Overview of Greater Refuge Temple History
In 1937, Elder H. J. Spencer from the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Columbus, Ohio came to Buffalo. He later sent a minister to start and pastor a new Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Buffalo, New York. Elder Spencer sent Elder William L. Booker to Buffalo, to pastor Refuge Temple Church which he pastored until he went home to be with the Lord in 1945. Bishop H. J. Spencer and Elder Howard Holtz served as supply pastors from 1945-1948.
In 1949, Bishop Nathaniel V. Jones was installed as pastor of the Refuge Temple of Christ, Buffalo, New York with his devoted wife, Missionary Mother Mattie V. Jones standing by his side. Bishop Jones retired in 1972, due to illness. In 1973, Bishop Alfred S. Powell, presiding Bishop of Westchester and WNY diocese, appointed Elder Robert Sanders as the new pastor of Refuge Temple of Christ, in Buffalo, New York.
Bishop Sanders extended his ministry beyond the church and into the Erie County Home and Infirmary and behind prison walls at the Erie County Penitentiary, where he served as Chaplain.
His vision for the area of Jefferson and High Street was to expand and occupy the entire block on which Refuge Temple stood, from Earl/High Streets to Jefferson Avenue. He saw the block filled with structures owned by Greater Refuge Temple, which would be used to further the Kingdom of God. In order to expand, eight parcels of land had to be acquired from residents or commercial owners. It would take fourteen years to complete this phase of the vision.
In 1974, Refuge Temple purchased the first of these lots. In 1975, the second lot was purchased and by 1985, the Lord blessed Refuge Temple to be able to purchase the last of the lots necessary to build the first phase of his vision – The Refuge Temple Education and Cultural Center. This facility would minister to and meet the needs of the “total person” (spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally).
On August 21, 1983, Elder Sanders was consecrated Bishop by the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to serve over the Western New York and Canadian Diocese.
Construction of the Education and Cultural Center began in August 1986, and completed within seven months. Funds to begin this project were donated by members and friends of Refuge Temple. Bishop Sanders served as the general overseer of this project, which saved thousands of dollars. He spent many days and nights at the church, but he was not alone. Members of the church completed painting, cleaning, and finishing touches. All work was done voluntarily.
In March 1987, the Center was completed and dedicated to the Lord for His service. Bishop Bonner along with many elected officials, ministers, community members, members and friends of the church came to the Dedication Service. All guests had beautiful and encouraging words to say about the Center. No one was happier than First Lady, Sister Janice Sanders, who remarked “I thank God for what He is in my life, I thank Him for enabling us to see the vision fulfilled and, “it’s over now honey, would you please come home”!!!
The Center houses the Refuge Temple of Christ Bible Institute. Office space, counseling rooms, a multi-purpose recreational room, and a fully equipped kitchen facility are also included in the Center. The Center is available to the whole man. Spiritually, the Refuge Temple Bible Institute, which is largely attended by non-members of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is providing teaching and instruction in the Word of God. Socially the Center provides a place for both of our youth and adults to mingle, share with other and play games and sports. Economically, the Center will assist by providing food and clothing for those who are in need. Legal and medical assistance is offered when needed.
Upon completion of the Education & Cultural Center, many programs were initiated such as: blood pressure screening, summer lunch program, workshops for career planning, nutrition and diet workshops, adult literacy, and recreation for all ages and others.
Realizing that our youth faced many challenges and problems, the first programs to be implemented was a tutorial/recreation program for school-aged youth. This program operated from October to June and was appropriately called the Refuge Temple Tutorial/Recreation Program.
The terrific response to the Word of God, while worship was going on, filled the sanctuary to capacity each Sunday Morning. Chairs were placed in the aisles, and on some occasions people had to remain in the vestibule. Though a little uncomfortable, the saints of God return each Sunday to worship, praise God, and hear His Word. The need to hear the truth from God's Word as it relates to the urgency of the times in which we live, and the soon coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, have become first and foremost in the minds of the Saints of God.
Bishop Sanders, having heard from heaven about the next phase of the vision, knew that in order to move forward to bigger and better things, we needed to burn the Mortgage for the building of the Multi-purpose Hall and Education and Cultural Center. Bishop told the congregation that it would take faith, sacrifice and dedication to complete this task. He taught us that if we had the desire to contribute, God would give us the means. The entire church got busy. With the theme: "WE CAN DO IT TOGETHER", and the creation of the Attack Team, headed by Elder Gordon Sweat, (meaning we will attack this debt), all auxiliaries, groups, committees, and the entire congregation worked together to complete this task.
One of the ways to raise funds for the elimination of the Mortgage was to have members and friends purchase plaques to be printed with your name and favorite scripture, (or whatever you wanted printed). Those plaques were placed on a large board and hung. That board is still hanging in the Multi-purpose hall. You may enjoy taking a look at the board now with a total different outlook; understanding the significance of why it was created.
On October 7, 1990 (3 1/2 years after the opening) the Mortgage Burning Ceremonies were held. That event marked the elimination of a $350,000 expansion program. Bishop Ronald Carter presided over the Mortgage Burning Ceremonies.
As we reached more souls, we needed a place to assist in Spiritual growth and development. We wanted a "Special" place, that we could not only feel his presence, but see His Glory in our services. Using the Scripture (Exodus 25:8) "And let them make me a sanctuary: that I may dwell among them, and the theme: “LET’S DO IT AGAIN,” Project Sanctuary was conceived.
On Sunday mornings, Bishop Sanders began to tell the congregation about the vision of a new Sanctuary. He let us know that God had outlined the entire vision to him. He reminded the congregation about the properties that the church would have to acquire in order to complete the entire vision. Some were purchased to complete the Multi-purpose Hall and Education and Cultural Center, but we needed the other sites for the building of the Sanctuary.
Bishop would keep the congregation abreast regarding acquiring the land, and thank them for their faithfulness in giving and raising funds for this next part of the vision. He reported that progress was being made and all of the properties had been acquired, but one. He was having much difficulty getting in touch with the owner of the property on the corner of Jefferson and High streets. Bishop Sanders and the entire congregation were in prayer for acquisition of the properties.
The congregation was informed that he was unable to speak with the owner of the property in person, but he left a message. Bishop Sanders said Mr. John Tyson owned the property. After a couple of other reports of "no contact" with Mr. Tyson, there was a strange happening one Sunday morning.
A gentleman (who was a stranger to most of the congregation) walked into morning worship service. The members that knew Mr. Tyson began to praise God and shout. The members that did not know him wondered what was going on. They soon found out! Bishop Sanders called the man to the front, introduced him to the congregation as the Mr. Tyson that owned the property on the corner, and gave him the microphone.
Mr. Tyson, in a soft-spoken voice, told the congregation that he did not know exactly why he was there. He said that he went to St. John Baptist Church, (where he serves on the Deacon Board) as he does every Sunday morning. He said the Holy Spirit spoke to him and said to go to Refuge Temple of Christ this morning, where Bishop Sanders was pastor. Needless to say, there was joy, praise and worship all over the building. Deacon Ripen was filled with the Holy Ghost, and he and wife Cynthia was baptized in Jesus Name. And the rest is History.
In July 1992 Groundbreaking services for Project Sanctuary was held; which included a 2-week citywide tent revival.
Finally, the ground was tested and approved, and the blueprint was back from the architect. Bishop Sanders would be so elated when he would show the drawing to others. He would explain that there would be no windows on the outside walls, but there would be windows in the ceiling. Needless to say, most people had no clue what the pastor was talking about, and even worse, the drawing was of something never seen before. But, Bishop kept talking about this "sanctuary" with a beam in his eye. We realized that God had truly given the "vision" to the Pastor, because it seemed that he was the only person that could fully understand the building.
There were many groups formed to do different things for this project. The Lighting Committee, for example, spent many days and hours, got many pictures and samples and presented it to the pastor. None of the lights were right. Bishop Sanders went to the lighting Store on Walden Avenue and purchased the lights. When he was asked "what was wrong with all of the lights that were presented to him" he said "they were just not right". He knew exactly what every light should be. We would understand at a later time, the fact, that every aspect of the "Sanctuary" had a very special significance.
On some occasions, problems would arise that would appear to stop the progress of the building. Bishop encouraged the congregation to continue to pray and claim what we wanted for God. No matter happened, he always instilled in the congregation that God would give us what we wanted. The entire congregation started to grow in faith, and really believed that we could have what we wanted. The faith was really apparent in our giving. The offering was sufficient, and the Church made acquisitions that would have been impossible without the prayers, dedication and financial blessings. The members and friends blessed the church, and God blessed the members and friends.
On April 2, 1994, there was a great parade for the Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies. This occasion marked the opening of the new "Sanctuary" for Worship. Many dignitaries were in attendance for this dedication, including Apostle J.P. Steadman. Members, friends, and visitors, looked in amazement at the structure and overall beauty of this building.
As the congregation began to get settled in the new Worship Center, Bishop Sanders once again spoke about the vision. He said now was not the time to get complacent, but we must continue to have faith; stand on God’s Word and continue to see miracles performed. With that said; Bishop Sanders spoke to the congregation about “Project Gideon”. Three hundred members and friends were asked to give a “Special Offering” to complete the payment of the mortgage. We needed to move on to our next endeavor.
While Gideon’s Army and the church-at-large was busy giving and raising funds, Bishop Sanders was busy putting other phases of the vision in place. He was busy trying to acquire land that sat on the corner opposite of the church. We not only needed the land, but the building was a tremendous eyesore. Owners of that property were very adamant about “NOT SELLING THAT LAND!! Bishop Sanders told the congregation that we needed to claim that land for God. We needed to pray without ceasing. The prayer groups would lay hands and anoint the building, while claiming it for God. The owners still said no! During “Revival 95”, Bishop Sanders prophesied that the tent for “Revival 96” would be set-up on the spot where that community eyesore was standing. Needless to say, a hush fell over the audience; which was followed by praise.
Being obedient to the pastor, having faith, and trusting God to perform miracles, the members of Gideon’s Army continued to give fervently. God blessed in a marvelous way! On May 10th 1996, a pre-Mortgage Burning Banquet Celebration was held at the Radisson for the members of Gideon’s Army. Bishop Ronald Carter was our Special Guest Speaker for that affair.
On May 26, 1996, (two years after completion) Presiding Apostle, Bishop Gentle Groover, came to conduct the Mortgage Burning Ceremonies for the new Sanctuary.
Shortly after the Mortgage Burning Ceremonies, Refuge Temple of Christ became GREATER REFUGE TEMPLE OF CHRIST.
As each ministry continued to work diligently to the glory of God, the pastor reminded the congregation that Greater Refuge Temple continues in its determination not to be “just another a church on the corner, but a church that makes a difference”. We are constantly on the move to win souls for the kingdom and further help to enhance the lives of those of our community and city. With that in mind, Bishop Sanders explains the next phase of the vision will be a FAMILY LIFE CENTER.
The mission of the Greater Refuge Temple of Christ Family Life Center is to minister to the needs of the “total” man within the community spiritually, physically, and emotionally. It is vital to the development of the community to provide services that cultivate and encourage family preservation. Our goals are to help build strong family ties, to keep the family together, and to curtail the ever-present threats of violence, drugs and alcohol in the community. The Family Life Center will provide a positive atmosphere that will bring families together in a supportive and safe environment.
Programs and services offered at the Family Life Center will focus on education, child welfare, healthcare, recreation, counseling and advocacy for pertinent issues affecting the community. The center is all-inclusive and will serve all age groups. Special emphasis will be placed on activities designed for youth and senior citizens.
GREATER REFUFGE TEMPLE TODAY
Under the NEW Spirit-lead leadership of Pastor Robert L. Sanders, Jr. The Greater Refuge Temple of Christ continues to be a church that is on the move for God with divine purpose and destiny. Our services are engulfed with the high spirited thanksgiving praise and worship. You will see the demonstration of praise and worship as it is recorded in the bible. We clap, lift holy hands, shout for joy and dance before the Lord. At Greater Refuge Temple the people to come to the sanctuary empty handed they bring the offering of praise that makes preparation to receive the awesome word of God. Our praise worship is unique in that you may here all types of praise and worship styles from traditional to contemporary. It can be summed up like this, “PRAISE IS WHAT WE DO!”
There is a liberty in our service that is absolutely refreshing. In the services you will feel the presence of God and the anticipation that God is going to move in his mighty power. It only takes one visit and the experience will with out a doubt be a life changing event. We declare that you won’t leave the same way you came in JESUS NAME! The saints at Refuge know how to enjoy themselves in church and are not ashamed to express how they feel about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our services always provides a “Word from the Lord” By the time our Senior Pastor Robert L. Sanders, Jr. get up to preach the atmosphere is set not just to hear “The Word” but receive it into your heart. You will not hear a sermon but you will hear a challenging, dynamic uncompromised, heart-felt spirit lead life changing message that will catapult your faith into a new dimension and be a blessing to you and yours.
After, the Sunday morning message the altar call is made. This is an opportunity to experience and witness the awesome power of God. We see people Sunday after Sunday delivered, set free, healed and refreshed by the power of God. As souls are being ministered to they are coming to the Lord to repent, be baptized in Jesus Name and filled with the precious gift of the Holy Spirit.
JOIN US IN ANY AND ALL OF OUR SERVICES AND EXPERIENCE THE POWER OF GOD