By: Rev. AnnaLee Conti | Retired Minister
Looking back over forty years of ministry ...
in New York in three churches, I can see the hand of God leading us every step of the way. I grew up in a missionary family. My grandparents were the first AG missionaries to Alaska (1917-1982). My parents followed in their footsteps. I participated actively in their ministry. From childhood, I felt called to ministry.
My husband, Bob, was a career Army officer. In Vietnam, he came to understand the universal nature of sin. While we were stationed in Rhode Island, the only AG church in Providence (a city of over a million) was one tiny congregation that met in a large house.
During our 2 years there, Bob was baptized in the Holy Spirit and elected to the board. We helped that congregation purchase a church building and grow to 200. When we were transferred, Bob knew God was calling him to resign his commission and plant churches in the Northeast.
After 4 ½ years at CBC and AGTS, we went to Gloversville, NY, in 1977, to plant a church. With no people, building, or parsonage but with the certainty that God had called us there, we put an announcement in the local newspaper.
We held services on the second floor of the YMCA but were not allowed to have the outside door unlocked during services. Our 6-year-old son stood at the door to let people in. When Bob went out of his way to minister to a sick YMCA resident, the director changed that restriction.
People in Gloversville had never heard of the AG. They thought we were a cult. The newspaper wouldn’t include us on the church page because we didn’t have a building. When a prominent local businessman, husband of a shut-in we’d been ministering to, noticed that, he paid a visit to the editor. “If you don’t put Rev. Conti’s church on the church page, I’ll withdraw my financial support and pay for his ad.” The next week, Glove Cities AG was on the church page.
After 2 years, the congregation grew to 60. We bought a parsonage, and the historic Kingsboro Church became available to us. We continued to pray and struggle for several more years.
The Sunday morning a grandma, Sara, joined the church, attendance was the lowest we’d had since the beginning, but she was trembling with joy. The Holy Spirit moved on Bob, and he prophesied that the church would grow. The next Sunday, 50 people showed up, many we’d never seen there before. The next week, 70 came, the next week, 90. Before long, the congregation had grown to 200. People were being saved, baptized, and discipled. We bought the building for $25,000 cash.
Starting that church was hard. When we first arrived, there was a thriving Charismatic church. Soon, though, it disintegrated as terrible abuses came to light. What the city needed was a stable full-gospel church to pick up the pieces.
It takes time to build trust and stability. When you construct a building, the foundation is the most important part. For a long time, it looks like nothing is happening until suddenly the structure begins to take shape. Oh, the joy that comes as God builds His Church, and we see lives changed! Our greatest joy is knowing that we played a part.
Our most joyful memories are of the people God gave us: Dominick, the red-headed Italian, half Bob’s size, called himself “small but mighty.” He became our first deacon, even though it meant giving up drinking wine. His wife, Barbara, loved teaching the primary class. His sister, Emily, got saved after the tragic disappearance of her 21-year-old daughter. With her gift of evangelism and her testimony, she brought many people to the Lord.
Marion mothered us all and exuberantly played her autoharp and sang, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…” and “He poured in the oil and the wine….” Her husband, Arch, told Bob he’d never go to church again, yet the next Sunday he came and eventually became a deacon. When the church council wrestled with a nasty problem, he offered his earthy wisdom, “It’s like garbage—the more you stir it, the more it stinks!”
Dick became our worship leader and acted the part of Jesus so convincingly in our production of Dallas Holmes’s “His Last Days” that several got saved. Shy Sara became another grandma to our son as she babysat him so we could attend fellowship meetings.
My grandfather used to say, “You can’t have a testimony without a test.” Just as Psalm 30:5 promises, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” some of our greatest joys followed times of severe testing.
Ministry is worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!