By: Katie Sobiech
On March 12th, 170 guests RSVP’d to attend a banquet to show their appreciation for both Pastors Ron Fowler, Senior Pastor of the Arlington Church of God, and Knute Larson, Senior Pastor of the Chapel in Akron and Green. Both Pastors have decided to step down from their positions and continue on a new journey; Fowler resigning after pastoring his church for 42 years, and Larson after 25 years.
These men have done things together from being summoned by former President Bill Clinton for prayer at the White House during his personal crisis, to working in the city streets of Akron to ease racial tensions.
Guests entered the Akron Baptist Temple on a surprisingly sunny, yet windy day in March and were ushered into a room with a small stage where the two men of faith stood at a podium together, sharing a message.
Other speakers followed, as well as a time of breaking off into prayer groups. Afterwards, guests were led into a beautiful banquet room, enjoying a delicious meal by A Difference in Dining Caterers, a local Christian catering service.
After the meal, guests enjoyed vanilla cake and tea while listening to Pastor Mark Ford, Founder of Love Akron, as he shared his heart, as well as others. The event concluded with a video collage of the commercials that both Fowler and Larson had appeared in together. It was truly a time to remember; a time of happiness and even tears, as the realization was made that one meaningful journey was coming to an end. But also, tears of joy, that another is about to begin….
History and Background
Pastor Ron Fowler’s work in the community has been no secret to those in Akron. He served on the board member of Akron Public Schools from 1988 to 2000 and has been a strong leader of his church for years – following in the footsteps of his father.
He is known for his enthusiasm, saying “Dream big. Why not? God is big. The pioneers did.” (Recorded in the Herald Bulletin, October, 8, 2006).
Also that, “The best is not behind us. The best is in front of us.”
Rev. Fowler has also written two books and numerous articles for a variety of national magazines.
Pastor Knute Larson is also an author of several books and no secret to the community, having appeared in many radio and television spots.
Co-founder of Allies, a partnership for ministry designed to ease racial tensions, and Love Akron, a group of pastors and church leaders who pray for the city; he has made bold attempts to bring people together – specifically those of different races.
During his tenure The Chapel grew so large, numbering 8,000 members, that they needed to open a second location. This location in Green, combined with Akron, totals six worship services a week.
The Best is Yet to Come
After the celebration of nearly 25 years of service to the community and honoring the fact that these men have worked together towards racial reconciliation, I had a chance to talk to them about their journey. Here is what they had to say:
EUTOPIA: How did you guys come together and what brought this idea of working towards racial reconciliation about?
Pastor Knute Larson: I took the initiative (calling Ron and asking him to lunch) and said ‘We need each other’, but mostly, ‘I need your help. Will you do me a favor and help me understand racial reconciliation and different backgrounds?’ It was sort of a back door way of saying ‘Can we be friends?’
EUTOPIA: When you first got together what changes were you hoping to see in the city?
Pastor Ron Fowler: I don’t think we were sure. Initially I think we just wanted to get to know each other and have a common view of ministry, and that is that God works through people to accomplish great things. We started walking together and being friends, getting to know each other, bringing our wives together and it’s been a great journey.
PKL: Yeah I don’t even think we thought anything about our churches then. I was asking for help to understand white and black things – racial things. We just became friends, then our wives did and then our churches did and then out of that came some really great things.
EUTOPIA: What things that you envisioned actually came to pass?
PRF: Our walking together has really been important not only to us but to our congregations and our city as a whole; and even beyond the city. I’ve always been convinced that the part of what Jesus did that became so contagious is that he modeled his faith – his walk with God. He just went about doing good and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we just went about being friends, prayed for each other, shared time together, and saw if God spoke in the midst of that and guided us to where we should do a few things together?’
PKL: Our churches became what we call Allies. It’s a name that we both like because it sounds like war; but there is a war against disunity, gossip, meanness, prejudice – so our churches became allies, and out of that group came Love Akron, a gathering of many churches and para-church ministries.
PRF: It has been remarkable that even friendships have been established that have continued, and who knows how far these circles will expand and where they will go. I look back in amazement; sometimes I did wonder ‘God are we accomplishing much, are we making a difference?” and just listening to the testimonies of all these leaders that were here for the luncheon and the things they were saying – what Allies meant to them – it’s kind of confirmation. And what began so small has really grown.
EUTOPIA: What came out of your partnership that you didn’t expect?
PRF: Our trip to the Whitehouse. I never expected that, but even that was delightful though it was a time of national crisis for our nation and President Clinton’s presidency. They gathered leaders together for a time of prayer with the President and we got to hear his heart and it was a very moving experience. And he came here to Akron for the first town meeting on racial unity because Akron had a reputation that we were working on this, and we got to go first and say how God has helped us try to set an example. Akron’s a good place and if more people would just work on it…. and many do, especially people of faith…. Christ is so much into love and grace.
EUTOPIA: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve seen while working together?
PKL: I think the surprise for me has been to see kids notice this. I’ve been thanked a number of times by teenagers for trying to help in this area.
PRF: When you’re in the midst of doing something you don’t think that much about it because it’s a part of you. You’re just living out your life, following your faith as it directs you and hoping that something good is being accomplished, but as I’ve listened to leaders throughout our county; as I look at institutional leaders and the esteem that they carry for what they do, I found myself saying ‘You know what God? Thanks. I didn’t realize that what we were trying to convey was having the impact that it was.’
Our country is so privileged, and to whom much is given, much is required. We work on solving our racial tensions and at bridge building, we are doing what Americans are known to do – we’ve become a melting pot. We have discovered that we don’t always melt so easy and blend so easy but our faith gives us an added incentive to know that the Christian faith can make an impact. Faith makes an impact.
PKL: It’s amazing how little you can do in one year and how much you can do in five years. We just encourage people to keep at it.
EUTOPIA: If you had one wish for the city of Akron what would that be?
PRF: That Love Akron continues. That would be high on my list. And, that pastors will nurture each other – through difficult times we need each other even more. Everyone who sees us should think ‘What can I do to build Christian love and unity and bridge gaps?’ We can all do it.