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A failed outreach in 2013 opened the doors for the members of Christian Heritage Church to minister to the community of Avon, Ohio, for years to come.
Jeffrey M. Phail, lead pastor of Christian Heritage Church, and his team planned “I Love Avon Day” to honor police officers, firefighters, and city workers. On the day to thank the public servants with a picnic, much of the large section of reserved seating remained empty. Only the police chief, his assistant, and two mayoral candidates showed up.
Phail and many of the 300 Christian Heritage Church congregants considered their outreach a failure. Yet in hindsight, Phail recognizes the Lord worked through what he initially viewed as a disappointment.
Bryan K. Jensen, who attended the 2013 event, remembered the church’s efforts upon being elected mayor. Jensen asked Phail if the church would help with the city’s first safety fair. It marked the beginning of Jensen seeking assistance from Christian Heritage Church.
Phail and his team have expanded their ministry to the leaders of Avon and the community at large in the suburban Cleveland city of 22,800. At a bike parade in 2016, Craig Witherspoon, the president of the city council said, “Christian Heritage is the cornerstone of our community.”
The church earned this reputation by serving the community at events such as Coffee with a Cop, the safety fair, an annual 9/11 memorial service, a Memorial Day parade, and landscaping of police and fire department properties.
In 2016, Phail was asked to serve as the Avon Police Department chaplain. Phail expressed concern for police officers in 2015 after someone had spray painted “Kill a Cop” on a tractor in Nashville, Tennessee. The vandal’s incendiary graffiti message grieved Phail.
The leadership of Christian Heritage put together a campaign to support the police, which included stringing a huge banner across the front of the church, which faces Interstate 90, with the words “Pray for the Police. Thank a cop!” Church members also created window decals and bumper magnets that said “Pray for our Police,” which they distributed to the community.
Despite Phail receiving hate mail because of the gestures, he sees the overall results as largely positive. Officers drove to the church to have pictures taken under the banner, and spouses of police officers sent emails and called to express their appreciation.
“Pastor Phail’s commitment to service has never been more evident than by his willingness to come out with our officers and on at least one occasion by himself to make a death notification,” says Avon Chief of Police Richard A. Bosley.
Every Thursday, Phail speaks to members of the police force with what the department calls a “word of wisdom.” His chaplaincy training also facilitated launching a summer lunch program for children who receive free and reduced lunch throughout the school year.
The training gave Phail the impetus to create a ministerial association in Avon and work with the school superintendent in order to serve these students. When Phail presented the idea to the manager of an apartment complex where many of the students live, the manager asked if recreational activities also could be provided. This opened the door for congregants to sing songs, tell Bible stories, and play games with the children they are feeding.
A public leader donated $250 to each church, and other area businesses donated money as well, so that none of the churches involved had to take money from its general fund. Each church is responsible for one week, and for 10 weeks of the summer the gospel is presented and kids are fed.
“I affectionately often refer to many members of the church as the ‘Christian Heritage Army,’ Bosley says. “They are always organized, on the move, prepared to help, and ready to lead at various events throughout our community.”
IMAGE - Members of Christian Heritage landscape police and fire department property.