Transformed by God: The Rev. Dante Randolph’s Grace Park Church launches Sunday

Feb. 06, 2013 @ 03:17 PM

There’s a new church in Durham. Not in a new building, but in the momentum built by its pastor and coming to fruition on Sunday with its first service as Grace Park Church at C.C. Spaulding Elementary School. It’s been in the works for two years, but the Rev. Dante Randolph’s journey to preacher has been a longer and rougher road traveled.
Randolph, 38, doesn’t wear his past on his sleeve, but he does share it when asked. He has quite the testimony. Like Paul, the New Testament figure whose meeting with God turned his life around, Randolph had a defining moment. It was a decade ago in a place far from where he is today, a family man at the helm of a new church.
Randolph grew up in Greenville, and as a high school student took honors classes but also spent time on the streets selling drugs. He went to church every Sunday as his mother told him. He played piano and keyboards. He also saw a lot of hypocrisy, Randolph said, and that gave him an excuse to do what he wanted. When he was old enough, he separated himself from the church. While he still went to church sometimes, he wasn’t part of the body of Christ as he knows it today, Randolph said.
He went to East Carolina University on a football scholarship, which he lost when he got in trouble with the law. Given a second chance at N.C. A&T University, Randolph was arrested again, this time serving time from 1998 to 2003 on drug charges.
Randolph was wary of jailhouse salvation. Not that that’s bad, he said. “Whatever it takes to get there, get there,” he said. Randolph got there alone, in a prison chapel in North Carolina in 2002, watching a VHS video of a sermon. The topic was the New Testament story of Jesus seeing a lame man by a well and telling him to “pick up your bed and walk.”
“It was then I heard God speak and heard myself called lame; I heard myself with so much potential, and pride. God let me see my need, and my need for him,” Randolph said.
Today, Randolph teaches character development at New Horizons Academy of Excellence, a faith-based school for teens who have had their share of troubles. He is also a counselor at The Reality Center’s afterschool program.
Randolph talks about his previous path with students sometimes, but he doesn’t put it in their face, he said. It’s not about him or his past, but a door to open with youth, Randolph said. “They can say, ‘He understands. He can relate.’ ”
They see the man Randolph is now – a married father of two who works hard and whose life was transformed by Jesus.
“I believe there’s a group of people who hear the truth but have hard hearts,” he said. Those sharing the truth haven’t been through what others have been through, he said. What Randolph has been through. He knows how it can be, he said, to be bound by addictions. God helped him go forth.
“I advocate education. I advocate programs. But I do believe the only transformative change takes place through the gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Randolph was released the year after his personal altar call and came to Durham to a group home and found employment.
“God was then beginning to allow me to bless lives of individuals on the very path I had just stepped off of,” he said. In 2003, he met a pastor through a friend and, drawing on his musical gifts, became minister of music at Hatcher Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Cary. He started on the path to becoming a preacher, becoming licensed at the church in 2007 and ordained in 2010. His degree is from Liberty University in Virginia. He left in 2010 and began “toiling the ground here in Durham.” A core group of 15 people began ministering to the community – holding picnics at Hillside Park and taking residents of the Urban Ministries of Durham shelter out for a meal. They also held occasional services.
“God called me out to do it. It was clear,” Randolph said. If he had his choice, he would have joined the staff of an existing church, but he feels God has called him specifically to start Grace Park Church in Durham.
Randolph was on the Gangs and Faith panel discussion last year. The things youths said about being judged at church, he said, is why Durham needs Grace Park to receive those who are broken. Or for those who have never gone to church. Or those who are well-churched.
“Out of all these churches in Durham, why start a new church? Because obviously there’s a gap to reach people who aren’t being reached – and to bring God’s people together,” Randolph said. That means black or white or whatever socio-economic background.
“Do you love God? Are you will to serve others?” Randolph said those are the questions they ask. Grace Park is a Baptist church and a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, but they want to forge partnerships with other denominations as well.
Grace Park is also big on family and youth, Randolph said, supporting a mother and father in the home. When you have strong families you have strong communities, he said.
Randolph said he’s praying that those who come to Grace Park Church will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ preached, will celebrate and give their lives to Christ. He hopes they will make the city of Durham a better place, he said, because faith without works is dead.

WHAT: Launch of Grace Park Church
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Services every Sunday from 10:30 a.m.-noon.
WHERE: C.C. Spaulding Elementary School
1531 S. Roxboro St., Durham
Worship services in the auditorium; children’s ministry in the cafeteria.
INFORMATION: Call 919-740-4404, email or visit Bible studies are also held at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at Arbor Walk, 5705 Fayetteville St., Durham.