Saint Rest Baptist Church sits on a large plot of land in southwest Fresno, on a street named for its founding pastor the late Rev. Chester Riggins. The church has roots in this neighborhood much deeper than the trees that dot its front lawn. As Saint Rest’s current pastor D.J. Criner puts it, the roots to the community grow under the church.
Criner’s own roots are in Stockton, where he showed an early interest in preaching. When he moved to Fresno to play football at Fresno State, his path to the pulpit was sidetracked by parties and the other trappings of the college athlete lifestyle. It was Riggins who made sure Criner found his way back to the church, and to the pulpit specifically. And find his way back Criner did — after “embarrassing” God at the age of 19 when he was asked to pray in front of the congregation after a night of heavy drinking — having been installed as lead pastor of Saint Rest three years ago, after 10 years in leadership roles at the church.
While Criner is on track to establishing a legacy of his own at Saint Rest, through his work with inter-faith groups, being a champion for social justice in southwest Fresno, and his goofy nature as pastor, it’s the church’s legacy that he says is most important. Not just for the church’s congregation of nearly 500 active members, but for the entire community. The community’s roots may grow under Saint Rest, but it’s heart beats there, too.
Here, Criner talks about Saint Rest’s pivotal role in southwest Fresno, why Saint Rest is not just a church in a community, but a church that is a part of the community, and explains the important role the church’s founder played in his life.