The picture above is how it feels to church plant with Julie and the rest of the Northwest crew! Tomorrow is March 28. March 28 is a VERY important date in my life. On March 28, 2015 Darcy and I were married. It was a wonderful day. We’ve journeyed a long way since then. I’ll give more details about that a little later in this post. One year prior was a pretty important day as well. Especially in hindsight. Ben White asked me to be his cell apprentice for a new cell that he was starting in Grays Ferry.
I don’t think I knew much about Ben or Circle of Hope for that matter. We met at Cedar Park Cafe in West Philly. He probably paid for lunch because I was VERY broke at the time. I don’t remember much else of what was said but I do remember Ben saying, “I wanted to discuss a small ministry opportunity with you.” Subsequently, Ben told me that he used those churchy words because he knew that I was a self-described “old school, gutbucket, backwoods, old-timey Negro black Pentecostal.” (Message me if you know what that means. We should be friends if you do.) It worked. Those exact words had been “spoken over me” as a prophecy by a minister in a prophetic meeting in 2012. This minister said that I would be going to school and at “this next level of schooling, there would come a small ministry opportunity.” I moved to Philadelphia in 2014 for seminary. When Ben said those words, I immediately said yes. I was convinced that this was the path God had for me. When we’re pursuing God, things seem to just come together like that.
Last night after our Sunday Meeting, the cell leaders of Ridge Avenue got together to talk about our congregation as a whole. We started the meeting by talking about our journeys through Lent. I told the group that I cut out podcasts and YouTube for Lent and that it has just created some much needed quiet space. I was telling them how I have been saying, “This is it” repeatedly out loud and almost out of my control. The words just come out of my mouth involuntarily. If I’m being honest, I’ll often have something that I repeat a lot to myself that seems kind of involuntary. In prayer, I finally realized that it was a confession to God. “This is it. THIS is God’s good plan for me.” Ya see, I’m still catching up with the fact that in three years, I started seminary, got engaged and married (all within seven months), bought a house in Southwest Philly, began my lifelong dream to pastor (literally I was five years old when I started “play-preaching” with my cousins in ‘Cousin Conventions’), and my wife gave birth to our big handsome son named Ellison Samuel Stafford. Like I said, things come together when we’re on this path with Jesus. The same could be said of the newest cell in the Northwest.
A little over a month ago, my new friend Hannah White came to a Sunday Meeting for the first time. She lives in Manayunk so she was looking for a cell in either Roxborough or Manayunk. Some words came out involuntarily when I talked to her, “I’m starting a cell in Roxborough in three weeks! How cool!” There it goes again. Looking back, I wondered whether I was lying or the Holy Spirit just spoke through me when I otherwise wouldn’t have known what to say. Was it a lie or a prophecy? Judge not. I’m paying attention to those involuntary utterances more and more though. I really wasn’t starting a cell in Roxborough but I said that I was because I wanted her in a cell and she wanted to be in one too. So after I told her that, I got to work on putting one together. I asked a few people if they wanted to join and then met some new people. I asked Megan whom I met in November to be my cell apprentice. She said yes right away. She told me that she discussed me asking her to be my apprentice with her roommate. They were befuddled that I would ask someone I barely knew. Her roommate said, “I know you’re awesome but how does he know that?!” Just like the larger community, I get moved by the Holy Spirit, dream it, say it and then build. I’m excited for this new cell and for the continued journey as we plant this congregation in Northwest Philadelphia. We now have EIGHT cells! To my fellow Northwest church planters, just say it and do it! I think it works sometimes. We meet on Sunday evenings at 5PM at 5720 Ridge Avenue. Email me for more details about this journey: email@example.com.