An interview with Al Warner and Craig Pridgen
by Amy Tartick
On June 9, 2017, the Church of Western New York gathered at the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo, NY to celebrate Pentecost Together. That night, thousands of believers, united as the Body of Christ in our region, came together to worship the One True God. But they didn’t come alone. Many brought friends and family members to hear and see the gospel of Jesus Christ.
On Mission was able to catch up with two key people involved with the planning and realization of this special celebration, Al Warner and Craig Pridgen. Join us as they give us some insights on what went into making this event possible and what went on behind the scenes.
On Mission: How long have you been active in the Church of WNY and what drew you to become part of it?
Al Warner: In 1997, after 20 years of pastoral ministry, the Lord redirected us [my wife, Deb, and me] to focus on the regional church. We sensed the Lord inviting us to be catalysts to build bridges between leaders to equip them to be agents of transformation throughout our region. Little did we know that God would put a similar burden on so many others. Jesus promised that our unity sweetens the soil for evangelism, “. . . all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Craig Pridgen: For the past two years. I truly believe that The Kingdom is better when leaders come together. Just the mere fact that a call for pastors in WNY was made, that was enough for me to be a part.
On Mission: The Church of WNY recently gathered for Pentecost Together. There was a tremendous amount of work to make this happen. Could you give us a few behind-the-scenes snapshots of the most significant challenges and advantages in bringing such a diverse group of leaders together that were a part of making this gathering possible?
Al Warner: The idea was birthed at a table of leaders. We were tossing around ideas for a follow-up from Good Friday Together. As soon as one pastor suggested a gathering around Pentecost, the table grew quiet as we immediately recognized that this was divine direction. Of course, that simple idea necessitated thousands of hours of work along with a substantial budget. But the vision attracted provision.
The biggest advantage was that so many Christians in WNY were more than ready to gather again. I heard excitement wherever I shared it. A second advantage was the 50 Day regional devotional book, Easter Sunday through Pentecost Sunday. We printed 10,000 copies, gone almost immediately!
Craig Pridgen: The main challenge was WNY is blessed with such great talent, gifts, and anointing! It became tough to figure out who should take part in such a great event, which is all one of the greatest advantages. WNY has some of the best preachers and singers in the world and it was beyond a blessing to see such diversity and unity.
On Mission: Either before or during the event (including backstage), were there any unexpected or humorous experiences you could share?
Al Warner: I was amazed when one of the pastors on the program told me he had never been inside the Arena before. I thought of all the great memories my family has made there, but for this pastor the financial bar was too high. A humorous moment was when one of the pastors got lost in the bowels of the Arena and had to be guided step-by-step to find the backstage gathering room.
Craig Pridgen: I forgot my badge backstage and an older security guard asked to see it . . . I told him I forgot it and he told me I wouldn’t be allowed backstage without it. I told him my name is Jerry Gillis . . . he then stated, “Wow! What a pleasure to meet you. You look different on TV.” I responded, “It’s the camera it adds 10lbs.” He let me backstage!
On Mission: When you saw the Body of Christ from the East Side and West Side of Buffalo, along with the Northtowns, Southtowns, and beyond united in worship of the one true God—could you share a little about what you were thinking and experiencing in those moments?
Al Warner: I know these are sacred moments in which history is being rewritten. God is attracted whenever His people gather. In John 17, Jesus declares that our unity is a testimony to the world. On June 9, the Holy Spirit drew 30 people to place their personal faith in Jesus at Pentecost Together. At the same time, the regional church took another step forward in maturing. The platform looked like the diversity of the Church of WNY.
Craig Pridgen: For me it was, Pentecost! This is what Pentecost looked like!
On Mission: What do you believe was the most important moment/happening during this gathering?
Al Warner: Choosing one moment is tough, but Pastor Alberto Lanzot modeled as much as he spoke. As a young man, he was caught up in drugs, crime, and alcoholism. His lifestyle led to his incarceration. Teen Challenge turned his life around. Now he pastors a powerful church on the West Side. For those parents praying for their kids struggling with opioids and other addictions, Pastor Alberto is a testimony of God’s ”treasures hidden in the darkness.” (Isaiah 45:3, NLT) Lord, multiply overcoming testimonies like these throughout our region.
Craig Pridgen: The worship . . . to see everyone singing and worshiping together in their own individual ways brought tears to my eyes several times.
On Mission: What are the key reasons for everyone to be a part of gatherings like Pentecost Together?
Al Warner: Gatherings like Pentecost Together make a statement to our city and region: We lay down the non-essentials that divide us and unite under the Savior Who knits us together. Too often, the world has witnessed and been turned away by our backbiting and division. These gatherings declare it’s a new day. They set an atmosphere encouraging the unbeliever to believe in our God. We also make a statement to fellow Christians: We are Better Together. Like a body missing any of its parts, we are incomplete without one another. In addition, we make a statement to Heaven: We celebrate Your Holy Spirit in our midst as we gather. We welcome Your blessing personally and corporately.
Craig Pridgen: One simple answer. It’s what Kingdom work is! Being a part of something that is bigger than you are.
On Mission: What do you see as the most significant outcomes (long-term effects) of Pentecost Together?
Al Warner: A few months after an event I probably don’t yet know all of the long-term effects. God is at work at His own speed. When I look back at Good Friday Together in 2013, since then we started an initiative to plant churches together, published a joint devotional, continued to build relationships, exchanged pulpits, and so much more. I’m not sure I could have imagined that night in 2013 would produce so much fruit that remains and continues to multiply. Building on that recent history, I believe even more will be released from the seeds of Pentecost Together.
Like ripples on a pond, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would empower the disciples to witness in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8) I believe that what God is doing in the Church of WNY is already spreading well beyond our region. God is using this model birthed in a city all too many had given up on to impact and encourage other hurting cities. Resurrection is contagious!
Craig Pridgen: Relationships with leaders who may have never been in the same room before.
On Mission: If you had just one word to describe Pentecost Together, what would it be?
Al Warner: Can I change it to a couple of words? Pleasing to God.
Craig Pridgen: Wow!