Our Mission, Vision, and History
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Our Vision Statement
As a community of Christians, we welcome inclusively all who seek to learn and grow in the Christian faith.
Our congregation is part of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. We celebrate our congregational life through traditional worship, exceptional music, excellent education and energetic mission programs.
We are an open and caring congregation striving to provide access and welcome to all. Learn more about the beliefs of Presbyterians here.
As members of Presbyterian Church of the Cross:
We affirm that God is the foundation of our lives
We believe that the Bible reveals God to us.
We believe that God came into this world in Jesus Christ and is active in the world today.
We believe through faith in God we will have everlasting life.
These beliefs lead us to a willingness to obey and serve.
Our church is a community of individuals with common beliefs affirming our faith through worship, education, service, fellowship and love.
As a community, Church of the Cross:
Proclaims the Good News of the grace of God, unites God’s family in praise and thanksgiving, attends to the spiritual needs of our members, and reaches out with an evangelistic effort to the wider community. Our church provides a focus for the comfort, care and support of those in need, and empowers us to serve God and the needs of others.
Our Guiding Vision Statement
Come, not because you are strong,
but because you are weak.
Come, not because any goodness of your own
gives you a right to come,
but because you need mercy and help.
Come, because you love the Lord a little,
and would like to love Him more.
Come, because He first loved you
and gave Himself for you.
Presbyterian Church of the Cross welcomes and engages all who seek a deeper relationship with God. We are a thriving community of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit, dedicated to the glory of God and committed to the unifying ministry of Jesus Christ. The Holy Bible, the living Word of God, serves as our foundation, guiding us in our everyday lives.
We nurture one another in our individual spiritual journeys through scripture-based worship, inspirational music, enriching study, thoughtful discussion, and prayer.
We honor the heritage of the Church and celebrate our traditions, while continually seeking new ways to understand our faith and become better disciples.
As a caring community we take on each other’s joys and burdens, offering and receiving support and comfort. Because we know and care for each other, we respect and learn from a wide range of views. We value the richness this variety of perspectives brings to our church.
We strive to be a beacon of hope by living the commandment to love God and our neighbors. We serve others with courage, creativity and compassion. Using our God-given talents individually or partnering with others, we respond to human needs in our community, our country and the world.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we: live the Word, celebrate the Word, study the Word, share the Word, and serve God’s world.
We go forth into the world in peace,
holding fast to that which is good,
rendering to no one evil for evil,
strengthening the faint hearted,
supporting the weak,
helping the afflicted,
honoring all men and women,
loving and serving the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our church was first proposed in 1957, as Omaha began moving west, and land was purchased in the brand-new Bel-Air area. Soon after, it was learned that the State of Nebraska viewed Southwest Omaha much as the Omaha Presbytery did: a growing area with lots of residents. Where the church saw worshippers, the State saw traffic. They were planning a new Interstate Highway, and its intended path was right through the newly purchased property. A providential solution was reached, and roughly four acres of land were obtained in the same neighborhood — for the sum of One Dollar. Two additional lots were purchased as well for $4000. The higher price was because a farmhouse stood on one of the lots. This farmhouse would be the home of the Discovery Pre-school and other youth-oriented activities for years to come.
The church was organized by Charles Young, meeting in the basement of the manse at 1604 Shirley until a church building could be built, ninety-eight persons attended the first service. By the time the church was formally recognized on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1958; 172 men and women would be listed as charter members. The church took its name from its first piece of furniture: a communion table borrowed from Wheeler Memorial Presbyterian Church. Charter member Cal Wheeler, taking inspiration from the large cross carved on the table, proposed the name Church of the Cross be adopted and the suggestion was unanimously approved.
The first months were devoted to organizing the church, including study and fellowship opportunities. Although today Church of the Cross is widely known for its exceptional music programs, there were no choirs or organized music until the end of 1958. It wasn’t until July that the congregation would vote on a building plan — a $118,000 building ($862,000 in 2007 dollars) designed by Colorado architect James Hunter. Hunter’s work is widely praised today; one of his Colorado buildings is on the National Registry of Historic Places and several others are designated as landmarks by the state of Colorado.
For many, a new church begins when the “church” is built. In the case of Church of the Cross, this is particularly true because completion of the new building coincided with the arrival of a new pastor: Reverend Ralph Gerber. Ralph and Elinor Gerber moved into the manse in September 1959, and for the next 21 years would shepherd the new church from infancy to young adulthood. Rev. Gerber was installed on October 4, 1959, and the church held its first service in what is now Fellowship Hall on Christmas Eve of that year. The formal dedication would come three weeks later on January 10, 1960.
Mr. Hunter had included in his plans suggestions for expansion and it was clear even before the new building was a year old, that expansion would be necessary. Large and active organizations such as the Women’s Association (later renamed Presbyterian Women), Senior and Junior Youth groups, and a growing music program corresponded with a huge influx in new members.
In the five years from 1959 to 1964, church membership increased from 245 to 831. In 1964 alone, 178 new members were added, and ten adults and thirty-nine children were baptized. There were 64 young people in the Junior Choir — nearly triple the number of adult voices. Expansion was not just desired — it was essential. Working from one of Hunter’s concepts, architect and congregation member Irving Dana went to work on plans for a new sanctuary. In 1965, the loan for the first building was paid off and new loans taken out for construction on the church addition. After several construction delays (including a six-week long strike by construction workers), the new sanctuary was ready for occupancy on Easter Sunday of 1966.
During the 1960s, the church sponsored its first candidate for the ministry, established the Worship, Evangelism, and Special Programs committees as part of the deacons; addressed social issues of racial unrest and segregation in housing and education; and substantially increased church giving, even in the face of serious financial concerns and “austerity budgets”. A series of associate pastors answered calls to the church.
By 1974, the church had ten separate choirs and a full-time minister of music was clearly needed. Dana Sloan recalls that it was the congregation’s strong commitment to, and love of music that was a deciding factor in his decision to answer that call. His arrival would elevate the music programs at Church of the Cross to new levels and establish its identity as “the church with the music” that is maintained even today.
Three years later, Richard (Dick) Murdoch answered a call as Minister of Christian Education. In 1980, he was installed as co-pastor with Ralph Gerber, as Reverend Gerber moved toward retirement. It was a successful partnership, and, at their 1981 retreat, the Session voted to retain the co-pastorship model after Rev. Gerber’s retirement. The Reverend Leslie Borsay joined the church in August 1982 as co-pastor with Reverend Murdoch.
In 1987, Dr. Kirk Ryckman was called to Church of the Cross and the new pastor and his congregation formed a powerful bond. In 1989, the church adopted a new motto, “Lift High the Cross”, to lead it into the 1990s. While overall membership declined both nationally and at Church of the Cross, the congregation dedicated itself to more varied and meaningful activities.
Attendance remained high at worship and church events. New fellowship opportunities were created. The Advent dinner established itself as the church’s single most successful annual event. A new emphasis emerged on Evangelism and Mission. Young people were attracted to youth group under the guidance of the new associate pastor, Reverend Ronnie Osborne. As the 1990s ended, the church reluctantly released him to answer a call in Georgia. At the beginning of the new century, two new associate pastors were added to the church clergy. In 2000, Dr. Nancy Redman (Caring Ministries) and Regina Maas (Educational Ministries) joined the staff.
In 2008, as the church completed its fiftieth year, it was once again ready to expand. Ground-breaking for a new addition coincided with its golden anniversary.
In 2009 the church experienced several changes in clergy. In August Regina Mass was released to accept a new call followed shortly thereafter by the retirement of Dr. Nancy Redman in September. Sheri Sessions was hired to become the director of Christian education, taking over the duties of Rev. Maas. Next, Nadia Mullen, recently out of seminary, was welcomed as the new associate pastor in November of 2009. In 2012, Rev. Mullin relocated with her husband and new baby to New York to be closer their families, the church was again in need of a new associate pastor.
At about this time, Dr. Ryckman began preparing Church of the Cross for major transition. He developed a transition strategy to ready the church for his retirement and those of the church administrator and minister of music. The church was facing some big decisions. In a relatively short period of time, we would need two new pastors, a music director and a new business manager. The church was up to the challenge and adopted a plan to smooth the transition to a new group of leaders.
The transition began with the hiring of Kristi Treu as the new music director and Rock Sumner as the new business manager in August 2014. Dana Sloan agreed to stay on part time as the church organist and to assist Mrs. Treu while she settled into her new responsibilities. Next the pastor nominating committee came up with a novel solution for the position of associate pastor. Deciding it would be best to allow our next head of staff to have input into the selection of any associate pastor, the committee sought a temporary associate pastor, one who did not intend to remain indefinitely. A recently retired pastor, Lynda Dinsdale, agreed to accept a temporary, year to year associate pastor position with the church. This arrangement also enabled her to return from Texas to her home state of Nebraska. Reverend Dinsdale assumed the position of transitional associate pastor in July of 2014.
In a departure from its regular order, the Presbytery accepted the church’s plan to allow Dr. Ryckman to delay his retirement until a new pastor could be called and to permit him to temporarily work with that new pastor to facilitate a smooth transition. After an extensive search, our prayers were answered when Dr. Marshall Zieman was found to be the perfect replacement. Dr. Zieman accepted our call and became the pastor in January of 2015. Dr. Ryckman and Dr. Zieman collaborated for several weeks to support Church of the Cross in a seamless transition to its new pastor. A grateful congregation turned out to honor Kirk Ryckman and celebrate his 28 years of faithful, dedicated service to our church.
After four years of providing strong leadership to the church’s caring ministry, Reverend Dinsdale retired in order to return to Texas to be closer to her family. A search began shortly thereafter for a new Associate Pastor. In the meantime, Sheri Sessions also retired. The church was fortunate to find within its membership a capable replacement in Heather Berry who assumed the role of Director of Christian Education in August of 2018.
In July 2019 the congregation overwhelmingly approved the call of Reverend Christine Dempsey to become the Associate Pastor. She completes the staff of dedicated and caring individuals the church is blessed to have.
Over the past 50+ years PCOC has thrived as congregation of believers while reaching out to the world to demonstrate the power of Christian faith. Its members continue to participate in local, national and international mission. While remaining financially strong, the church honors its commitment to expend 20% of annual pledge income to support mission. As a community of Christians, including second and even third generation members, the church has prospered through its dedication to mission, Christian education, caring and supportive fellowship, and inspiring worship.
In the last half of 2019, building on examination of building uses and needs, the church began to make plans for a building expansion. The project would evolve into a major addition to the east of the present Narthex, and would become the primary welcoming space for worship services. In addition, plans were set to expand the present Fellowship Hall to the south by pushing out the current windows to the edge of the roof covering the patio. Blended into the project were necessary improvements and replacements to current aging HVAC and lighting systems. The initial estimate of cost was approximately $4,100,000.
A capital campaign was put together and we began to hold neighborhood meetings in February of 2020. The Covid pandemic put an immediate stop to all campaign activities. In addition, in-person worship services were cancelled, and we began weekly recording sessions of the various parts of worship, and the complete worship service was then made available to members and the public on the internet. “Remote Attendance” at worship services remained very strong. This continued through 2020 and into 2021.
In spite of the Covid pandemic, our congregation continued to function, albeit mostly remotely and virtually. Mission commitments were fulfilled, many Tables for Eight groups met, via Zoom, and members continued to faithfully attend worship services from their homes. The congregation was also steadfast in supporting both the church budget, our mission partners, and the building campaign. As Pastor Marshal Zieman said, “Our church building and sanctuary are closed, but the church is open.”
In early summer of 2021, a group of faithful donors came together to challenge the congregation to a matching pledge for the building campaign. The congregation rose to the challenge and by the end of September, members had pledged $4,200,000. The congregation moved forward with the construction plans, with a ground-breaking target of late spring, 2022.
In the fall of 2021, it was decided that we should begin having in-person worship services again, and we opened the sanctuary to all who were willing to wear a mask to worship and sit six feet apart. In-person attendance grew steadily, while on-line attendance remains strong. The demand created by the pandemic caused us to expand our technological capabilities, in ways that may have otherwise taken us years, and this will continue to enhance our ministries for years to come. At the time of this writing, the pandemic continues to slowly decrease, but we’re not back to “normal” yet. However, the congregation continues to faithfully support our church’s mission partners, operating budget and building project.