Pastor Sean Smith believes that every day is a gift and he doesn’t want to waste a minute of the precious gift he has been given. A deeply spiritual man, Pastor Smith has opened a new place to worship in the Highlander Charter School on Market Street in Warren. South Coast Community Church, a non-denominational, all-inclusive Christian entity, is all about sharing and meeting the needs of others. His mission is to spread the word of God and to take advantage of everyday and help those in need.
Stone Coast, a non-profit organization, officially open in April of 2016. They rent the gym/cafeteria at the former Fatima High School and every Sunday transform the space into a place of worship. Now with about 120 congregants, the church is growing and thriving. Many of the members take on active roles with ministry, maintenance, mission work and much more. An all-inclusive group, every member has an important job to do and the amazing volunteer team is making a difference in the community and beyond.
Pastor Smith’s story is inspiring and the journey he has taken to this point in his life is nothing short of divine intervention, he says. The father of three children, he and his high school sweetheart, Dianne, both from Seekonk, believe that we all have this one life and should live it to the fullest. As a teenager, he was paralyzed and hospitalized for more than four months with Guillain–Barré syndrome, a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. The frightening experience changed his life and shaped his future in ways he couldn’t have imagined. Fully paralyzed and on a respirator, he worked hard to regain his strength and spent six months in rehabilitation, learning to walk again. Never giving up, the teenager worked tirelessly to become as active as he was before he became ill. “That experience shaped the trajectory of my life,” he said. It was life-changing, he said, because he wasn’t raised in a religious household. “Faith and Christianity wasn’t in my life growing up. My parents divorced when I was one and being sick, I questioned my faith,” he said. The next few years he had the typical teenage lifestyle and didn’t get involved in organized religion although he often felt that God shed light on him, although he didn’t quite yet know the reason. A lifelong baseball lover, he went on to become a star pitcher at Seekonk High School. Recruited out of high school in 1990 by the New York Yankees organization, he played in their minor-leagues until 1997. It was there that he found faith through his teammates and became a Christian in 1992. “It was life-changing time for me. I learned that I had been living for myself and now as a Christian I live to please God,” he said. He knew that after baseball he would dedicate his life to the service of God and to others. Returning to Southeastern Massachusetts in 1997, he began volunteering at Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth and started working as youth pastor and then associate pastor. In 1998 he enrolled at Providence College and received a degree in Humanities and received a Master of Divinity from Rockbridge Seminary. He has helped many people with his easy manner and great listening skills. “At Covenant, I was involved in many ministries, something of a life coach. I have helped hundreds of people navigate the complexities of marriage and parenting. I am passionate about helping people. Being involved in sports my whole life, I am always coaching my kid’s basketball, baseball and other sports teams. Life coaching is no different. It’s a way to help people see things in a different light and bringing out the best in them through faith,” he said.
It takes a village
Mark Whittaker, a fifth-grade teacher at Hampden Meadows Elementary School in Barrington and a talented musician, is the musical director (also known as a worship leader) at Stone Coast. He became involved after seeking a higher calling and life direction.
“I wanted more God in my life and I wanted more music in my life ... God gave me Stone Coast Community Church ... it's what I asked for.”
With God answering his prayers, Mr. Whittaker feels it his duty to give back and treat everyone with respect.
“As a church we recognize that everyone ... everyone has a story that is just as important and significant as the story of the person sitting next to them,” he said.
He became involved in the church after Pastor Sean came to visit him at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church in Providence. On Sundays, they have a breakfast and service for 200 to 300 homeless and struggling people from all over the state. Mr. Whittaker has been bringing Barrington High School students there for the past three years for their senior projects to play, teach, and serve.
“It's been a personal music mission of mine for several years. I want to continue that service at Stone Coast, side-by-side with Sean,” he said.
Mr. Whittaker is one of many who take an active role at the church. Difference parishioners speak at the Sunday morning service, teach and take advantage of an open mic session where people share their stories. They talk about the issues of the day in a respectable and dignified manner, in keeping with their belief that ‘we are all the church’.
‘We’re all in this together’ is a motto that rings true at Stone Coast Community Church. Doing God’s work with capable hands is what the church community thrives on.
Recently they participated in gathering backpacks for the homeless with Mathewson Street Church where more than 100 backpacks were given out.
“This raises awareness and the great needs in the community. We tend to forget then ‘invisible’ people that are going through hardships. As a society, we have become desensitized and we try and break through that train of thought,” he said.
Another service project Stone Coast is proud to partner in is Bags of Hope – where foster children are given duffle bags with their names embroidered on them.
“Having their own bag that is truly their own is important. These kids are moved around and often times their belongings are put into black trash bags. It’s degrading and so impersonal. Bags of Hope are meant to show these kids that they do matter,” Pastor Smith said.
More than 500 duffle bags were distributed over the past year in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts.
As the church community grows, Pastor Sean and his volunteers have big plans for the future. With about 70 percent of the Highlander School population from the inner city, Stone Coast plans to mentor students and partner them with local businesses in mentoring programs. “I am fortunate to have relationships with at least 35 businesses willing to help these kids. Our goal is to develop pathways for students to have a mentor or internship opportunity that will help them figure out life and overcome obstacles,” Pastor Sean said. Other ideas include the possibility of opening a community center bringing the values of Christ and using the gifts the church has been given to share and demonstrate love and compassion to those in the community. “In our small way we can team up to bring good to people. I want our church to be a place where everyone can come and learn from our teachings and go out an live it – to be a bridge, plant seeds, be authentic, be real, be vulnerable and transparent,” Pastor Sean said.