Town Names North Carolina Congregation “Church of the Year”
By Carl Stagner
For service to the community, Marshville, North Carolina, again awarded the title “Church of the Year” to First Church of God. This summer’s recognition made for the second year in a row the congregation has received such an honor, on top of other honors they’ve accepted. Essential in the eyes of their town, First Church of God, under the exemplary pastoral leadership of J. R. Atkinson, demonstrates through several potent programs just how unwaveringly committed they are to God and neighbor.
Fifty-five bags of groceries to children in the school system each week. Grocery delivery to nutritionally unstable households in and surrounding Marshville. Clothing and household furniture provisions for families in need, even families (formerly) sleeping on the floor. Complete Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter meals provided at no cost to recipients. Toys for children and gifts for adults, too, at Christmas. Brand-new backpacks complete with 90 percent of a child’s school supply requirements, tailored to specific school lists. These and other ministries find their roots at First Church of God of Marshville, North Carolina.
They’re not a large church, but they have huge hearts. And, for Pastor “A”—as she’s affectionately known across town—and the congregation, that’s all that matters.
“Because it’s needed,” she insists. “That’s why we do it. Jesus did not ignore the people of the world. If the people only had two fish and five loaves of bread, he made sure they ate. We want people to be saved. We want their lives to improve, and the only way that will happen is if they choose to serve God. The Bible is, after all, our roadmap for life. But how can you be satisfied singing church songs and listening to a good sermon if someone is lost outside?”
Working with the school directly, the church has become a vital partner in providing for students and their families in a holistic manner. By showing up consistently and providing quality food with good nutritional content, they’ve become a trusted voice. There’s no suspicion of an agenda among those who have seen First Church of God demonstrate genuine care and compassion; there’s only a relationship that puts Jesus on full display in tangible action. People have joined the church as a result, but ultimately the church’s goal is simply to do what Jesus did, serve like he served, and love like he loves.
“We thank God because, for five years, we haven’t taken a dime out of the church’s general account to do all this,” Pastor J. R. explains. “It’s all been 100-percent donations.”
Indeed, the operation is so fine-tuned and well-respected that individuals, businesses, and even other churches offer what they can to keep it all going. When deep freezers were needed, anonymous donors stepped up to the plate. When turkeys were needed for the Thanksgiving feast, the turkeys came in like clockwork. One store manger heard about what First Church of God was doing at Christmas to allow children to come “shop” for Christmas gifts for their family and responded by offering unheard-of discounts. Big-box retailers and chain restaurants have also gotten into the mix, simply because the good reputation of First Church of God precedes itself. “Church of the Year” ultimately means a church that went all-in for Christ and his kingdom “all through the year.”
It takes a team to get the job done, of course, and Pastor J. R. is quick to credit the volunteers and partners that work together. She’s also quick to point out that, even though some scams are out there, her eyes have been opened the real needs of real people struggling just to survive in this real, difficult world. Thankfully, there are people like Pastor “A,” ready to serve and lead others to serve.
Regarding all the plaques that line the lobby of First Church of God in Marshville, North Carolina, Pastor J. R. Atkinson takes it all in stride. “I don’t get wrapped up in it too much because I don’t want to distort my mind. I just want to keep doing God’s will,” she says.
Interested supporters may offer support by mail sent to the church at 113 Booker St, Marshville, NC 28103.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.