By Carl Stagner
Liberal, Kansas, never saw it coming. The city of only about 20,000 people couldn’t have imagined the day. Only 3.8 percent of the population is African American, and the new pastor of South Church of God is both black and a woman. Presephoni Fuller is, in fact, the first black pastor in the ninety-year history of the church. Still, Pastor Presephoni takes it all in stride. She doesn’t have time to ponder the uniqueness of her situation; she’s too busy reaching deeper into the community and taking the Kansas congregation to new heights.
“Many knew I was coming but some look surprised when I was introduced as the new pastor of South Church of God,” Presephoni recollects of her arrival in Liberal.
The church wasn’t surprised, of course, as they’d gotten to know her as a pastoral candidate. When the church vote was handed down, Presephoni learned the church had voted unanimously to call her there. This confirmed what she’d felt the whole time she spent with the congregation. “I stayed in one of the senior saints’ homes and she treated me like royalty…Rose, Carolyn, and Sharon carried my luggage and would not let me do anything. I was there for five days, and they planned each day who I would eat lunch and dinner with. Even the teens had a chance to get to know me when we went bowling together. That week was wonderful and loving, and I never felt any kind of racial tension while there.”
Presephoni Fuller began sensing the call to ministry under the leadership of her first pastor, John O. Laster, at what was then known as Greater Jacksonville Church of God in Jacksonville, Florida. “His guidance and loving care of the sheep was a great model for me to follow,” Presephoni reflects. “He knew how to love people wherever they are in life.
Benjamin Reid. Horace Sheppard. Samuel Hines. These were also key figures in the shaping of Presephoni’s ministry, as they were for countless others. But it was Pastor Jason McClendon of Community Church of God in Macon, Georgia, who gave the budding minister specific direction toward a future in vocational pastoring. At a leadership training event in 2014, she got to know him and he helped her realize the important distinction between preaching and pastoring. He has continued to be a role model and mentor, also giving her practical experience by scheduling opportunities for her to preach and teach. He directed her to enroll in Leadership Focus.
“Investing in myself has reaped great benefits from this program,” Presephoni reflects. “From my call to ministry at age fifteen up until now, it all makes sense in the grand scheme of things. God was working all the time, and I just did not see it. The connectivity portion of Leadership Focus was the pulse of what makes me who I am.”
Pastor Jason McClendon also directed Presephoni to join the CHOG Ministry Connector online. Presephoni applied for five churches, and two responded. She was confident that one of these two would work out, so when she answered a phone call from South Church of God in Liberal, Kansas, she initially turned it down. Upon hearing that the two churches had decided against Presephoni, the disappointment that could have lingered was instead eclipsed by what Pastor Jason and Presephoni’s husband perceived could be a “God move.” Looking back, Pastor Presephoni sees God bringing all the right pieces together.
Presephoni is the only black member of the church until her husband joins her in Liberal in 2019. Until then, he’s remained in Georgia to wrap up a career based there. Meanwhile, some black members of the Liberal community have visited the church, but have not stayed. Instead, seven new white families have made South Church of God their home church since Presephoni’s been at the pulpit.
“The Juneteenth celebration is where I was able to meet the 3.8 percent of the population that is African American,” Presephoni explains. “While there, someone asked me if anyone had left the church since I got there. No one had. The church was down to thirty-nine people, but at the installation service, there were about two hundred. There were black, white, Asian, Hispanic in attendance—only God could do that!”
A documentary film crew from New York visited Liberal, Kansas, in July, intrigued by the racial composition of the community. Upon hearing about the new black pastor in town who came from Georgia to pastor a white congregation, the producers made an appointment to film two of the church’s services. Presephoni could never have imagined all that God would do in Liberal to show the love of Christ through unity in diversity. Racial differences are not a deterrent.
“My husband was in the army for twenty-eight years,” Presephoni recounts. “We’ve been all over the world and have raised our children with a global perspective. We don’t say, ‘I have a black friend,’ or, ‘I have a white friend.’ We simply say, ‘I have a friend.’”
With purpose and poise, Presephoni has hit the ground running. Leading the church to community involvement and outreach is one of her chief goals, as she has clearly exemplified in a new paradigm. “If the doors of South Church were to close, would anyone care?” she ponders. “Community matters for me, and it means getting outside the four walls and into the community. It means going to the school games, city and county government and business meetings, and being in the know. Staying in the know helps me, as a pastor, pass along information that the church might not otherwise know—like new jobs, new construction, new roads, and businesses coming to the area.”
South Church of God also envisions more and more opportunities to partner with Pastor Rafael Bermudez and the Spanish-speaking Church of God in Liberal. “We’re actually in a predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood. We are intentional about showing the love of Christ in as many ways as possible. What an opportunity to bring about unity as D. S. Warner envisioned. I get to be a part of that kind of kingdom dynamics!”
The church is continually looking for ways to bless their community, including an upcoming Thanksgiving turkey drive for the local homeless shelter. “My prayer is that God will use South Church to be a lighthouse in a community where languages divide us, but smiles can unite us,” Presephoni reflects. “I am honored to serve this amazing group of people in Liberal, Kansas, where God’s grace flows liberally!”
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