Jason McEachron has lived in the Lodi area for most of his life, but he says there’s a side of Lodi that most residents don’t realize is there.
“I’ve seen a different side of people I’ve never seen in my life,” said McEachron, 39, pastor at Gravity Church on South Central Avenue. “Our ministry is to the broken, outcast and discarded of society.”
Although worshipping God and Jesus Christ are central to Gravity’s ministry, perhaps even greater attention is placed on people who are struggling in life, whether they be homeless, hungry, jobless or need to improve their parenting skills. McEachron describes it as a holistic approach to ministry.
A building contractor by day, McEachron conducts services on Saturday nights, but most of his pastoral efforts involve helping the needy. He has made a major difference in the lives of hundreds of Lodi residents by coordinating volunteers and gaining help from other churches in town to helping the less fortunate.
Jeff Ring said he’s lived a life of drugs and violence in Stockton. Then he discovered Gravity Church 8 1/2 months ago.
“As soon as I walked through these doors, I found it was non-judgmental,” Ring said. “That’s what I like about it. It is definitely not the norm.”
Ring said that through Gravity Church, he has regained a positive relationship with his children and his ex.
“I’m a work in progress,” Ring said.
Ring also helps serve food to the homeless, volunteers at the UPtown Thrift store on Sacramento Street and runs the Second Step Living Program, a follow-up to alcohol and drug treatment programs.
“People are doing a lot of good work in the community,” McEachron said. “The way God’s moving is He’s getting us to find each other.”
McEachron started Gravity Church, formerly named Zion Christian Fellowship, after his grandfather, Dick Patterson, retired in 2009. He continued Patterson’s program for bringing dinner on Tuesday nights for the homeless at Lawrence Park.
What’s changed since then is arranging for eight other churches to take turns feeding the homeless on Tuesday nights. They include Grace Presbyterian, Calvary Bible, Bethel Open Bible, Westside Assembly and Vinewood Community churches. Beth Hallel Messianic Fellowship (Messianic Jews), Intercity Action from North Stockton and the Unity Project, the ministry at UPtown Thrift, also participate.
Between 80 and 100 homeless people eat dinner at Lawrence Park on Tuesdays from late spring to the fall, McEachron said.
With volunteer help, he hosts the homeless for lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays. Two women, one a 79-year-old woman who cooks up a storm but doesn’t want her identity known, prepares the meals for 40 to 50 people at the church. Monthly, they serve more than 1,000 meals.
He also established the Second Step Living Program, where host businesses and families help people get back into the workplace and embrace independent living, and teach them what a healthy home environment is. It’s this program that excites McEachron the most.
Gravity Church has no paid employees, not even McEachron. He puts food on his family’s table through his contracting business. Because of the recession, there is little new construction, so McEachron says he focuses on remodeling projects. He hires Second Step participants for his contracting work.
McEachron said he grew up in a religious environment that focused on judgment rather than accepting people for who they are. During his two years-plus at Gravity, he says he’s changed considerably.
“I had a lot of criteria I judged people by,” he said. “God has shown me that He accepted me for who I am, and as a result of that grace, I’ve become a different person. I show that same grace to others as they are.”
McEachron said it’s difficult to explain what “grace” is, but it’s essentially accepting others as they are.
“I grew up in the church, and yet I didn’t understand grace,” McEachron said. “(Now) I’m experiencing grace in a much deeper capacity.”
Pastors from other churches, along with other church members who worship elsewhere on Sunday, sometimes coming to Gravity for its Saturday night services. McEachron invites pastors and other bands to participate in services so that people from different churches get to know each other.
“We have people who have it all put together sitting in the same row as people who are at Lawrence Park and still have alcohol on their breath,” McEachron said.
“We’re not concerned as much with building a congregation of people than a community of people,” he added.
McEachron, who grew up in Galt, lives in Lodi with his wife, Schaunna, and three sons, Taylor, 16, Micah, 14, and Luke, 10.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.