By Carl Stagner
If you’ve been to the campus of Anderson University, you’ve probably noticed the towering presence of Park Place Church of God at the west end of Fifth Street. Chances are you’ve been inside the building, the original portion of which dates back to 1906. While some may have come to associate the church with eras gone by, they’re only seeing a very small picture. Though some may see the congregation as just a campus church, locals know the truth. Indeed, the heritage of Park Place is rich and beautiful, and many AU students and professors attend services. But the real story is the incredible impact this multigenerational church is having on its community today.
Consider the food pantry, which has been steadily operating and ministering to needy neighbors since the 1960s, if not earlier. Joe Womack, who has been volunteering for the pantry since 2001, says that no one can remember any point in the pantry’s history at which someone had to be turned away due to empty shelves. He also explains that while there were 674 recorded visits in 1997, the more than 22,000 visits in 2014 demonstrates an increasing demand—but also an increasing support of a congregation that wants to serve.
The food pantry is more than just a distribution center for food. It’s a distribution center for hope. Sydney Johnson, co-founder of Children of Promise and regular volunteer for the pantry, knows this fact firsthand. On Mondays, he can be found visiting with guests of the pantry, listening to their stories, and praying with them. He recalls those who have returned to report successful surgeries and healing. He recalls listening to the story of a woman who was carrying a heavy burden for a teenage son reaping the consequence of a string of poor choices. One young woman was also suffering such consequences, yet found a listening, caring friend in “Mac.” At the Park Place food pantry, guests walk in Monday through Friday for nonperishable goods, but have the opportunity each day to leave with inextinguishable hope.
“Every day I think, here I am at almost ninety years old and I have this wonderful ministry,” Sydney reflects. “I can’t go overseas anymore, but God has given me this ministry here.”
In 2010, the church took a bold step to expand their ministry reach by acquiring the former elementary school that lay vacant behind their facility. Now the Park Place Community Center not only serves as home for the expanded food pantry, but also provides space for the church’s After School Fun (free) outreach to children, Stripped Love of CHOG TraffickLight, Safe Families, local artists, Upward basketball, nutrition classes, a community garden, an office of Community Hospital, and a service that helps at-risk teens obtain a high school diploma. Though not all of the offerings are direct outreach efforts of Park Place, the Community Center has allowed the church to partner effectively with existing agencies for maximum community impact. Kristin Stayer, who provides executive leadership for the Community Center, couldn’t be more encouraged by the ways God is working. She’s also noticed a change in herself.
“Working for the Community Center has enriched my life by seeing the growth of individuals, our neighborhood, and city,” Kristin explains. “I have met many unique and talented individuals that have inspired my life and the work I do. I love working with our many partners across the city and creating change together. God has been present through the small and large details, experiences, and relationships.”
The breadth of life-giving ministries at Park Place extends beyond the Community Center. The congregation’s fervor for local and global ministry has resulted in a far-reaching, diverse impact. From the worship services, to the growing youth and college student ministries, to the longstanding children’s center and preschool, Park Place Church of God continues to unfold new pages of its rich history-in-the-making. Pastor David Markle offers some insights.
“I treasure the heritage of ministry and compassion stretching the world that has originated from right here,” he explains. “As we learn the story of our own congregation, what rises up to speak to us today? What is the fingerprint of God’s vision for our church? Our task is to fulfill God’s assignment for us in the kingdom. Life is just rich in giving witness to the reality of Christ. And if I’m listening well, God is always speaking.”
Were you blessed by reading this story? Support the ongoing work of Church of God Ministries with your gift to the World Ministry Fund at http://www.jesusisthesubject.org/world-ministry-fund/.