December - January 2023
Lighting the Darkness
Self-Supporting...But NOT Alone
By Marie Drakulic
On Sunday, May 1, 2022, Flagship Church in Erie, Pennsylvania, became a self-supporting Free Will Baptist congregation—a momentous occasion more than ten years in the making. We celebrated with food, music, tears, and laughter. Although we heard from many how Flagship Church and the Grimes family made a difference in their lives, I don’t know if we could fully describe the impact of a decade of ministry in a weekend celebration.
It seems a whole lifetime of memories, moments, and changed lives have passed since those early days. The building alone has seen a progression from outdoor picnic tables and indoor living rooms to monthly services at a local YMCA to a corner neighborhood church to a newly renovated building off a busy street.
Yet, the building and the passing of time have not mattered nearly as much as the people.
Flagship Church has been blessed to have two pastors who love Jesus, their families, and this city. Although Pastor Darin Alvis is no longer assistant pastor, Flagship Church would not be where it is without the work of God through him and his family. Pastor Darin has a gift for making every person feel special. Whether leading children’s church, preaching a sermon, or talking with a mentally disabled member, he treated everyone equally, without reservation.
In the earliest days of ministry, the Alvis family attended and ministered at their home church in Buffalo, New York, and then drove two hours south to lead music at YMCA services in the afternoon. In the summer of 2013, they moved to Erie and became part of the ministry team, serving faithfully until 2020.
Pastor Daryl Grimes felt the call to Erie, and he and his family moved—without knowing anyone—in 2011. God put people into their lives at just the right time, and now, friends have become family. Pastor Daryl has never lost sight of his vision for Flagship Church, nor has he failed to inspire us to seek “to know God personally, love God passionately, and serve Him purposefully.” He is driven, passionate, and self-sacrificial. No matter the challenges Pastor Daryl has faced personally or in ministry, he has relentlessly pursued making God’s name and glory known in this city we call home.
Countless people have come to know Jesus and have been encouraged and challenged through the ministry of Pastors Daryl and Darin. Their families, too, have served faithfully beside them, helping wherever needed: music ministry, children and youth ministry, outreach, discipleship, and hospitality. They have been found rejoicing, weeping, and kneeling with members in the congregation or people they just met. Whether around a dinner table, at an altar, or in a hospital room, the Grimes and Alvis families have given of themselves time and again.
In my own family, these men journeyed beside us through uncertainty, sorrow, and eternal hope—traveling long distances to sit in waiting rooms or be near us in the predawn hours on the morning we said goodbye to our oldest son.
My family has “grown up” since we moved to Erie to help the Grimes family in 2012. To be honest, I never thought we would make it this far. As a young mom with two toddler boys, I prayed God wouldn’t send me here. I recognize now my prayer was fear-driven. I had been reading a book about women who did amazing things for God. They were bold, courageous, and often far from home, but I never wanted to leave the familiar circle of Columbus, Ohio. Fast-forward six years, and I felt a very different tug on my heart. This time, I was asking God to go. While the road has not been easy, I am grateful for the opportunity and honored to be a part of the ministry in Erie.
Our family has served in different capacities over the years of ministry at Flagship Church. It has been a joy to see my children serve in outreach, music, and offering. My husband, Tony, has served in many ways—preaching, landscaping, and singing, to name a few. I had the privilege to share God’s Word through women’s ministry and Latte Ladies for many years.
My husband was ordained at our service on May 1, along with another faithful member and friend at our church. Out of our greatest suffering has come a new ministry, to offer comfort, hope, and presence to the grieving through Grief Share. God’s glory has shone the brightest in our lives in the place where we found ourselves the most broken and lost.
As I looked around the room during the Saturday night dinner concert, I thought of the many people who have been part of Flagship Church. Some visited briefly and others stayed for a season. Still others are serving in other ministries. I recalled people from China, the Philippines, Germany, and Puerto Rico, and the couple my kids came to know as Grandma and Grandpa. I remembered someone I met after our youngest was born. I didn’t know it then, but she had lost her young son tragically only a year and a half earlier. I remember kneeling with her to pray and feeling her tears fall on my hands.
I remembered the times our congregation served together at block parties and events, and when we worshiped during heartache. I remembered game nights, leadership meetings, and a deep theological discussion over McDonald’s hamburgers with a new family. That family got baptized, grew in their relationship with the Lord through many ups and downs, and have become an integral part of our ministry.
I also thought of the people no longer with us in this life and how happy they would be to see this day. In that instant, the words from Hebrews came to mind, that we are surrounded by “such a great cloud of witnesses” (12:1). I imagined them cheering us on, rejoicing over the milestone, but knowing our long race isn’t over yet. We still have ministry to do in the days ahead.
“Self-supporting” is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, Flagship Church now serves as a self-governing church body, financially dependent on its congregants.
However, we are far from alone. It would be impossible to recount all the people who contributed to the ministry over the years and who continue to support us with their prayers and encouragement. Across this denomination and with believers of other Erie churches, we have a community who loves and cares for us. These are the people whose texts or calls comfort and strengthen us when we feel defeated. They are the people faithful to pray as the Spirit prompts. They are the ones to whom we turn for guidance and who give generously of their time and resources.
Ultimately, this community serves as the hands and feet of Jesus. He is the One who has funded and sustained Flagship Church and will continue as He wills. He is the one we celebrate at Flagship and beyond. To God be the glory!
About the Author: Marie Drakulic and her husband Tony are on the leadership team at Flagship Church in Erie, Pennsylvania. Learn more: FlagshipChurch.com.