From their humble beginning 50 years ago, leading prayer on Oct. 13, 1963 for just 35 people while renting space from the Miami Chamber of Commerce, to having helped open four churches in the region through their ministry, John and Ann Alessi’s legacy in perpetuating Christian values and faith throughout South Florida and beyond is undeniable.
Grace Church of Kendall, whose multidenominational openness has it often being referred to as a “united nations church,” is the product of many years of dedicated work and perseverance.
John and Ann remained at the Chamber of Commerce that first year, believing it would only take them that long to find a permanent location for their church. It would be five years, however, before they finally found one, during which time they moved from their first spot to the Youth for Christ building nearby where they conducted services using an organ, a piano and other donated equipment.
“We did not want to have our location on back road streets or the railroad track,” John said. “I was looking for a nice high-profile area.”
They made numerous attempts and bids on locations, all of which fell through. During this time, something serendipitous occurred: John made a habit of visiting church members in the hospital if they were sick and, if there was someone in the adjacent room as well, he would also visit that person, say hello and pray.
“Sometime later, I went to search out this particular property that we’re on now and when I went to the owner’s house over on Old Cutler, it was the gentleman that I had visited in the hospital,” John said. “He said he was not interested in selling it, but then he remembered who I was.”
They finally had their location, at 8100 SW 104 St., and it still stands there today, the daily messages on its sign a regular inspiration to those who pass.
“Every dime we got, we always funneled it back into the church,” John said. “The fruits of our ministry and of our lives is seen. We’ve got a strong foundation, a strong marriage, strong love in the family and we have fun.”
In the years that followed, they spread their influence throughout several other churches. Under the title, “Time for Grace,” John and Ann produced and starred on television between 1974 and 1980 and were on the radio between 1985 and1988, airing during the same programming block as faith-based broadcast notables Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman.
Ann and John met while at the Evangel Temple in the northwest section of Miami and were married on Sept. 7, 1957. Together they have three children: Deborah, Steve and Darlene, all of whom are married and are part of the ministry. Steve will be taking over for them when they step down.
“Grace Church has been just a lighthouse for people in this community,” Steve said. “To be brought into that world as kids, we saw it as fun. Doing this thing we call ministry, it’s a great job. You feel a sense of satisfaction about doing it.” Now that they are retiring, John and Ann intend to travel, possibly to Cuba and out to California to visit their daughter. Before that, Steve and Mary will be taking them on a trip to New York, Pennsylvania and to Niagara Falls. Later, they would like to visit the Holy Land before returning stateside to attend their grandchildren’s graduations.
“I already know the people in our ministry are going to back our son and his beautiful wife and four kids,” Ann said. “They’re going to stand beside them because they love us so much. We’ve got people that have been down there with us for 35-40 years. Besides, we’re not going any place. We’ll still be there and have plenty to keep us busy.”
For more information, visit <www.graceforyou. org>.