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Ministry First: St. James AME Church’s Model for Church Growth

By Pastor Gary Den


The St. James AME Church struggled to find emerging leadership amid trying times due to COVID-19, the varying encounters of church, a deteriorating physical edifice, and the passage of time. However, the 7th Episcopal District of the historic African Methodist Episcopal church held its 145th session of the Columbia Annual Conference this past fall, and St. James was appointed a new pastor. This new leader was chosen to rebuild, rebrand, and transform the fledgling congregation into a vibrant hub of fellowship, worship, and Christian service.


Reverend Gary Dent, also known as “Pastor Gary,” resides in York County, South Carolina. Pastor Gary, unaffected by the distance, grew unduly enthusiastic about the potential to genuinely rethink ministry in this post-modern era. To better serve the people of Newberry County, Pastor Gary rapidly embraced a new ministry paradigm. “Ministry First” is his new philosophy of ministry. With the help of this model, Pastor Gary has given his congregation the tools they need to minister to the people in their neighborhood in the hopes that they will identify with and aspire to live up to the church’s conference year theme, “Come Grow with Us!”


Pastor Gary and the St. James congregation have chosen to participate in several outreach ministry activities using this ministry first paradigm. Pastor Gary has always valued education because he is a former middle school teacher. Therefore, the church was able to start a “Stuff the Fridge” ministry at the Pomaria-Garmany Elementary School. For the benefit of the faculty and staff, this ministry provides refreshments and snacks during the school day for the teachers. The teachers also have the chance to submit prayer requests to the church’s intercessory prayer team by scanning a QR code.



Additionally, the church has also sponsored its first community fall festival. During this event, community members visited the church campus to enjoy music, a food truck, and a host of other family friendly activities. The church continues strong local area partnerships with schools by providing mentoring opportunities, sponsorship for children in need, and a myriad of other service opportunities. The church’s congregation sees this ministry first paradigm as an opportunity to support people who might be going through challenging times. According to Pastor Gary, “These days are good to do “Ministry First”!


Despite facing their own difficulties, the parishioners of St. James have welcomed the new “Ministry First ‘’ strategy for growth, even though it has only been under Pastor Gary’s leadership for three years. The church’s sanctuary’s foundation, which was constructed in the early 1900s, needs urgent restoration. However, Pastor Gary and the congregation continue to put “Ministry First,” seeking to fulfill the mission of the African Methodist Episcopal church. Every Sunday at 10:00 AM, St. James worships in the church’s fellowship hall. The church continues to service the community through its Facebook page, Stjames Pomaria, so please like our page to follow along with our journey of service.

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