Walking for Peace
This East Boston church of 90 people includes 60 who are immigrants from Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Togo, Angola, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Germany, China, St. Kitts and Nevis.A small, multiethnic Assemblies of God congregation is making a big difference by ministering in the Boston inner city.
Central Assembly of God has had a strong presence in East Boston since the 1990s, through its youth summer events, clothing pantry, ministry to the children and families of prisoners, English classes for immigrant learners, and prayer walks.
“Our community presence took a new level of intensity in 2013 when we joined a community-based effort to defeat a proposal for a casino in East Boston,” explains David W. Searles, who has been the pastor of Central Assembly since 1993. “Against the odds, we were able to defeat that proposal and keep the casino out of East Boston.”
Searles, who also serves as an AG sectional presbyter in the Southern New England Ministry Network, helped form the Friends of East Boston, a faith-based coalition of churches and clergy who opposed the casino.
Although Searles is white, Central Assembly is predominantly African and African American. The church has around 90 adherents, including 60 who are immigrants from Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Togo, Angola, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Germany, China, St. Kitts and Nevis. Searles crafted a resolution passed at the 1989 General Council condemning racism.
In 2015, East Boston, which has a population of more than 41,000 people, experienced an increase in youth violence and homicide. In a span of 18 months, five teenagers were murdered in the neighborhood.
Searles, 58, and Central Assembly became involved through an outreach for at-risk youth, the East Boston Peace Walks, and the formation of the East Boston Trauma Team. The walks, featuring community leaders, clergy, police officers, elected officials, residents, and youth workers, are a community-based effort to promote peace in the neighborhood and to build relationships.
“We want our neighbors to know that we are with them and want to support them with our presence and with prayers,” says Searles, noting that a team of 10 members from Central Assembly are taking part in the weekly neighborhood walkthroughs this summer. “It’s in these walks that we meet young people who need some direction and we are able to engage them in conversations about life and hope, and offer to them the love of God.”
Gregg Detwiler, director for intercultural ministries at Emmanuel Gospel Center, says Central Assembly’s impact goes beyond its modest numerical size.
“They leverage the tremendous diversity and gifting within their ranks to serve their community in holistic ways,” Detwiler says. “The congregation rolls up their sleeves to serve their community in a wide variety of ways. Central Assembly is a faithful expression of the kingdom of God embedded within the fabric of East Boston.”
Carlotta Jones, 63, a Central Assembly congregant, considers the walks unifying.
“People know who to turn to when they need prayer,” Jones says.
Christine Jean, 64, another Central Assembly member, says the neighborhood walkthroughs are a blessing.
“Parents who see the team walking through the park are encouraged to know other people care about them,” Jean says. “And it does make a difference with the young people.”
Searles, who graduated from Central Bible College and earned a doctorate from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in ministry in complex urban settings, says during one of the walkthroughs a young man asked for prayer to get out of the street life.
“We as a church needed to realize that a kid like him will probably never walk through our doors,” Searles says. “I can’t sit around and wait for him to show up.”