Editor’s note: October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month in the Southern Baptist Convention.
NASHVILLE (BP) — The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, built in 1925, faces the harbor in honor of the thousands lost at sea in this Massachusetts city’s history. On its base facing the waters is Psalm 107:23 – “They that go down to the sea in ships ….”
While a tribute to those who helped build Gloucester’s connection to the sea, the inscription is incomplete in its meaning. Psalm 107 gives examples of those who reject the Lord time and again, but come to an understanding of His redeeming love. Of those sailors, it concludes, God “brought them to their desired haven.”
Kody Aten prays that Freedom Church will grow as a navigating force to the cross.
“The biggest misconception about New England is that people are atheists. They’re not atheists,” he said, adding that many focus a lot on religion while missing the essential relationship for salvation found in Christ.
The people also have a bit of a blue-collar edge, something Aten understands from having grown up nearby in Connecticut. He can also connect with those trying to break from addiction, an epidemic that Aten had to address himself by entering rehab at 18 years old.
“Those are my people,” said Aten, who moved to Gloucester in 2020 to start Freedom Church. “I can talk to them. God has broken my heart for this city.”
He has noticed a consistent line of questioning from guests to Freedom Church. How do they afford the materials and setup? How is Aten able to devote all of his attention to serving as a pastor?
The answer comes from the faithful giving of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program. October is Cooperative Program Emphasis Month.
“We talk about the importance of giving and don’t hide the fact that we’re connected to Southern Baptists,” Aten said. Freedom Church is also part of the North American Mission Board’s Send Network.
Across the country, Pastor Brad Ormonde Jr. of Garden City Church in Beaumont, Calif., thought he understood the reaches of the Cooperative Program. A lunch with Jonathan Jarboe, president/CEO of the Baptist Foundation of California, this summer after the SBC annual meeting made him realize it was even more.
“He explained what CP does for us and how it helps us contribute to others,” Ormonde said. “It lit a fire under me to give to it.”
Ormonde grew up in Riverside, Calif., and has wanted to be a pastor since he was 18. At one point he and some friends had the idea of planting a church in San Francisco and opening a coffee shop, but God had other plans.
“The Lord was preparing me for this [pastorate] for 12 years,” he said, referring to various ministries and mentorships he experienced during that time. “The calling was there, but the timing wasn’t.
“The Lord kept pressing on our hearts to plant a church, though, and we did on Feb. 28, 2021.”
Timing is also a part of Aten’s testimony. Although he is from New England, Aten’s family moved to North Carolina when he was 7. That’s where he got mixed up in drugs. It’s also where his family was saved.
“My dad had a little saying about us having to go to North Carolina to become Christians,” he said. “That bothered me. I always loved New England.”
In 2012 Aten moved back to New England with the desire to plant a church. The path to do so, however, involved interning at Netcast Church, also part of Send Network and located in Danvers, Mass. In 2019 he served as campus pastor at Milestone Church in Natick, Mass.
During that time, he was also part of NAMB’s church planter training assessment, receiving the green light in 2020 to plant Freedom Church.
A key ministry has been to those battling addiction.
“There are a lot of people here in recovery, and because I am as well, God uses us in that space,” he said. “I’m trained as a recovery coach with the police department. They’ve been very supportive.”
Ormonde’s ministry context places him in an area exploding with growth between Riverside and Palm Springs.
“Beaumont (where he lives) was originally a retirement community with people moving out here in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Others come out here to live ‘off the grid.’ You can purchase a lot of land, and about five years ago that started building homes because the market is cheaper,” he said.
Young families like his are also moving into the area at a high rate. The combination opens up some opportunities for collaborative mission efforts.
“We host movie nights in the park and picnic nights with games and activities to create a community environment,” he said. “We see a lot of older people who are lonely and want to partner in things like helping them grocery shop, spend time with them and take them to Bible studies.”
The life of a pastor has its ups and downs, with planting a church in the last two years bringing its own unique slate of challenges. Both Freedom and Garden City Church met online to start off due to local COVID restrictions.
A big prayer request early on was for a meeting space. Garden City’s became available on the exact date they launched. Freedom Church is close to securing a building of its own.
“That’s the biggest request we have right now,” Aten said. “We’re also looking at growing our partnerships with other churches. The Cooperative Program is such a massive help, but you’re also looking for those churches who are going to check in, reach out and pray and give to you.”