New Dowagiac pastor aims to ‘recapture the heartbeat’ of the Bible

DOWAGIAC — There is a new pastor on the block in Dowagiac.

Rick Romeo, the pastor of First Christian Church, 201 Oak Street, Dowagiac, has spent the past four months trying to get up to speed with his new church community.

“Every generation has become wiser about culture than the previous generation,” Romeo said. “Going from South Bend to Dowagiac is a different pace that you have to adjust to. My main goal here has been getting to know the leaders of the church and the congregation and build a healthy relationship with them as my eyes and ears for the community. It’s been a good experience.”

A South Bend native, Romeo graduated from Adams High School and attended Bethel College to play baseball. He helped lead the Pilots to a national championship in 1986 as a senior team captain.

While at Bethel, Romeo came into his faith and discovered his passion for ministry.

“My faith became more personal and powerful in college,” Romeo said. “I really had some great Christian professors and really gave my heart to the Lord. From that point on, things really changed for the better.”

After graduating from Bethel with a bachelor’s in communications and two bible minors, Romeo earned his master’s in Education at Wheaton College, with an emphasis on ministry and Bible. He then went on to study at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he was ordained.Romeo has worn many hats over the years, spending time as a youth pastor, an associate pastor as well as professor stints at Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Michigan, and Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana.

While living in South Bend, Romeo also found time to travel and preach to different congregations, including First Christian Church in Dowagiac, where he was asked to become the pastor.

As the head of the congregation, Romeo aims to “recapture the heartbeat of the New Testament” and demonstrate God’s love for the community.

“The best way to know what the church is supposed to be all about is to see what Jesus says it is,” Romeo said. “Sometimes a church can become an institutional place which can have baggage and miss the mark. The vision here is going back to the vision Jesus had for the church. The church is supposed to be a place of freedom and love and a soft place to fall and a strong place to be. We need to go to the community and not expect the community to come to us. If we build authentic relationships in the community and demonstrate God’s love, I think that can make a big difference.”

When he’s not managing the church, Romeo is managing Forbes Law Firm with his friend and business partner Rod Forbes. With offices in South Bend and West Lafayette, Indiana, the firm has provided disabled persons with competent legal representation for more than 10 years.

“I thought Rod was crazy,” Romeo said. “But after a three-hour dinner, he persuaded me that it would be a good match for me. We work with clients with injuries and disabilities. I process applications and appeals, while he handles the attorney side of things. The nature of that work consists of people who are going through a mental and emotional valley. They’ve worked their whole lives, and all of a sudden they can’t work anymore.”

While managing a law office may seem different from leading a congregation, Romeo believes they’re more similar than one would expect.

“Helping people through hard times is a big part of life,” Romeo said. “Doing the disability work these past 10 years in a lot of ways has been unconventional ministry. I’m not working for a church in this field but we try to take care of our clients, support them, and when their cases with integrity. A lot of these folks are warriors because they’re going through Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis, something they didn’t sign up for. They have the courage and character to fight through it.”

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