Colette M. Jenkins
The Rev. Dallas R. Billington is doing a new thing.
The third-generation Billington to serve as pastor of the historic Akron Baptist Temple will launch City Church AC (Akron/Canton) Sunday at Musica, 51 E. Market St. in downtown Akron.
“This is me,” said Billington looking around the dimly lighted live music venue. “It’s laid-back, intimate and casual. It’s the perfect place for broken and hurting people to come and find hope.”
The nontraditional surroundings, for the nondenominational church, are completely different from the conventional church setting that Billington grew up in. It will serve as the backdrop for Billington’s mission to reach the unchurched by sharing his personal story of brokenness — the loss of both parents, a divorce after 30 years of marriage, financial struggles and loss of a foster child — and of how God restored him.
“I was losing everything. And I was so angry. I was grieving my parents’ deaths, grieving my marriage, under eviction, came within five minutes of having my electricity turned off, lost a little boy who had been my son for a year and a half and who had given me back my life in the midst of all of my loss,” Billington said. “I was so discouraged. I know that the Lord called me to share his word, but I was too angry to preach.
“But I’m not angry anymore. I’m not discouraged anymore. Now, I can preach again.”
Billington’s decision to preach again is good news to supporters like Jim and Lisa Saxer, of Canal Fulton. The Saxers, both 42, were married 13 years ago by Billington and said they were among numerous people who have encouraged him to start a church over the past several years. The couple served in the children’s ministry at Akron Baptist Temple when Billington was pastor.
“Dallas is called to preach the word of God. He’s so passionate and so on fire about his vision to be a light to people who are hurting and to have a church that is committed to helping make the community better. He believes that the community where we live, work and play needs to be our mission field,” Jim Saxer said.
Lisa Saxer added that “Dallas just has a heart for people, just like his grandfather. He just wants to see people get saved and we’re ready to help him.”
Billington, 57, succeeded his father, the late Rev. Charles Billington as pastor of Akron Baptist Temple, which was founded in 1934 by his father, the late Rev. Dallas F. Billington.
The youngest Billington left the church — one of the nation’s first megachurches, attracting more than 4,000 worshippers in the 1950s — in 2006 and went to Florida to work as an associate pastor alongside a pastor friend.
“I love Akron Baptist Temple. It’s my heritage,” Billington said. “I did everything I could to make sure the church was healthy before I left — to the point that I burned myself out. Leading a megachurch is a lot of work, and when you don’t take time to rest, it can take its toll on you.”
During his tenure, Akron Baptist Temple reduced its debt from $6 million to less than $1 million. The outreach ministry, Always Hope, outgrew its space in one small room and expanded to the entire basement.
New ministries and Bible studies were added, and attendance and offerings increased.
Billington returned to the Akron area in 2010 and helped care for his ill father. His mother, Sylvia Eileen, who had been his father’s primary caretaker, became ill that same year. His father passed away in 2010, and his mother last year.
As Billington struggled to deal with his grief, his wife of 30 years pursued a divorce, adding more stress and anxiety to his life. But he found some comfort in caring for a 3-year-old boy, whom one of his three adult children asked him to foster.
“I began to see how he was so dependent on me, and the Lord showed me that he takes care of me, just like I was taking care of little Sean. I found so much joy in being his father — I’m still his father. He helped my keep my sanity. This kid gave me my life back,” Billington said. “Then I got a phone call one day, saying his mother wanted him back. I was devastated. I said, ‘Lord, I don’t understand this. I’m angry. I’m not angry at you. I’m just angry, but I’m going to trust you.’
“As I spoke those words, it was like a weight was lifted off me. I wasn’t angry anymore.”
Billington said he continued to get confirmation from God that it was time for him to step out on his faith and share God’s grace with others, especially those dealing with life’s challenges.
Student to help
Andrew Logan, who considers Billington a mentor, said he is excited about City Church and its mission.
A University of Akron graduate currently in his final year of studies for his masters of divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, Logan plans to return to Akron this summer to help at the church.
“Dallas has been through so much. He was so broken and down throughout his difficulties. But he held on to the message of grace and came to the realization that the Lord is going to bless us — not because of our actions but because he loves us,” said Logan, 25. “The grace of Jesus Christ is in him and on him, and I believe God is going to work through him to give people hope. He’s an example of how God provides hope, love and grace in the most difficult times of your life.”
The vision of City Church (sites.google.com/site/citychurchac/) is to be light and love to people who are hurting. It is committed to supporting local missions and has identified three organizations to begin with: Akron Pregnancy Services, Emmanuel Christian Academy and Love Akron.
“It’s been a journey. As I look back on this, I wouldn’t change anything that the Lord has done in all of this,” Billington said. “I’m back home in Akron. I’m spiritually healthier than I’ve ever been. The Lord has given me a platform to share his word with a clearer vision of his grace. We’re not here to judge people, we’re here to help them.”
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.