Proximity Matters: Rhode Island Church Relinquishes Comfort for Relationship
By Carl Stagner
A fine facility in a nice neighborhood, offering welcoming worship services on a weekly basis, simply isn’t enough for Peace Dale First Church of God. Of course, the invitation is open to all, but the Rhode Island church is not content with asking the community to come to them. There must be more to their ministry, and Pastor Angela Sagesse knows this truth firsthand. She’s seen the limitations of the attractional model of church and understands that people need the church to go out and meet with them on their terms. Ramped up efforts to reach residents of low-income housing, coupled with new and renewed partnerships with local churches, have demonstrated that Peace Dale First Church of God is willing to relinquish comfort for the sake of relationship and for the cause of Christ.
Angela Sagesse and her husband have served Peace Dale First Church of God for eleven years. Their natural inclination to be oriented toward the community preceded their relocation to Rhode Island, however. When she was the youth pastor for Eaton First Church of God in Ohio, she and her then senior pastor attended a ministry conference at which the concept of “kindness outreach” was emphasized. It doesn’t take a major gesture of love, a complicated set of initiatives, or the debut of a large-scale program to live like Jesus. Jesus’ ministry on earth consisted of numerous acts of service offered without expectation of repayment. That’s precisely how Pastor Angela inspires her congregation to position themselves toward their neighbors, whether their neighbors have much or very little.
“One of our kindness outreach projects during the conference was to do a cookout at a low-income housing apartment complex in our town,” Angela recounts. “When we moved to Rhode Island, we knew we also needed to get out of the church and into the community. I heard about the Champagne Heights housing development and the South Kingstown Housing Authority and knew this would be a good location for a kindness outreach project.”
The church had already established a regular presence in the neighborhood through their transportation ministry by which they provided means for children to attend midweek church activities and summertime VBS. The opportunity to host a cookout and be physically present, doing something kind not only for the community, but also in and with the community, made a big statement. Sure, it wouldn’t be as comfortable as remaining on church grounds, but it was what they had been called to do.
“After I graduated from college and before I went into ministry,” Angela explains, “I did social work in inner-city Chicago, in the projects. I rarely saw anyone from any church go into the projects. Too often, the church wants people to come to their turf and on their terms. But people need to see a church willing to go to their turf and come without terms, other than to get to know them and their needs…. When people think of church, we want them to think of our church as one who was willing to go to them, where they are, to have fun with them and to listen to them. I don’t think there has been one outreach where someone hasn’t asked to talk with me about some major issues in their lives. We also want parents to see us as a place they can trust to send their kids.”
The efforts of Peace Dale First Church of God didn’t produce much fruit right away, but the congregation remained faithful. Though the event attracted primarily children and teens at the start, ultimately parents would come, too. Though Pastor Angela’s congregation started the work alone, other churches and local agencies got word of what they were doing and wanted to engage. Letting go of the reins of various aspects of the project, Peace Dale First Church of God built relationships not only with members of the community, but also these other local churches and agencies. The cookout and overall outreach to their neighbors has grown each year since and has proven that Christians—even those who adhere to differing doctrinal viewpoints—are stronger together.
“This past cookout involved volunteers from six churches, the Jonnycake Center and the Rotary Club,” Angela notes.
More unity events have since taken place among the participating churches, and Angela delights in what the Lord has done to bring portions of the body of Christ together. “I believe in a time when we are very divided along many fronts, the community needs to see the church be united,” she concludes. “If we don’t set the example, who will? We need to be the answer to the prayer that Jesus prayed to be one as he and the Father are one. We are hoping that when other pastors and congregations seeing us working together, they will see the value of being part, as well. New England is some hard soil to sow. It is a mission field here. Working together, maybe we can begin to see more harvest!”
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: The cookout features plenty of family fun, food, and fellowship.