By Carl Stagner
One popular community outreach is the distribution of gift bags to local first responders. Long hours and hard labor that is both physically and mentally strenuous often leave members of police, fire, and other emergency services in need of a dose of encouragement; many Church of God congregations have opted to fill that need, and continue to do so at regular intervals through the year. It’s just another way they’ve determined to give life to their community. But not many have gone so far as Cloverdale Church of God in Boise, Idaho. They’ve not only opened their heart to local law enforcement, they’ve given them room and key.
It all started a few years ago at a conference for church leaders in Anderson, Indiana, and with a particularly bright idea; thank you, Pastor Melissa Pratt of Teays Valley Church of God in Scott Depot, West Virginia! Tom Dougherty, lead pastor of Cloverdale was in attendance and couldn’t get his mind off the possibilities of a ’round-the-clock ministry to first responders. What if the church specifically designated a room in the church as a breakroom for local law enforcement? It may not be practically necessary in every community, but for Cloverdale, the potential impact looked promising. After all, the church is situated fifteen minutes from downtown and, as a result, could serve as an ideal, safe place for officers to take a break without having to commute back and forth.
“The wife of one of our board members works for the sheriff department, so the connection wasn’t too difficult to make,” Tom recalls. Furthermore, the church had recently dealt with the department due to some burglary activity taking place near the church’s softball field. The opportunity was wide open to bring up the possibilities, and soon the doors would be wide open to local law enforcement to come and go, as they please, from what would become their new breakroom at the edge of town.
The location in the church was perfect. The room the church had available for such a purpose already had an exterior door. A keypad lock was installed so the church wouldn’t have to be open for the breakroom to be utilized. The space was also ideally positioned adjacent to restroom facilities and a TV was installed, along with a variety of seating options. And, since no breakroom would be complete without coffee, water, and snacks, the church provides that, as well.
“I just started asking for donations for people to stock the room with candy, pastries, chips, trail mix, water, and so on, and the money and donations just started coming in like crazy,” Tom explains. “Our church thought it was the greatest thing! Now we have a family that has given enough to stock the operation for three years.”
TJ Samuelu, associate pastor, is also struck by the response by both officers and congregation. He explains another aspect of the tremendous benefit the ministry has on the officers, themselves. “They’re always on heightened alert when they’re on duty,” he explains. “Often officers will take a break in a parking lot and remain in their car. So, for them to have a place to come and unplug and not have to worry about watching their back, or feel like someone might come up behind them that they didn’t see—that’s really beneficial.”
During the holidays, the church steps up their ministry to law enforcement and leaves gift cards in the breakroom. The result of this new relationship with the officers has brought about several unexpected, wonderful consequences, including the fostering of relationships with a variety of other aspects of the community. One example of the effects of the ministry is the presence of a police vehicle at the church’s annual trunk or treat in the fall.
Sometimes there are one or two officers utilizing the breakroom, but occasionally, and at any given time, there might be up to eight patrol vehicles in the lot. The heavy police presence has drawn considerable attention from the community, who often don’t hesitate to inquire about the unusual sight. “Many ask why all the cops are there at the church, so I’m able to tell them the story,” Tom explains. “They hear about it and are thrilled that we would do that.” About five law enforcement officers are a part of the church today and, as Pastor Tom put is, “there’s been zero crime since!”
Additional life-giving ministries at Cloverdale Church of God include, but are not limited to, Pastor Tom’s daily radio program, sponsorship of a Christian camp, the support of a local organization that cares for single mothers, a prison outreach, and the generous funding of Global Strategy missionaries.
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