Diverse in Expression—United in Mission

by Steve Strand, House of Grace

For worship, Grace Community, Buffalo Vineyard, and Mission of Christ meet at different times. However, for a weekend this past spring, they all gave up their usual meeting times to come together on a Sunday at noon to worship and share a fellowship meal afterward. The theme of the service was unity, and one of the pastors remarked that sometimes we’re like porcupines who want to be close in the winter for warmth but whose needles can be prickly if they’re not careful about how they come together. These three congregations are as close as they can be in proximity, in one building—diverse in expression, united in mission. Each church makes a unique and vital contribution through “House of Grace” at 175 Potomac on Buffalo’s west side.  

Grace Community, led by Pastor/Social Worker Barbara Farrow, has a mission to live generously among neighbors in a cycle of generational poverty. Saturday evening worship at 6:30 begins with a theme song, “Pilot Me,” when worshipers passionately pour out their hearts, voices, and life concerns to God. Prayer requests often include needs for housing, employment and neighborhood issues. In simple language with profound impact, the message is spoken.  Pastor Barbara notes with a smile that this congregation’s distinctive is an hour-long service, largely attended by people of color, and followed with a meal. Through the week participants come together for group discussion on Thursday nights, First Friday game nights, Second Saturday sub sandwich distribution, summer lunch for school children, and karaoke nights led by musician Michael Farrow. The church is passionate about outreach, hosting prayer walks through the summer, a Vacation Bible School, and distributing Angel Tree gifts at Christmas.   

Buffalo Vineyard, led by Pastor Steve Schenk, gathers for worship at 10:30 Sunday mornings. Zach Lopez leads a diverse worship team. Many young families in this congregation keep the church’s small nursery busy. Living out faith is vital to this church, with strong commitment to small groups and intentional relationships of service through the week. Vineyard includes long time community residents, and many who’ve come to serve the city, integrally involved in the community through Jericho Road Community Health Center, 716 Ministries, teaching, counseling, and support services for New Americans. Five Loaves Farm directed by Matthew Kauffman began at House of Grace and now has a new building at 1172 West Avenue near one of the gardens where food shares are raised. This urban farm project has made great strides to employ and provide healthy vegetables for local neighborhoods. A Monday night relational youth ministry reaches neighborhood youth. Vineyard Church has been central to BUMP (Buffalo Urban Mission Partnership) which offers a one-year internship to young adults who want to explore life and service opportunities in the city.

Mission of Christ Church grew out of a ministry to serve needs of new American families where Buffalo’s refugee resettlement agencies leave off. Pastor Yoshua Bashizi came to the U.S. eleven years ago as a refugee originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He enrolled as a student at UB and graduated with a degree in Community Mental Health. Yoshua became involved as a leader to organize the Congolese community of Buffalo. With a strong desire to support persons traumatized by war, conflict, and global migration, he founded Global Bridge, and he became personally involved, serving newcomers by helping to navigate social services and interpreting for them. Out of these efforts, interest was expressed in planting a new church, and it became a reality in August 2015. After a year in other locations, Mission of Christ congregation moved to House of Grace in November 2016. Reconciliation ministry can be a challenge with old tribal rivalries, but the congregation has worked beautifully to bear witness to unity in Christ. Gathering for worship at 2 pm on Sunday afternoons, joyful, worshipful music is sung to lively African rhythms and dance. The Word of God is preached in Swahili, and young people have been baptized each year for the past three years. A team of youth help lead ministry for children. Strong commitment to prayer compels young and old alike to intercessory meetings at the church each Saturday morning. Global Bridge continues with weekly English classes and provision for practical needs, especially helping people reach the goal of employment and settling in.    

Thanks to generous support from The Chapel, the House of Grace building had a new furnace installed last year and a roof replacement this fall. In the sanctuary, beautiful worship music can be heard most every day of the week as choirs and worship teams gather to rehearse. The three congregations anticipate future times of worship and fellowship together. And the community is being transformed as people of very diverse backgrounds come to know the love of God.   

Investment in House of Grace has ripple effects throughout Buffalo’s west side as three congregations with unique expressions of the gospel serve to extend God’s reign.