2009-07-03 / Community

First Church Of God Celebrates 100th Anniversary

By Jessica Durham

Reverend Dr. Arthur Davenport talks to the Wave about the history and celebration of the 100 anniversary of the First Church of God. Reverend Dr. Arthur Davenport talks to the Wave about the history and celebration of the 100 anniversary of the First Church of God. Established in 1909, the Far Rockaway First Church of God was the first African American church in Far Rockaway.

The church started as gatherings in the home, said Reverend Dr. Arthur W. Davenport, the current pastor. Interest grew, and that is how the church came to be established. The first pastor was Enoch Evans, and only six other pastors have preached over the 100 years since. Rev. Davenport became pastor of the church in 1977. He has been serving there more than 32 years.

"When I came to that church, I was a minister," Rev. Davenport said. He served at the Christ Community Church in South Jamaica for seven years, and then he moved to Far Rockaway in 1962 and became a member of the First Church of God.

"The church has been an open community mixed church," Rev. Davenport said. "Our goal is to raise up leaders to help them fulfill their potential in the community," referring to the members of the church. The church will be 100 years old in October 2009, when it will be celebrating the anniversary. Lana Warren, chairperson of the centennial celebrations, said that the last date of the celebration is November 1, but the activities started last year on November 2 with an opening service.

"Throughout the year, we had smaller events," Warren said. During the summer, there will be events such as a youth panel and a bazaar.

The celebration will end with a combination of the Centennial Gala on October 30 and the church anniversary services on the last Sunday of October continuing until November 1.

"The celebration should be more on the influence of the church on the community," Davenport said.

Rev. Davenport said his church also works with other community groups to help with needs across the peninsula. "The Rights of Passage" is a group in which young men and women learn how to achieve for themselves, Davenport explained, and to not turn to violence to solve issues.

The group helps to address the needs of the community. They walk through the projects to show residents that they are there to help and build a relationship with them to gain trust. They also give out pamphlets to the youth on how to respond to police.

When asked about the rising violence in Far Rockaway, Davenport responded by saying the youth need a place where they can feel safe and have fun.

"We go to the precinct to try to help them [the police] understand how to treat the young people in the community." Davenport added that parent education is very important because most of the parents today are young. The parents need to feel that they can be helped at the church to learn how to interact with their children. "There are some things that we can do together [that] we can't do by ourselves," the pastor said.

"As a congregation, we have adopted three schools, two in our immediate community and one in another com- munity," he stated. Those three schools are P.S. 253, P.S. 104, and P.S. 254.

Davenport said that the principals sometimes need the help of the community to provide for the children of their schools. Some of the needs are beyond what the school can do, and that is where the church congregation comes in.

They make themselves available for whatever the school needs and for the needs of the children, whose families may also require help, Davenport added. Members of the church train some of the children in computer skills, and provide school supplies at the beginning of the year.

"We've seen children reach educational levels like college and beyond because of the encouragement of the church." Davenport said.

The church started a daycare program in 1978, which still exists today. Further, the church works with people to get housing. It also helps people understand the importance of handling their finances and assists them in the skills needed to become debt free.

A few years ago, the women of the church opened the Women Industry League. This organization served the community for years and helped women from other countries adjust to their new culture.

It provided a residence for the women, for which they paid rent. When the league shut down, said Davenport, the money went to scholarships for student education.

"When you live in a community, you need to get to know the community and have a place where people come together," Davenport asserted. "The church is a kind of institution in the community where they can make positive impact on other community members' lives to achieve their great potential spiritually, educationally, physically, socially, and mentally."

Rev. Davenport lived in Rockaway for 17 years. Now, he lives in Rockville Centre in Nassau County. He lives with his wife, Minister Norma Jean, and his three daughters and two sons, who are all members of the First Church of God.

"It's not about myself, or my family; it's about the church and community," Davenport said. "We exist to help the community and serve God and the community. That's our purpose."

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