Reality Carpinteria splits and forms new church, Christ Church

Chloe White, Staff Writer

In 2020, Reality Carpinteria faced a difficult decision: who should be appointed next as the lead pastor for preaching and vision? The church elders disagreed on whether to offer the position to Beau Bekendam, who had been serving as an interim pastor since former pastor Britt Merrick’s retirement in fall of 2019, or to a new pastor outside the church. This disagreement caused them to approach the council of the Reality family of churches in order to reach a consensus.

Adam Smith, the new lead pastor of Reality Carpinteria. (Courtesy of Reality Carpinteria)

The council officially recommended a new pastor for the church, according to Reality Carpinteria’s website. However, with emerging visions for leadership from the elders, and inconsideration of what is best for the congregation, the church decided to separate in late 2020, with Reality Carpinteria hiring a new pastor and “replanting” the church, and Bekendam and several other leaders leaving to start a new church called Christ Church Carpinteria.

Both Reality and Christ Church are mutually excited about their churches’ paths toward flourishing. As Adam Smith, the new pastor of Reality Carpinteria, said of the split, “We are confident that there’s a lot of love and community between the two churches so we can support and bless them.”

Smith, who only joined Reality Carpinteria after the formalization of the split, eagerly explained his vision for the future of what he calls the “new iteration” of Reality Carpinteria: “We will be mostly the same [as the first iteration] as we are rebuilding on an old foundation of being theological, missional and relational. From the outside, the church won’t look all that different — we will love Jesus and preach the Gospel. From the inside, we hope to emphasize relational discipleship and service to the community.”

However, this change has not come easily. Smith expressed the lament of the congregation and the leadership at the churches’ separation, saying, “The process that has led us to this point has been difficult and many people are sad that they will be worshipping in a place that does not have all the same faces as what they’re used to seeing, and there is grief and sorrow in that.” However, Smith is choosing to approach the change with a positive outlook. “We have the opportunity not only to believe that God makes beauty from ashes, but we have the opportunity to choose beauty over the ashes and be faithful to wherever God calls us, without competition and without rivalry, and to choose to love and pray for the best.”

Though it will retain many of its core beliefs, leaders and members from the Reality Carpinteria congregation, Christ Church is looking towards a future outside of the family of Reality churches. Pastor Beau Bekendam cites the leadership structure of Reality as being one of the main reasons for the split: “[Reality churches] have a centralized leadership structure with a council that oversees certain aspects of all the churches, like who the head pastors for preaching and vision are. I personally have come to think differently that that decision should be led on a local level and that the congregation should be very involved in that process.”

Beau Bekendam, the new head pastor of Christ Church Carpinteria.

Accordingly, Bekendam emphasized the importance of Christ Church not being a “reactionary” church against Reality. Instead, Christ Church is seeking to be a continuation of the values of Reality seen through a different philosophical framework. Christ Church Carpinteria has not yet had its first Sunday service, but when the time comes, the congregation will be meeting on the campus of Faith Lutheran Church in Carpinteria.

One of the more troubling elements of forming two new churches from one congregation is the congregants’ decision of where to worship. Westmont sophomore Colin Brown, who has attended Reality Carpinteria since his first year, said that his decision will be driven by his past experiences at Reality. “Beau has been my pastor ever since I started going to Reality Carp, and I really like him and he’s a big reason why I’ve stayed at Carp throughout college. At the same time, I’d love to at least see what it’s like on Sundays with this new iteration of Reality Carp.” 

Both Smith and Bekendam offered their advice to students facing the decision of where to attend church. Bekendam specifically emphasized the importance of reflection in choosing a church, saying that “there are few decisions in life more important than where you’re going to go worship, so take it seriously and prayerfully.” Smith’s encouragement was to understand and invest in the place God calls you to: “Wherever you go, wherever you end up, love and grow where God plants you and fight to maintain the unity of the spirit.”

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