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Building Community Bridges

Building Community Bridges

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Forks, Washington, is a community of roughly 3,900 people. Nestled in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula, the town is tucked between the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Locals boast of Forks being the rainiest town in the contiguous U.S., with an annual average rainfall of 120 inches. The serene and quiet locale also is home to Forks Assembly of God, a thriving church attended by more than 300 residents.

Pastor Andy E. Pursley, however, views the flock as larger than just those who regularly visit the church. He says his mission as a small-town pastor is to build bridges that bring people to Christ.

The 37-year-old pastor has modeled that vision by serving as a chaplain in the sheriff’s department and developing a chaplaincy program in the local hospital. His connections within law enforcement have created inroads to be on the front lines, which Pursley says give him opportunities to “shepherd the community through tragedy.”

“God opens doors when we’re available, and my work with the sheriff’s office makes me available to be a voice when people are most desperate for the love and comfort of Jesus,” says Pursley, who has been pastor of the church since 2013. “As a chaplain, you allow your heart to break with people as they navigate some of the most difficult moments of their life.”

For Mike Rowley, Forks chief of police, Pursley’s community leadership is “irreplaceable.” Rowley attends Forks Assembly, but through his community leadership position he has experienced the impact of the church’s commitment to operate beyond its walls.

“I can’t think of a time where we’ve had an encounter and pastor Andy hasn’t spoken into my life, prayed for me, and made me feel empowered,” Rowley says. “Pastor Andy is one of the first people we call when people need assistance. His ability to bring calmness into a volatile situation is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”

With the isolated Forks located 140 miles west of Seattle, Rowley says the community involvement by the church — including Alcoholics Anonymous support groups, disaster response, and providing pastoral care to high school students after a teen suicide or fatal car crash — has instilled a sense of hope in the small town.

Hope and unity have been tenets of Pursley’s philosophy since beginning his pastoral tenure at Forks Assembly. It is perhaps most apparent through a ministry partnership at a neighboring Native American reservation. Years ago, Pursley recognized a cultural divide between adherents of Forks AG and attendees of the Native church in La Push, even though they are Assemblies of God congregations 15 miles apart.

Pursley wondered how he could help bridge the gap with La Push, which is on the Pacific coast. He began regularly meeting with George Kallappa, the pastor of La Push Assembly of God. The two formed a friendship, co-hosted revival meetings, and created a model of partnership.

In 2020, Kallappa announced his retirement and asked Forks Assembly to become the parent church of La Push Assembly.

“Where there was once a divide, God built a bridge,” says Pursley. “We’re working together to knit a heart of unity that will hopefully extend beyond our congregations and into the culture and fabric of our peninsula.”

In 2021, the Forks Assembly pastoral team challenged their congregation to give $30,000 to help develop the La Push facility. Pursley says congregants have rallied behind the mindset of expanding their reach zone.

PHOTO: Men from Forks AG and La Push AG worship together singing a hymn.

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