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Church breaks ground

Surrounded by a crowd of witnesses, Bishop Michael Cole prayed as he stepped into a dream he's long held: "I pray that God will hallow this ground."...

Gospel Outreach

Surrounded by a crowd of witnesses, Bishop Michael Cole prayed as he stepped into a dream he's long held: "I pray that God will hallow this ground."

Then Cole, Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown and other friends and church members helped Cole push down and lift out the first shovel-full of earth on what will be a 25,000-square-foot church building that will also serve as a community center along 42nd Street South, just north of the new Marriott hotel.

Nearly 100 members of his congregation, as well as regional officials from the Church of God in Christ and friends from the Grand Forks community where Cole has ministered since coming to the Grand Forks Air Force Base 35 years ago.

Since 1992, Gospel Outreach has owned and met in the former Christian Science church at 321 Belmont Rd.

The oldest church building still in use in greater Grand Forks, it was built in 1904. Cole said his congregation is letting a new and tiny group, River of Hope, use the building on Sunday mornings and he hopes the group will be able to buy the building. Since Easter, Gospel Outreach has been meeting Sunday mornings in the Empire Arts Center downtown, because with attendance nearly 400, it needs more room, he said.

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Cole has built and led the most culturally, racially and economically diverse congregation in the city. Part of the largest African-American denomination in America, it also has attracted people from many spectrums across the region by the fervent Pentecostal worship and Cole's beaming, open style that has made him friends across church and social lines.

Juan Garcia drives the 50 miles from his Grafton, N.D., home most Sunday nights to attend Gospel Outreach and brought his son, as well as a nephew and niece to the groundbreaking.

"I want to be around when God moves," Garcia explained about the long commute. "I come to see God move. Can't get enough of that."

Iola Fischer has attended Gospel Outreach for 14 years and is a "prayer warrior" for Bishop Cole and an usher, she said. "He never turns anyone away, he accepts everybody," Fischer said, explaining she's experienced healing of serious health problems under Cole's ministry. "He's been a blessing to me. If I have any problems, he helps me out."

Cheryl Rountree was a leader in Gospel Outreach for several years. Now she commutes from near Omaha to direct women's ministries across North Dakota under her bishop's leadership.

Cole has a prophetic way of seeing God's will and the theme this weekend is "Now is the time," Rountree said.

"Like the bishop says, timing is everything. We believe God opens a window, so the people of God need to move."

Cole asked Mayor Brown to say a few words.

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"We are a faith-based community," Brown said. "And we are made stronger by the diversity you bring to our community."

Cole serves not only as pastor, but bishop for North Dakota for the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ, with a handful of congregations across the state.

The new building is planned as a new center for the denomination's work in the region, he said.

Cole led the group of about 80 people in singing, "This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine."

Now, he said, after the ground-breaking, the real work of building begins.

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