Associated Churches - A beacon of light in the heart of Fort Wayne. A light that strives to share God’s love through its various ministries including: “A Baby’s Closet”, “Let’s Grow”, “Rising Stars”, “The Landing”, “Military Families”, and “The Neighborhood Food Network”. After 15 years of excellent service, Rev. Melvin Phillips passed the torch to my grandfather, Rev. Vernon Graham to be the next Executive Pastor of Associated Churches in 1989. Graham’s mission was to “build bridges in the spirit of God”, and to break down any barriers that existed between racial groups, Christian denominations, or social classes. In February of 1989, Graham spoke on behalf of his mission in an interview with the Fort Wayne News Sentinel. He stated, “Associated Churches has always brought together churches of different denominations. Now, churches of different races are joining together, too.” Pastor Graham truly left an indelible mark on Associated Churches, and the Greater Fort Wayne area after his passing in 2017.
As a young man growing up in Fort Wayne, I always remember people saying to me “Aren’t you Pastor Graham’s Grandson?” At the time, I never realized how great an honor it was to be associated with a historical icon like my Grandfather. Growing up, I regularly visited Associated Churches and spent time throughout the building, including the warehouse, where I would help pack boxes with cans to be given to people who were in great need. One event I particularly remember here, was when my mother, Kristina Alderdice, and Grandmother, Ellen Graham, were presented a check for their non-for-profit organization called “Hope in a Handbag”. Looking back on the time I spent here as a young boy, I marvel at the work my family did in helping to share God’s love and shine light in a world full of darkness.
In the summer of 2018, Associated Church’s prayer garden was rededicated to Pastor Graham, as a way of remembering his legacy. During the event, people shared stories and memoirs of their experiences with my Grandfather. All I could be was proud of the accomplishments my Grandpa made, and the influential touch he left on countless lives throughout the city. Anyone who visits the garden, can inspect the mural depicting Graham’s picture, and remember the work he did in transforming the city into a place where people of all races, denominations, or classes can come together and celebrate God’s love and the gift of hope from Jesus’ bloodshed upon the cross.
In August of 2018, I embarked on a new adventure as I entered my High School career, as a Cadet at Concordia Lutheran. As an excelling student, and an inspiring leader in my school and community, I joined a select group of individuals in Concordia’s Honors Academy. The Honors Academy promotes excellent academics, leadership and community service amongst its students. Students in the group are privileged to attend college visits, listen to leadership speakers, and volunteer in various projects. As a requirement of the academy, a student must work 100 hours as a volunteer at one designated location throughout the duration of their high school career. The student must select a mentor that they can work with to help grow and shape them into a refined leader as they work through their schooling. After pondering over various options and opportunities, I chose to serve at the place where my Grandfather worked as executive pastor for 20 years. After meeting with AC’s Executive Pastor, Roger Reece, Director of Finance, Garry Pook, and Director of Communications, Melinda Lauer, and listening to their plans for me, I was excited to get to work and serve in any way I could.
On Father’s Day of 2019, I served as a volunteer at the annual “Father’s Day 5K” held at Associated Churches. My work on that day included helping set up and tear down canopies and tables, preparing and serving food, and doing anything to insure the event flowed smoothly. It was very cool to see people from all walks of life and backgrounds come together to participate in the race, and share laughs and fellowship during the breakfast preceding it. I felt proud departing from the event knowing I made a difference in the community, and helped at the place where my family has a deeply rich history in transforming society through the works of God.
Today, I continue to serve at AC in any way I can. I know that my Mother and Grandfather are shining down on me from heaven and are proud of the work I’m doing to continue the legacy they left to help the community, while sharing the peace of God and the hope found in Jesus Christ. Associated Churches continues to serve the community each day and seeks to help out people of all walks of life, including low income families in need of baby supplies, struggling childcare programs, hurting young adults suffering from abuse, addiction, etc., or families in need of food, amongst other ministries. However, the great work AC has done and continues to do would not have been possible without the leaders who have come and gone, including my grandfather, the great Rev. Vernon R. Graham. He truly left in indelible mark on history that remains today and forevermore. The passion he demonstrated throughout his countless years of service has resonated into the staff of AC and is how AC has survived for nearly 75 years amidst all the change Fort Wayne has endured. My Grandfather, who is widely known as “The Shepherd of the City”, continually cited Matthew 25:40, which reads, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” “[Graham] had a love for the poor and the marginalized, and he wasn’t afraid to confront difficult issues,” said current Executive Pastor of Associated Churches, Roger Reece. All in all, we must remember the leaders who came before us, who worked to transform societies, tackle political issues, and spread the news of Jesus for all to hear. As the body of God, we must display the same level of passion and diligence like my Grandfather had, so that we may transform lives through God’s love and truly leave our fingerprints on history.