan called the listed number and learned they were in the right place – the church was meeting in a small pavilion.
The couple knew they already had something in common. Hope had met for 14 years in a temporary space until dedicating their new building earlier this year. He empathized with having to transport, set up and then tear down equipment every Sunday. Normally NewSong meets at a community center at the park, but had to use the pavilion because the center was booked for another use that day.
Thirteen members were gathered for worship. “We introduced ourselves as Ryan and Sunni who were in town from Illinois,” Ryan says. “We didn’t have to say anything more, we were embraced with loving arms.”
Ryan was asked to assist in leading the Communion service and offer the benediction. The church then invited them to lunch. The couple wound up sitting next to a family that had adopted two children – now in their late teens – from the same agency with which the Coopers were working.
“We shared joys, fears and everything in between,” Ryan says.
The next day, they met their son, Ben, who had been born February 4. The couple brought him back to the hotel and spent the rest of the week doing all the things new parents do while waiting for the appropriate government authorities to let the family travel back to Illinois.
NewSong members emailed and called the couple during the week to encourage the Coopers and offer support. The church members also invited the couple to the congregation’s “Dinner for 8,” being held that Friday night.
Ryan says he and Sunni quickly learned that “Dinner for 8” actually meant “Dinner for 16.” Upon the couple’s arrival, Ben was “dubbed the guest of honor and immediately hugged, kissed, fed and loved on as if he was their own. It was exactly what Sunni and I needed.” Ryan adds that Ben, on the other hand, just need to be burped.
“We left the home of Ben’s ‘grandparents’ feeling encouraged and excited about the future of this fledgling church,” says Ryan, who is now back in Orland Park.
Ryans says the experience is an example of the denomination at its best. “One of the great advantages of the ECC is the ability to always feel at home,” he explains. “It does not seem to matter what town you are in, or what the personality of the church is, you will instantly find connections and feel at home.”
He does have one suggestion for the Beaumont congregation, however. “I think the name of the monthly meal should be changed to ‘Guess Who Is Coming for Dinner?’ ” He explains, “You never quite know who will show up.”