By Carl Stagner
The view from the corner of Sutter Avenue and Warwick is markedly different today than it was in 1965. Since 1965, the Church of God of East New York has exercised bold love in their neighborhood for the cause of Christ. They call this kind of ministry B.L.O.C.K., which stands for Boldly Loving Our Community with Kindness. After decades of exemplifying bold love, God has blessed this storefront church with a brand new sanctuary. Today, passersby can’t help but notice the new construction which, for them, represents renewed vitality and hope for a community that others have simply written off as a lost cause.
For the Church of God of East New York, moving into a new sanctuary did not mean relocation. Through the ups and downs of the neighborhood around them, the church has remained constant. The new building, next door to the two-story-with-basement catering and dining hall that housed the congregation from the beginning, enters a new era of ministry with a facility dedicated on Sunday, April 13. “We are blessed to be able to continue to have the current building right next to the new one to utilize for church and community ministries,” Pastor Clifton McDowell explains.
Regarding the church’s bold expression of love in the community, McDowell says it’s all about “show and tell.” He explains, “We are called to ‘show and tell’ the gospel. Our goal is to show the love of God in our community through practical acts of kindness and concern, and then tell the gospel verbally one-on-one. What that looks like is cleaning, or shoveling the snow in front of, neighbors’ homes. It means sponsoring community health fairs, providing free medical screening, back-to-school barbecues with free school supplies, outdoor family movie nights, free smoke detectors, community carnivals, purchasing items for the school in the community we’ve adopted, setting up prayer booths to pray for people, holding children’s Bible clubs in community parks, serving Thanksgiving dinners, providing Christmas gifts for families in shelters, and just walking through the community talking with people.”
Trusting God’s Timing
Clifton McDowell’s ministry at the corner of Sutter and Warwick has also been longstanding. Seeing lasting growth and ultimately reaching this milestone has not come without headaches. Yet the medicinal properties of McDowell’s joy in Christ has sustained him and enabled him to patiently trust the mysterious hand of God.
“It has required patience and trust that the Lord has been, and is in, control even when things were difficult and discouraging. My wife and I understand why the Lord does not usually give us all the details or steps involved in accomplishing what he calls us to do—we might hesitate in taking those first steps. We’ve learned that everyone who starts will not finish with you because they move on to other things when you need them most to help finish. We’ve also learned that while there will always be those who neither support nor want what God is doing through the congregation in an innercity community like ours, there will always be those God will use to help get it done.”
Though sometimes slower than we’d like, discipleship and church growth are not mutually exclusive. McDowell has learned this firsthand. “We have found that the deepest growth happens in a person’s life through healthy, intentional one-on-one relationships and small group experiences. Since the church is the people, there is no real church growth without providing opportunity and challenging people to grow in their faith.” McDowell adds that personal evangelism must be emphasized and exemplified.
Exciting days are ahead for the Church of God of East New York. McDowell anticipates God’s best. “Our prayer for the church going forward is that it will continue to grow deep and wide as we focus on reaching and lifting people towards the purposes God has for their lives, that we as a congregation will see ourselves—and the people in our lives—the way the Lord sees people.”