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Merged and Miraculous -- the Holy Spirit's Blending of Two Churches

Following the leading of the Holy Spirit, two Philadelphia churches successfully merged, continuing to demonstrate God's plan for reaching the city for Christ since the early 1900s.
Some of Jesus’ best miracles take time.

Over a century ago, missionary evangelist Luigi Francescon was freshly baptized in the Holy Spirit in William Howard Durham’s Chicago church, which was in revival following Durham’s visit to the Azusa Street revival.

Jesus then called Francescon to Philadelphia, where he led a group of Italian Immigrants to salvation. The newly saved Italians also experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They formed the Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith, which in 1925 became Calvary Temple Assembly of God.

Pastor George J. Valco, 70, and his wife Ruth led Calvary Temple from 1996 to 2018, at which point a most unexpected miracle occurred as Christ propelled the church forward in history.

“WHY DON'T WE JUST MERGE OUR CHURCHES?”

Pastor William B. (Brad) Leach, 45, and his wife Leah moved to South Philadelphia in 2010, planting City Life AG church in 2011. As they began to learn about the area and what the Lord was doing there, they also began to build friendships with other area pastors, including the Valcos. The two men discovered a connection that created a bridge of special trust between them — Leach’s grandfather, John Palmer, was Valco’s first presbyter as a young minister starting out in Ohio and was someone he had greatly respected.

As City Life continued to grow, they met in rented spaces around South Philadelphia, frequently using Calvary Temple’s facilities as well. Leach and his team began searching and saving for a building to buy. “We were looking at places going for three or four million dollars, that might get us something like 10,000 square feet of space and no parking,” he remembers.

At the same time, the Valcos began to sense that their time at Calvary Temple was ending, even planning a date to announce their resignation.

Riding together one day to a sectional prayer meeting, Leach began sharing with Valco their struggle in finding a building.

Valco says, “So I said to Brad, just off the top of my head, but now I know it was the Holy Spirit prompting me, ‘Why don’t we just merge our churches?’ And I thought his head was going to spin off.”

Leach, with whom the Holy Spirit had also already begun to deal, asked that they prayerfully continue the conversation. “There were a lot of things the Holy Spirit did in that process,” he recalls.

SUPERNATURAL ORCHESTRATION

When Philadelphia’s citywide Broad Street Run rendered it impossible for City Life to get into its rented facilities one spring Sunday in 2018, Leach approached Valco with the idea of a blended service at Calvary Temple.

Valco says, “The Holy Spirit spoke to me in no uncertain terms, ‘You will have that joint service.’ It was like an order. And when the Holy Spirit speaks that way, you listen. So, we had the joint service.”

“I preached, and Pastor Valco closed the service,” Leach remembers. “There as just a beautiful spirit in the room. We felt City Life people connecting with Pastor Valco and Calvary Temple people connecting with me. This became not just something of the two pastors, but also beyond into the boards and congregations.”

Both pastors recall the Lord orchestrating even smaller details of the service order, smoothing out potential bumps.

In the weeks following the joint service, members of the Calvary Temple asked Valco for a repeat. Many other confirmations, both large and small, also fell into place. These events and prayerful discussions culminated in a business meeting of Calvary Temple members which resulted in a more-than-two-thirds majority vote to merge Calvary Temple and City Life.

“I had told them that all that mattered in the process was God’s will, and to come pray. My board members literally voted themselves out of existence,” Valco says. “There was a lot of dying to self in that process.”

In October 2018, Calvary Temple merged into City Life. A celebration service was had. Unbeknownst to the Valcos and their team, the Leaches and their team arranged for Leach to wash Valco’s feet, Leah to wash Ruth’s, and the City Life board to wash those of Calvary Temple’s board.

It was agreed that for the next six months, the Valcos would remain as transition pastors at City Life. When the months were up, Leach asked Valco to remain as spiritual care pastor. The arrangement continued five years, culminating in April 2024.

“I did have to rescue the hymnals from being thrown away,” Valco laughs. “But really, there were two key things. First, I have always taught it was not appropriate for former pastors to stay on, hanging over the new pastor’s shoulder. But Pastor Brad asked us to stay, and the Holy Spirit said to do it. Secondly, the Holy Spirit did this and it cannot be duplicated. People might think you can merge with a good plan but no, it must be a God thing, period. This must happen in an anointed, Spirit-led way or it will be a problem.”

CATALYST FOR THE MIRACULOUS

Valco, who has begun a new ministry assignment in Delaware, says, “The honor that Pastor Brad and Leah have shown us has been amazing and even embarrassing at times, in a good way. They even knew that visiting Greece is on my bucket list, and they have made it possible for us to fulfill that dream.”

Leach shares his own perspective. “The Valcos demonstrate incredibly humility. They recognize that churches we are entrusted with are God’s, not ours. It takes a lot of humility to take something that God has given you and made you responsible for and hand it to someone else. Pastor George and Ruth did that with a lot of grace, even though I know it was not always easy. He was willing to be generous and visionary, taking risks and dreaming about new things that God was giving birth to.”

Today, the City Life congregation numbers around 700. In the foyer a timeline — styled like a map of Philadelphia’s subway system — charts the church from Azusa Street to Calvary Temple to City Life. The pieces calls attendees to recognize the hand of God guiding them through history, setting in motion a legacy, and perpetuating miracles in generations yet to come.

Leach concludes, “In the merger, City Life gained depth and maturity — a rootedness in God’s Word. Calvary Temple gained vitality and new life — more salvations and baptisms, and the opportunity to see even grandchildren plugging in. Pray that we can extend this miracle into the future, reproducing around underdog areas of the city and resulting in transformed souls and lives. May we be a catalyst for more miracles.”

Kristel Zelaya

Kristel Zelaya is a freelance writer and editor with global experience. She served as marketing manager for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions and as a writer and editor for Assemblies of God World Missions. These experiences have led her to numerous countries and cultures — far from beaten paths — on behalf of many who did not know how deeply their stories matter. Zelaya is also a licensed Assemblies of God minister.