Partnership over Polarization: Kansas Pastor, Church Bring Community Together
By Carl Stagner
The national spotlight may not be on the southwestern corner of Kansas, but what has transpired there over the past couple of years is nothing short of remarkable. Presephoni Fuller, who left her Georgia home in 2018 to accept the pastorate at South Church of God, took intentional steps almost immediately to engage with the community. Representing Christ and her congregation, she’s forged crucial partnerships at every level of local society, demonstrating authentic concern and care for the present and future well-being of her neighbors. While communities across the country are suffering at the hands of polarization, the Kansas community of Liberal has recently joined hands in partnership to open a food bank and stand against racism.
Pastor Presephoni hit the ground running as soon as she arrived in town. Apparent to her from the outset were the disparities between the north side of town and the south side; the north side, for instance, had better access to medical care, fresh food, and other necessities. Surveying the needs readied her to start attending chamber of commerce and county commissioner meetings. In a November 2018 CHOGnews article explaining her rationale for getting so involved in these meetings, Presephoni posed the question, “If the doors of South Church were to close, would anyone care?” She continued, “Community matters for me, and it means getting outside the four walls and into the community. It means going to the school games, city and county government and business meetings, and being in-the-know. Staying in-the-know helps me, as a pastor, pass along information that the church might not otherwise know—like new jobs, new construction, new roads, and businesses coming to the area.”
Her introduction to another important group was less intentional, but nevertheless providential. “I stumbled upon a group called the Liberal Area Coalition for Families,” Presephoni recounts. “I started going to their meetings and found out that all the agency leaders were there. It was then that I realized I was the only pastor at that table.”
She concedes her full-time pastoral role, not common in the area, opens her schedule to allow for such community engagement, but being the only pastor there still “blew [her] away.” She continues, “After a year with the Coalition, I was continuing to see the things that were lacking on the south side of town.” One of the obvious challenges was food insecurity.
Through these connections, Presephoni learned about solutions discovered by other small communities struggling with food insecurity. Meanwhile, she was keenly aware of the sizeable property the Lord had blessed the modest-size South Church of God with, including a sanctuary that holds up to four hundred people. When the pandemic struck, the problem of food insecurity only got worse for local families. Without missing a beat, Pastor Presephoni challenged the congregation to embrace the moment, urging, “This is the finest hour for the body of Christ. We can’t hide. We’ve got to find ways to help our community.”
Upon receiving a timely phone call from the Coalition, Presephoni learned that all they needed was space and volunteers—they would help supply food for a food bank. Starting on the fourth Thursday of June, with the intent to continue on a monthly basis, the South Church Food Bank celebrated its debut at South Church of God. No one would be turned away, no identification would be required, and everyone would receive what they needed; being faithful to obey was the chief concern at the moment, not sustainability. As Presephoni points out, “God’s gonna provide. His resources are unlimited. We will trust him.”
After all was said and done, 285 people were served nourishment for body and soul. Donations from various sources came in, and God’s handiwork continues to be evident throughout. His hand was also evident via South Church of God in what was called a “March for Victory,” an even that took place in town earlier in June.
With permission from the mayor, Pastor Presephoni Fuller organized the peaceful march to the city park. Participants spanned the ethnic spectrum, demonstrating the diversity of the city and a united longing for peace and racial reconciliation. The chief of police led the march and police cruisers followed along in support. Prayer and spontaneous worship erupted during the event, as one young lady began singing a beautiful rendition of the popular praise and worship song, “Way Maker.”
Presephoni Fuller is the first black pastor in the more than ninety-year history of South Church of God. Some in the community have appeared surprised when they learn she’s the pastor of the predominantly white congregation. But Presephoni takes it all in stride, not wanting to make a big deal about differences; Presephoni is more interested in what brings people together. Her goal is to make a big deal about Jesus.
“As the people of God,” Presephoni reflects, “we don’t stick our head in the sand as if nothing has happened in our country. But the Bible says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ My prayer for the Church of God is Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we would be one. The church is allowing itself to be pulled into the pop culture, but we’ve been called to be separate from all that so we can be used by God. If we’re going to be one church, let’s be one church! If Jesus is going to be the subject, let Jesus be the subject!”
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