Sudanese Grace Episcopal Church, a congregation founded in the early 2000s by “Lost Boys”, refugees from war-torn South Sudan, will now have a permanent church home thanks to a gift from the congregation of the former Wallin Congregational Church on Oswego Street in northwest Grand Rapids.
On September 21st, the members of Wallin Church voted to dissolve the parish and give the building as a grant to the Episcopal Sudanese congregation, led by priest, the Rev. Zachariah Char. Sudanese Grace Church has been graciously hosted by Mayflower Congregational Church in East Grand Rapids for almost a decade.
“God gave us this opportunity – we didn’t go looking for it! We heard a story and we did something.” says retired pastor, Ila Flo Barfuss, who was elected by Wallin Church to oversee this transition process.
The church building, located in the John Ball Park neighborhood of Grand Rapids at 1550 Oswego St NW, includes a 400 seat worship space, several classrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen, and multiple meeting areas, along with almost three acres of land. It will be put to active use by Char’s growing congregation, which gathers over 150 adults and children each Sunday for worship in their native language, Dinka. In addition to worship services, the congregation is a resource hub for new families arriving to the United States from their home country, including provision of immigration resources, language classes, and more. They are hoping to expand their offerings with this gift of new space, to ultimately utilize the building as a Sudanese cultural center, providing outreach and education for both Dinka and English speakers.
The gift of the new building includes the opportunity for Char to move into full-time ministry as a priest, resigning his non-ministry related jobs. A fundraising campaign has been underway to assist the congregation with reserves to help with new expenses related to full-time salary and ongoing maintenance and utilities of the building. Sudanese Grace and volunteers within the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan have raised over $300,000 to date, including a generous $150,000 challenge grant from the Liesel Litzenburger Meijer Fund, a reflection of Leisel’s decades-long deep and sustained commitment to the ministry of Sudanese Grace. The campaign is ongoing.
“I am very thankful to all friends who have stood with us in finding a home church for Sudanese Grace Episcopal Church. Through this generosity, we have accomplished our journey from South Sudan to the City of Grand Rapids.”
The congregation celebrated their first service in their new building on Christmas Eve and plan to invite their new neighborhood and the wider community for a homecoming celebration and building consecration with their bishop, the Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr. on Friday, February 14th at 6pm.