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Dolomite church starts Hispanic ministry to spur growthcomment (0)

February 23, 2006

By Erin Webster

For Dolomite Baptist Church in Bessemer Baptist Association, the start of a Hispanic ministry may be the start of revitalization. At least, that is the hope of Pastor Dexter Taylor and church member Ed Bartlett.

Through the years, as the church’s congregation has grown older and smaller, several different attempts have been made to bring in new members, Bartlett said, explaining that the average age of the congregation is about 80 years old. But changes in the surrounding community have made that task difficult.

“This is a lower-income, very transitional area,” he said. “The old ways of ministry just don’t work. It’s going to take something totally different from what Baptists are used to.”

In looking for that something different, one demographic kept getting Bartlett’s attention — the growing Hispanic population.

Bartlett, who worked for many years in the food industry, said he began noticing the increase in demand for Hispanic foods in the grocery stores. He also began seeing more Hispanics around the Hueytown and Dolomite areas.

After talking with Ed Cruce, Bessemer Association director of missions, the idea for a Hispanic ministry began taking shape. Don Cunningham, a former pastor of Dolomite Baptist, suggested that Bartlett and Taylor talk with Carlos Gomez, pastor of Iglesia Hispana La Nueva Vida at First Baptist Church, Center Point, in nearby Birmingham Baptist Association.

“There is a need (for Hispanic ministry) on our side of town,” Taylor said. “Carlos is a very experienced pastor for the Hispanic community.”

As Gomez surveyed the Dolomite and Hueytown areas, he saw there were enough Hispanics to support a ministry. So he began holding an English as a Second Language (ESL) class at Dolomite Baptist on Sunday afternoons. As attendance grew, Gomez began worship services in Spanish immediately after the class to encourage the students to stay.

While attendance is holding steady at about 20 regular attendees, Gomez said he feels the ministry will grow with steady visitation and as it is promoted throughout the association. “We want to reach the ones who are not going to any church,” he said.

Although Bartlett and Taylor agree that establishing a Hispanic ministry is a slow process, they are  seeing its impact on their lives and are hopeful it will soon impact the whole church. “I think it’s another way for me to be involved in the Lord’s work,” Taylor said. “It’s helped broaden my horizons.”

He admitted that although church members are willing to share the building with the Hispanic ministry, not many of them have been actively involved in the ministry.

Factors of age, income and time have played a part, Taylor said, noting that the congregation averages about 20 in attendance on Sunday mornings and many of its elderly members are homebound because of health reasons.

Personal feelings also played a part in the beginning, he said. “When we introduced (the Hispanic ministry idea) to the church, I think they were a little apprehensive because of the cultural differences;” although now, the church seems happy that the Hispanic ministry is able to use the building, Taylor said. “We’re willing to be there and do what we can.”

There are church members, such as Bartlett, who are able to help regularly with the ministry, and Taylor said he hopes that in the future, the two congregations can have more in common.

“I would love to see the members of our church involved in helping (the Hispanic congregation) on Sunday afternoons,” Taylor said. “We do want to eventually get to the point where we have some intermingled services.”

Taylor said he and Gomez are already looking at ways to encourage involvement and interaction, including a joint visitation to families in the area.

Dolomite Baptist is not the only church being impacted, Gomez noted. Since the minstry’s beginning, he has brought Hispanic members of the Center Point church to Dolomite to build up the fledgling work.

“I’m teaching them to be missionaries. That’s why we’re going to Dolomite,” he said. “The Bible says to be missionaries. We’re going to go to the other side of town, share the gospel and, when they get saved, baptize them.”

For Bartlett, there is still much to learn about Hispanic ministry. “We’re just beginning to discover what a ministry is out there,” he said.

His vision for the church is that as more Hispanics come, they will bring their children and those children will bring their friends, both Spanish and English speakers. “Eventually the church will be built up, and it’ll become a community church again.”

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