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A preacher with passion
St. John Baptist is fuller than ever now that the Rev. Stephen Samuel is in the pulpit
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The Rev. Stephen Samuel, pastor at St. John Baptist Church, shakes hands with deacon Richard Meadows shortly after Sunday's services. Since Samuel began at the church in June, there has been a large increase in new members joining the church.

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The Rev. Stephen Samuel talks about changes that may come with the addition of a new service.

The Rev. Stephen Samuel has only been at St. John Baptist Church since June, but lots of things are starting to change.

First, Samuel decided to add a second Sunday worship service.

"We could have stayed at the 10 a.m. service and everyone would have been fine, but it's not about everybody here; it's about who's not here," he said. "There are people in this city and in this county that don't go to anybody's church, it doesn't matter what time. So the question becomes how do we affect them?

"If nobody's pastor can touch them, then we have to come up with something to reach out to that segment of our population."

Kenneth Austin, chairman of the deacons at St. John, agreed that the church needs to focus on those who aren't in church.

"I think it will give the community an opportunity for those who are not members of St. John to actually experience our service, and I think it's going to be a great lift for the community," said Austin, who has been a member at St. John for 30 years.

Beginning Sunday, the first service will be at 8:30 a.m. and the second at 10:30 a.m.

"On certain levels we ask people to accommodate themselves to God and to the church," Samuel said. "But then, of course, the church itself has to be flexible as well. The point is we are doing two things at once - we are adding this additional service, but actually we are making our service a little more structured."

Samuel said St. John did have a second service a few years back and it was a "well attended service."

"They moved over here, and the sanctuary they figured they could make it with one service," he said. "Now with this, there is a push on my part to make the service very timely.

"Our style of worship may lend itself to taking a lot of time. One thing we have to be very mindful of is people's time."

Eddie Dean Christian, a deacon and lifelong member of St. John, said the second service also will relieve parking woes.

"We were having a little problem with not having enough parking spaces, and going to two services will open up more parking spaces," Christian said. "Now we can accommodate more people and they won't have to walk so far to get to the church."

Also, in Samuel's first three months he has been the guiding force in the addition of a slew of new members at St. John. Samuel's count is around 44 at the beginning of August, but Christian and Austin thought the new figures were closer to 60 new members.

"He's only been here since June so that is a lot for our church anyway," Austin said. "He's doing a great job of outlining what God has in store for us. The people are buying into it, and he preaches the word and God does the drawing."

Samuel also said that during his first baptismal service at St. John in August he baptized 17 new Christians.

"We average about 70 (new members) a year and we've done that in about three months," Christian said. "I think it's due to the excitement of having a new pastor and having a new pastor that preaches and teaches the word of God." Samuel doesn't take all the credit for the membership spike.

"I am grateful for anyone who would actually come listen to me, but then of course I am thankful for anyone who wants to come and be a part of our church," he said.

And Samuel wants to be even more involved with the community through upcoming outreach efforts in which St. John will participate.

St. John is slated to take part in Project Hope, a community outreach event put on by the Chattahoochee Baptist Association on Oct. 4.

Also, St. John will host its annual Community Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 18. The church will have children's activities, health care screenings and will be serving lunch.

"The idea is to give a piece of who we are," Samuel said. "Or a piece of the God we serve, a piece of this faith that we believe in."

 

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