After Mass on Sunday in the basement hall of Central Assembly of God (CAG) on Bennington Street, members of the
church joined to celebrate Pastor David Searles’s twenty five years of service as head of the church.
Throughout the luncheon member after member rose from their seats to tell stories of how ‘Pastor Dave’, as he’s affectionately called, helped them through a tough time or was there to lend a helping hand or offered sound advice and counsel.
“He’s the angel on my shoulder,” said one church member.
Pastor Searles, a native of rural Illinois, arrived in Eastie in 1993 after the CAG former pastor had left.
“I came from a town of about 18,000 and and I came out to Massachusetts in 1983 to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton,” said Pastor Searles. “My wife Barbara and I then moved to Boston in 1990 to work at a new church in Dorchester in Fields Corner.”
Pastor Searles lived in Dorchester in the early 1990s at the height of Boston’s crack epidemic and the subsequent street violence.
Coming from rural roots and thrust into an urban setting with all its problems was an eye opening experience.
“There was a lot of stuff happening on the streets at the time with gangs and crack cocaine,” remembers Pastor Searles. “It was rough time, I almost got assaulted on the MBTA once on my way home.”
Never discouraged Pastor Searles threw himself into his ministry at the church as well as working as a caseworker at Boston’s Compass School, an alternative school catering to troubled students in the area.
“That was a huge education for me in terms of living in the city and the issues families faced because we took in kids from all over Boston that had reached the outer limits of what a traditional Boston Public School could provide,” said Pastor Searles. “A lot of times it was behavior issues so it was a bit of an eye opener on what was going on in the streets and in the neighborhoods at the time.”
Then in 1993 the former pastor at CAG resigned and Pastor Searles jumped at the opportunity. After the church’s denominational official came to consult the members of CAG on appointed Pastor Searles as church leader.
“I was then appointed by the district (Southern New England Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God) as Pastor in 1993,” said Pastor Searles. “I was very much committed to being a person that was going to live in the city. I already had the experience of living in Dorchester and doing work there. I’m not a city person. My wife grew up in rural New Jersey. Part of coming to the city originally was to discern better if we felt a ministerial calling to the city. We didn’t want to jump into something and then leave because we got overwhelmed. But by 1993 we decided we wanted to stay and be part of the community.”
Since taking over as CAG’s pastor, Pastor Searles said his philosophy to build a strong church is to have a strong presence in the community.
“The ministry of the church is so profound because it’s about being present in the community,” said Pastor Searles. “As a result so much happens in place like this. It goes beyond worshiping at the church or doing programs within these four walls.”
Being present in the community took on a whole new meaning for Pastor Searles in 2015 and 2016 as young Eastie teens were being murdered at an alarming rate due to gang violence.
He became part of the leadership team of the East Boston Peace Walks and member of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Centers Trauma Team.
“It’s about being present and available when a specific need arises,” he said. “When that youth gang violence was happening I began doing what I called ‘Walkthroughs’ of the neighborhood, particularly at LoPresti Park.”
Through these Walkthroughs, Pastor Searles began meeting groups of young people, engaging them and building relationships.
One particular encounter during that time stuck out and has kept Pastor Searles focused on his mission here in Eastie.
“There was a young man, probably in his late teens that was hanging out with other young men at LoPresti Park,” said Pastor Searles. “When I was leaving he was across the street from the park while the rest of his friends were still at the basketball court. As I was walking away he yelled out ‘See you later Pastor Dave’. So I went over to him and told him as a pastor I pray for people and I asked him if there was anything I could pray for–for him. He then tells me, “Pray that I get out of this street life Pastor Dave”. It was a profound moment that away from his friends he could divulge this yearning to not be a part of that lifestyle but didn’t know how to do it and needed someone. There are young adults that are in the same situation throughout this community that don’t know how to get out of the situation. We as a church needed to realize that a kid like him will probably never walk through our doors and I can’t sit around and wait for him to show up. What the neighborhood has taught me is I have to go out in the community and go to them. I have to be out there.”
Pastor Searles and his family live in Eastie around the corner from the church. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a concentration in ministry in complex urban settings. He is the presbyter of the Boston Section of the Southern New England Ministry Network of the Assemblies of God as well as provides Chaplaincy services for the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s PACE program. His wife, Barbara works as a social worker for the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in their Neighborhood PACE Program. They have two daughters Abiagle and Carolyn.