David Fleming says that Frank Pruden and his family came to Montgomery with nothing but a U-Haul truck and a hope that God could use them again.
“When we receive people at the City of Refuge the person is usually coming to us following a termination and is very broken,” said Fleming, leadership director for Montgomery Baptist Association.
City of Refuge, a Montgomery Association ministry, is modeled after the ministry by the same name at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia — a sanctuary that gives hurting pastors a place to go.
‘Put them together’
Pruden, a student pastor from Mississippi with Alabama ties, was one of those. In the months after he and his family arrived he received a new place to live, some counseling and leadership coaching and a new career in insurance. But over time he desired another type of boost too — a new opportunity at ministry.
And as Neal Hughes, associational mission strategist for Montgomery Association, lay in bed a few months ago, he thought of someone else who needed a boost too — Cloverdale Baptist Church, a congregation in a changing community with mostly elderly members.
“Around 12:30, God just woke me up and said, ‘Put them together,’” Hughes said.
The next day he shared the idea with the Prudens and discovered something amazing — Pruden and his wife, Paula, had been up until 1 a.m. pleading with God for direction.
“God was putting together a man in need of restoration and a church in need of restoration,” Hughes said.
And in that moment all knew God was calling them to start something new — Operation Revitalization, a way for Montgomery Association to pair pastors with churches in need of healing.
“It was just one of those moments from heaven,” Hughes said.
Over at Cloverdale Baptist they received a sense of divine appointment too.
Deena Weston had felt God’s hand on the situation ever since she and her husband had searched for a church four years ago.
As the couple began to look for next steps for their family she called Ken May, then director of missions, and asked if he knew of a congregation who could use a hand.
‘Lighthouse on a hill’
He pointed her to Cloverdale.
The big brick church sat on a hill surrounded by two colleges, a neighborhood growing in trendiness and a section of town with deep poverty. Weston was impressed by the opportunity — and the faithfulness of the Cloverdale Baptist members.
“There was just a scattering of a few members, and they were mostly over the age of 80,” said Weston, in her late 40s. “It was really just inspiring to me that over the years they had been faithful to keep the doors open, to keep that lighthouse on a hill.”
One way they’d been shining the light was through a weekday preschool with more than 100 children and 30 employees.
“That’s a missions field right there in our building — souls that can be loved,” Weston said. “And these precious church members served faithfully by opening their doors to these children.”
On Sundays you can find church members washing their hands in the bathroom while stepping around toddlers’ step stools, and they never complain about it or any other inconvenience, she said.
“And every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night they pray faithfully over a whole list of people,” Weston said. “They’re diligent about it. It would be easy to think this is a dying congregation, but it’s full of worker bees who all have a heart to serve.”
One of them is Buster Rambo, a church member who is 90 and has “prayed so long for Cloverdale to be revived,” Weston said. “I think God’s going to let him see it.”
Pruden hopes he’ll see it too.
Long before he knew he’d be paired with Cloverdale Baptist for Operation Revitalization he’d driven by the church and thought it would be the perfect place for God to start something new.
“I don’t think we would’ve been ready to take on this project before coming to the City of Refuge, but God has used different things to prepare us for it, and it’s been a burning desire and passion in my heart now for a while,” Pruden said.
And Weston says the church is excited to partner with Pruden for Operation Revitalization — basically a one-year lab where Pruden can get some experience as a senior pastor and be coached by Montgomery Association leadership. As part of the lab Pruden will help the church organize one major outreach per quarter. At the end of the year the church and Pruden can decide together if they would like to move forward.
Weston said she thought the idea was a perfect fit from the moment Hughes first mentioned it to her.
“He needed a place where he could work and learn and try things, and we had a place where he could serve,” she said. “Together we’re hoping we can all heal and grow to be more like Jesus.”
Their most recent outreach was April 20 — an event called Here’s Cloverdale: An Afternoon on the Green.
“We’re sowing the fields and doing outreach right now,” Pruden said.
Fleming said it’s a good thing for both Cloverdale Baptist and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“The church is learning again what it’s like to be a part of the community,” he said. “We’re seeing them become more and more ingrained. It’s revitalizing their mission.”
And Pruden and his family have bought into the vision 100 percent — he and his family have moved to a house about 100 yards from the church so they can be an active part of the community.
Weston said the church’s new vision is still in the infant stages, but she believes soon they will be taking a few steps.
“I know God has a dream for us,” she said.
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