JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 6, 2012 – Agape Christian Fellowship Church, a congregation that began meeting in a classroom in the Penick Academic Complex at Union University in 2002, broke ground for a new worship center Nov. 4 on the same day members celebrated their 10-year anniversary.
The church met for a little less than two years at Union before moving to its current location on North Parkway in Jackson.
Camille Searcy, assistant director of institutional effectiveness and research at Union, has been at Agape with her husband, Lonnie, for about eight years. Searcy said when the congregation first moved into the current building, it only filled up about a fourth of the small sanctuary.
"Just to see it consistently grow has been amazing," she said. "I think when people have become convinced that we are a Bible-living and Bible-preaching church, it's contagious. I think people are hungry for that."
Commitment to God's word and to loving people in the community were on the lips of many church members who participated in the celebration service and ground breaking ceremony, which is what the Rev. Roland Porter had envisioned when he began the church with a handful of people.
"We wanted to do ministry a little differently than it was being done (around us)," Porter said. "We wanted to be more in contact with the community, maybe making the path to people shorter than it traditionally was."
In addition to the North Parkway campus, Agape has space on East Chester Street in downtown Jackson, where it holds prayer services on Friday nights, occasional community events and movie showings to facilitate discussions about Jesus Christ.
The church is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Porter said the church's focus is attractive to young people, including a few Union students who attend regularly. High school students participated in the praise band and chorus group as well as read Scripture at the groundbreaking. This was appropriate, Porter said, because the new building will be primarily for the younger generations.
Those at the ceremony drove a wooden stake into the ground with their name and a Bible verse of their choice attached to it. The stakes were a public representation of the church's commitment to God's glory and to its responsibility to the community, Porter said.
"Our goal is to bend the curve of human existence toward God's will," he said.
Porter and his wife, Patricia, have close ties to Union. Between 2004 and 2011, he was an associate professor of business and served as an assistant to the president for community relations and director of the Center for Racial Reconciliation. Patricia Porter is the transfer coordinator in Union's Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Union President David S. Dockery gave the sermon at Agape's 10th anniversary service from Galatians 6.
“Because (Dockery) was so welcoming at the very beginning, and he has been so kind to our church across the years, and because we are so much a part of Union and Union is so much a part of us, it seemed fitting that the leader of Union would come and encourage on this major day in the life of our church,” Porter said.
Dockery said the Agape congregation has been called by God to a distinctive ministry of restoration in Jackson.
"There are people out there who don't need a lecture, who don't need you to overreact to them, but they need you to restore them gently to God's kingdom," Dockery said.
He also challenged the congregation to demonstrate responsibility.
“Today we urge you: Don’t grow weary in doing good,” Dockery said. “Look forward to what God will do even as you celebrate the past.”
By Samantha Adams (’13)