From Hammond B3 to holy ground: Pastor, new church in tune with community
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Larry Colbert’s fingers have been dancing on ivory and tapping the ebonies of a Hammond B3 electric organ since he was 14.
His is a musical family and a big crowd: his mom is one of 16 children. At one worship gathering, his family contributed 78 people to the choir. His preacher grandfather steered Colbert to God’s house whenever the doors opened.
But, by 2017, the Lord had something else for the man who’d led worship, made mission trips and studied at a Kenyan Bible school. It was time for him and his wife Julia to plant a church that would uphold families near his native Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“Our mission is to be a family of believers,” he said. “Julia and I have a passion for helping families stay together and grow spiritually strong.”
The Chapel, the church they started in January 2021, draws its name from the spiritual, reflective space offered at many hospitals. That’s one of the first places people go during vulnerable moments during a health crisis for them or their loved ones.
“You go to seek God for answers, for help,” Colbert explained.
New church adds to life in energetic, small city with tourist attractions, colleges
God’s family has been that supportive community around him again and again throughout his life in and around Harrisburg. A small city with a fast pace, Colbert said Harrisburg has a lot of privately-owned restaurants, family activities at the Susquehanna River and world-class tourist destinations like Hershey Park.
Many well-educated people work and live in the city, which has a significant government presence as the state capital. Plus, there’s Penn State University-Harrisburg and campuses for Temple University and Widener Law School. In all, it’s a great town to raise a family, he said.
The Chapel is designed from the ground up as a multicultural, multiethnic congregation. Harrisburg is 53 percent African-American, but the central Pennsylvania county around the city is 73 percent white.
The Colberts are an excellent fit for multiethnic ministry: they have long careers in politics and banking. Their vocations always include working alongside people from various values, priorities, socioeconomics and backgrounds.
Chapel offers a spectrum of ministry so people can grow
To serve their diverse neighbors and support families, The Chapel offers life groups, kids ministry, a women’s conference, men’s breakfasts, singles fellowship and a marriage fellowship. The church's vision — believe, worship and grow — guides every one of these activities or small groups.
The Chapel started during the pandemic, so the church embraced an in-person and digital ministry for the city.
“We want to continue to minister and meet their needs,” he said. “We’re trying to be faithful to create an environment and a culture where people can grow.”
Some neighbors have been hurt by churches in the past and aren’t ready to be physically present with disciples. But that’s an excellent opportunity for the vulnerability and kindness present in the Chapel because of their passion for helping families.
Some area religious groups create a unique challenge against The Chapel’s multicultural and multiethnic identity. Colbert said these groups build relationships with believers, then steer people away from orthodox beliefs. To overcome such risks, Colbert and his team kindly yet eagerly proclaim Christ and the gospel instead of human performance or identity.
Our mission is to be a family of believers. Julia and I have a passion for helping families stay together and grow spiritually strong.
Pastor Larry Colbert
The Chapel has become a church people want to be part of by focusing on grace and truth. People tell Colbert they are refreshed to be in a transparent, healthy environment where the church can talk about money, struggles, sin or leadership without divisiveness.
“That’s the goal, to be a healthy church,” Colbert added.
The Chapel knows the vitality isn’t just for them
The team of believers strives for even more in Christ’s name. They’ve partnered with community organizations such as Bethesda Mission, providing meals for the 100 men who live at the mission.
The church also adopted an elementary school whose principal came to share about the student body and their needs.
“It’s just really meeting their needs and being available and praying for them,” Colbert said. “They know as a church we are supporting them.”
That’s a chapel, a place of encouragement, hope and intimacy during vulnerability and challenge. That’s why the Lord had more for Larry Colbert, even if it did mean stepping away from the Hammond B3 and huge family choirs.
Since The Chapel started, God has honored their desire to offer one more faithful church so families get strengthened and equipped to navigate the difficult times around them.
“What God has done in that period of time has been amazing,” Colbert said. “I see families being transformed. We’re baptizing people who are putting their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.