WHEATFIELD -- Albert Benjamin Simpson left a well-heeled congregation in New York City to minister to longshoremen, immigrants, prostitutes -- what his churchmen today call "the lost masses."
Simpson, a native of Prince Edward Island in Canada, was the late-19th century founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance -- and distant cousin to "Anne of Green Gables" author Lucy Maud Montgomery -- and he helped set the mission of today's Niagara Alliance Church members, who look to the words Jesus spoke in Matthew 25:40 for their inspiration: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me."
Niagara Alliance Church marks its one-year anniversary this month, resulting from a merger of two churches -- Wheatfield Neighborhood Church and Niagara Falls Missionary Alliance Church.
At the time of the merger, the new congregation had completed a new worship center at 7041 Witmer Road in Wheatfield, in addition to one of its existing buildings in Niagara Falls that has since become an outreach center.
"We've also partnered with another ministry, Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, in an effort to serve the less fortunate of Niagara Falls," said Pastor Mark Patterson. "Please be 'in prayer' with us for this vital need in ministering to 'least of these.' As the ministry progresses, a clothes closet, food pantry and other vital programs will be established to help assist in meeting the needs of the less fortunate."
Patterson compares the merger to a "kind of blended-marriage, with both partners entering the relationship with children and forming a new family.
"The merger has given a renewed sense of vitality," he said.
Patterson shares a common bond with Alliance founder Simpson in more ways than one.
Also a Canadian native, Patterson grew up near Toronto and has plenty of grounding in the real world. He held a variety of jobs, ranging from apprentice boilermaker in England to working in the computer operations department of a large Toronto telecommunications firm.
Driving a Greyhound bus helped put him through the seminary.
"We're people who experience the highs and lows of life just like everyone else, but we are also people who are experiencing the love and joy of Jesus Christ," the pastor said.
"Our church exists to minister with the authentic love of Jesus Christ to the real needs of people. Niagara Alliance is not just about a weekly service on a Sunday morning. We are a community of believers in Jesus sharing our lives together throughout the week as well. We may offer weekly meetings and various other activities, but these are just the outward signs of life of this Body of Christ.
"We share our joys, successes and good times. We also share our hurts, disappointments and failures. Our faith encourages us to trust in God whatever the circumstance."
Today, Alliance International workers provide relief aid in 81 countries.
Churches, Patterson points out, "are not bricks and mortar, they are people -- people saved by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Christ."
As a young man growing up in a single-parent home, surviving on welfare in the projects, a younger Patterson started to use drugs and alcohol.
"One bright spot in the midst of my struggles was that I boarded at a friend's house whose parents were Christians," he recalled. "Ironically, I found that no matter how late I stayed out on a Saturday night, pretty much every Sunday morning I found myself waking early enough to hear the family I boarded with getting ready for church.
"They often invited me, but I resisted, in part because I knew my lifestyle was opposite to what I thought it should be for someone who went to church, and also in part because I thought church was just mere irrelevant ritualism. But after some time, I did relent and started to occasionally attend church. It seemed strange, but the more I went to church the more I wanted to attend, and soon found myself going almost every week."
Eventually, Patterson said, he began to understand that God was not interested in religious ritualism and how well people could keep his commands, "but was interested in us having a relationship with him through the provision of what Jesus did, when he allowed himself to be crucified."
Patterson was in his early 20s when he accepted Christ as his savior. He also began to read the Bible.
"It was if God had spoken to my own heart telling me that, even though I had had some rough experiences in life, they weren't meant to harm me but would be used to better equip me to serve him," Patterson remembers.
Today, Patterson teams up with Lonnie Thoms, who serves as assistant pastor for worship.
A family Bible hour, newly named LIFE (Living In Faith Effectively), takes place at 9:15 a.m. Sundays. The Bible-based classes are held for all ages, from nursery school on up. A worship service follows at 10:30.
Nursery care is provided, as well as a separate program geared especially for children. Then there's the Kidz Connection program at 11 a.m. Sundays, when children in kindergarten to third grade are dismissed from the worship service for a time of fun, activities and learning geared especially for them.
Prayer meetings also take place at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. A youth group is offered at the same time and is a time of social interaction, as well as offering a biblically based topical lesson on relevant youth issues. That way, young people never forget that line from Matthew -- evident from many of the church member's service actions, including the Adopt-A-Highway program. They even had a car wash where they actually paid people $1 when they washed their car, instead of charging them.
Give and it shall be given to you.
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