Forging faith during a pandemic: how a local pastor formed a congregation amid COVID-19

Ruggles church in Fenway

By Justin Schmithorst
Boston University News Service

BOSTON — Determined to pursue a higher calling in the face of COVID-19, a pastor working in the city’s Fenway neighborhood continues to build the congregation he envisioned after traveling half the country to Boston.

Mike Reneau, a Kansas City native and attorney, moved to Boston last April, just as the first wave of the pandemic was starting to peak in the state.  

Despite the virus, he formed a new Christian church, “Living Faith Boston,” making plans he formed years ago. He has been holding socially-distanced services at the Ruggles Baptist Church on Beacon Street.

“We didn’t initially plan to do that [during a pandemic],” Reneau says. “We’ve been intentionally working toward this for the better part of three-plus years now; the pandemic just kind of came toward the tail end of that process.”

Reneau, who contracted and recovered from COVID-19, says he considered waiting to start his Baptist congregation until after the pandemic passed. However, he says God called him to start the church during the pandemic.

“If we’re going to be the tip of the spear coming in with our team, why not do that during the pandemic?” Reneau said.

The church is the result of an anniversary trip Reneau and his wife took in 2015; they visited the Northeast for the first time. Reneau found the area to be secular.

“What you have though, [in Boston], by and large, like a lot of big cities, is a lot of people who have yet to be exposed to what the word of God actually says,” Reneau said.

Pointing to the city’s 250,000 college students, Reneau called Boston a “target-rich environment.” He wants to spread his message out to as many people as he can.

To take advantage of this environment, Reneau employs what he calls a “block and tackle” tactic, where members of his congregation go out and meet new people, introducing them to the congregation. However, these individuals still wear protective face masks and observing other safety precautions.

For Reneau, starting the church has not been without sacrifice, including some personal sacrifice that went beyond just moving to a new city during a pandemic and standing out in the cold to evangelize.

An attorney licensed to practice law in Missouri, Reneau had his own small law firm in Kansas City. Despite his success in law, Reneau always wanted to be in the ministry. He planned to slowly leave the firm, despite generating more money than he had ever seen in his life.

Meredith, Reneau’s wife, says she was receptive to the idea but named one condition to her spouse before they took the next step.

“I love Kansas City,” Meredith said. “I love my family and friends. The only way I would be O.K. with moving 1,500 miles is if I knew God was calling my husband and my family there. I know God is with us every step of the way. I trust that he will lead us, even during a pandemic.”

Meredith says she wants to be Mike’s “biggest cheerleader,” believing he is a beacon of faith.

“He makes each of his life choices desiring to please the Lord,” Meredith said. “I also really appreciate his deep love for people; he could have 50 things he needs to do in a day, but if someone needs to talk, he will spend a couple of hours listening to that person.”

Meredith isn’t the only one who has been inspired by her husband’s example. One of Mike’s longtime friends, Ron Toti, moved his family from Kansas City as well.

Toti also had a well-paying job and elderly parents in Kansas City. He also “never liked Boston.”

Initially apprehensive, he says it was a chapter in the Book of Acts — Act 16 — that inspired him to follow Reneau to New England. This chapter tells the story of a disciple joining Paul the Apostle in establishing churches and evangelizing in parts of Europe. Toti says he relates to the disciple and believed Reneau is similar to Paul.

With his congregation growing to around two dozen members, Reneau continues to preach and reach out to others as the pandemic continues.

Reflecting on his mission, he says a famous passage from Romans 10 remains important to him.

“Faith, as it’s talked about in [Romans 10], comes from hearing,” Reneau said. “How then, shall they hear without a preacher?”

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