Seattle Church Renews, Reimagines Ministry to Families and Community
By Jaymie Dieterle
When TJ Samuelu, his wife Courtney, and their family came to Fairview Church of God (Seattle, Washington) in February of 2020, they knew they were going to be helping the congregation through some challenges. Several months before the Samuelus arrived, Fairview had closed the K–8 school that had been part of the ministry of the church for decades. But like most of the world, they had no inkling of the challenges still to come.
Just weeks into the Samuelus’ ministry at Fairview, the pandemic began, adding challenge on top of challenge for their community. In timing that is so like God, TJ was part of a Chapter 4 cohort at the same time. According to the Church of God Ministries website, “…the Chapter 4 Institute is an immersive, cohort-based leadership experience that creates passion for spiritual and social renewal. It challenges leaders to reimagine how the church might earn its place as an essential ally—alongside local government, community-based organizations, businesses, and others—to change the story in their communities.”
TJ says, “Chapter 4 gave us guidance and a structure that we were able to apply in the moment.” The Chapter 4 process asks participants to consider what God is saying to the individual congregation, in their context, in that moment, and then ask, “What are we going to do about it?” Fairview took inventory of their assets. “What time, talent, and treasure do we have that could speak into the needs of our community?”
Those questions have led the church in several directions. The biggest answer they had was, “We have an empty school building.” As families in the area wondered how they would handle schooling their children in the middle of a pandemic, Fairview said “We’re here to help.”
Fairview launched the LEAF program—Learning Enrichment At Fairview—in the fall of 2020. Students brought their coursework to a classroom at Fairview and had classroom support while their parents were able to go to work. The program was especially popular with families who had been using Fairview’s childcare program for preschool. A whole group of new kindergarten students were able to transition from childcare to a kindergarten class at Fairview. In the midst of a pandemic, this was one group of students who hardly noticed a difference in their routines. And, with the space available at Fairview, the church could offer enrichment programs, including art and robotics, to students, as well.
But LEAF wasn’t the only way Fairview used their time, talent, and treasure to help their community. They’ve also shared storage space with a non-Church of God congregation in their area that had a need. They’ve made part of their parking lot available to help both the nearby neighborhood and a food truck owner who were running into traffic issues with the truck parked on the street. Fairview is also involved with the neighborhood community council.
“We are in the people business,” TJ says. “It’s been humbling to see people turn to the church for answers in their times of need.” He credits the Chapter 4 program with helping him through a challenging transition into his first lead pastor role. “Chapter 4 lets you network with and pick the brains of other leaders. With the cohort, you know you are never shouldering the work alone.” TJ notes that the Chapter 4 faculty have made a tremendous difference in his ministry. “Chapter 4 is different from a conference experience because you get to interact with the instructors. They are willing to continue to be a resource. Instead of handing us one solution to one problem, they have given us a process that we can keep applying to new situations.”
While LEAF is not operating this fall in Seattle, Fairview, is moving forward with their people-focused approach, waiting for the opportunity God will reveal for the congregation to step into next in order to meet the needs of those around them.
Find out more about the Chapter 4 Institute at www.jesusisthesubject.org/chapter4.
Jaymie Dieterle is the administrative assistant for the School of Theology and Christian Ministry at Anderson University as well as a freelance writer with a passion for books, reading, and life-long learning. Jaymie has written adult Sunday School curriculum, devotionals, and a Bible study for Warner Press/Warner Christian Resources. Jaymie and her family live in Anderson, Indiana, and they are actively involved at Madison Park Church of God.