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Westside Baptist Church turns over building to Hispanic congregation

New parish to hold first service on Sunday

POSTED: May 3, 2014 1:00 a.m.

When one church closes, its doors open to another.

After 75 years, Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville disbanded to make room for the Pozo de Esperanza congregation.

Westside donated the historic brick buildings and property on Atlanta Highway to the Chattahoochee Baptist Association’s New Work Foundation. The association will be responsible for the facility’s upkeep until Pozo de Esperanza is more established and can maintain the building.

Jojo Thomas, director of missions for the Chattahoochee Baptist Association, an organization that oversees a network of 75 Baptist churches in the area, said the process has been bittersweet for the former congregation. But it is a “win” for the community.

“This is something the Lord is in,” Thomas said. “It’s really a great thing for the city and a great opportunity in terms of sharing the gospel’s influence in the community.”

The Rev. Richie Lewis, former pastor of Westside, led the congregation of more than 50 people for two years.

“The church was 75 years old and has really impacted a lot of people’s lives,” Lewis said. “There were a lot of people (who) came through that church, had gone into ministry or were married there. It impacted a lot of folks over the years.”

But during the years, the congregation’s attendance dwindled as people moved away or joined other churches. Lewis said the average age of the congregation was about 72 years old.

“I spent a year studying the demographics of that community around Atlanta Highway,” Lewis said. “I just recognized that the demographics that were there did not lend itself to an older, Anglo congregation anymore.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic population in 2012 was nearly 27 percent in Hall County and 41 percent in Gainesville. The neighborhood surrounding the church has become a central hub for the city’s Hispanic community.

Lewis suggested finding a Hispanic church to partner with so the church could better serve the community’s needs.

Pozo de Esperanza had been holding Spanish services in its “mother church,” Hopewell Baptist Church on Poplar Springs Road, for 10 years. It has a congregation of more than 120 people.

Lewis said he and Westside officials felt the church’s mission was consistent with the vision Westside’s founders established years before and a partnership was formed.

For Jose Delgado, pastor of Pozo de Esperanza, Westside’s location meant reaching more people through its ministry.

“When we saw the map, we saw Hall County and we dropped a pin where the most amount of Hispanics were located,” Delgado said. “Then we did the same thing in the center of the county. When we looked at it, it was this place, this property right here. We thought ‘This is the perfect place.’”

Westside Baptist Church held its final service March 30 and turned the keys over to Pozo de Esperanza during the ceremony. Several other churches in the Chattahoochee Baptist Association have helped the churches navigate the transition.

Pozo de Esperanza will hold its inaugural service at 10 a.m. Sunday.

“I always tell folks that a person originally had a vision ... 75 years ago and this is the way we continue that vision,” Lewis said. “It may look different in terms of cultural context or the color of skin, but it’s really the continuation of that original vision. We’re reaching the community that those first leaders set out to reach.”

Delgado said the process of moving into the church has required a lot of hard work, but the ability to reach more families is very exciting.

Eventually the church hopes to open its gym to allow community members a place to play indoor soccer. It also plans to offer English as a Second Language classes and set up a distribution spot for the Good Samaritan Food Bank operated by the Chattahoochee Baptist Association on McEver Road in Gainesville.

Delgado said he believes the centralized location will open the doors for many other ministries focused on spreading the gospel to Hispanics to serve the area. The church offers services in English and Spanish to reach first and second generation Hispanics.

“It was a joy for the whole church knowing we were going to minister to this whole community,” said Carmen Delgado, Jose Delgado’s wife. “To be in the middle of where most of the Hispanics are in Gainesville, I think this is a huge responsibility and a great commitment.”


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