Even before they decided to merge, JOY Community Church and Third Protestant Memorial Church had a few key traits in common.
Both had left the United Church of Christ several years earlier. Both departures stemmed from disagreements with the UCC's liberal theology. And both had reasons to move from their present locations -- Third Protestant because its Clifton neighborhood no longer matched the church's demographics, and JOY because it was meeting in the Green Township Senior Center.
So, after a 7 1/2-month courtship,the two congregations became one on May 17 and took the name JOY Memorial Church. Construction is under way in Green Township on the new church's first home -- a $300,000 structure on North Bend Road that members are financing and helping to build.
"It really wasn't a matter of survival for each church," said the Rev. Bill Bonham, former JOY Community pastor and current JOY Memorial co-pastor, along with the Rev. Walter Crosby. "We just thought we could do it better together than going it alone. Theologically, we're very, very similar."
The two ministers had known each other for years through UCC circles. The Rev. Mr. Bonham and others founded JOY Community after leaving St. Peter and St. Paul UCC in Westwood five years ago, purchased the Green Township land and started construction.
Third Protestant, more than 165 years old, has been serving the Clifton neighborhood since 1929. But most of its members are older, and they worried about the future of the church.
The Rev. Mr. Bonham and the Rev. Mr. Crosby began talking about a merger, and the two congregations began worshiping together in October at Third Protestant's church on Ohio Avenue.
Both congregations approved the merger in separate votes May 17, then celebrated afterward.
Once they move to Green Township, the church will follow a tried-and-true formula for late-20th century church success: contemporary and traditional services, a worship space that converts to a gym, day care and other outreach to the community. There is room to expand, and they are encouraged by the estimated 30,000 cars a day that pass by.