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Dawson: Many congregations, one faith familycomment (0)

June 16, 2011

By Anna Swindle

The campus of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, is a place many call home — even if they don’t necessarily call themselves Dawson members.

In addition to members and visitors who attend three morning worship services at the Birmingham Baptist Association church, three other groups gather there to worship God each Sunday. At 9:40 a.m., the church’s minister of spiritual formation, Todd Harrington, delivers a message to a group called Journey.

Starting at 11 a.m., Dawson’s Hispanic Pastor Byron Mosquera and his congregation praise the Lord, and then at 5 p.m., John Constantine leads a service for his Arabic church.

“The thing that sort of ties it all together — the DNA of our church — is service,” Senior Pastor Gary Fenton said. “Our shared vision is to become faithful and help others become faithful as well.”

One notable way this situation differs from many others in which congregations share a single worship space is the fact that it is far from temporary. Instead of using another church’s building while raising funds to build their own, the Arabic church and Hispanic congregation have been meeting on Dawson’s campus for more than two decades.

“We thought, ‘Rather than going out and finding a new location and going through the cost and energy involved, why don’t we just have them under our umbrella and provide space for a new group that fits within us?’” Fenton said. “We have found with Journey and (the) Hispanic congregation that really works well. Our relationship with the Arabic Christian congregation is also very effective but the way we are connected to them is slightly different.”  

It’s different in that it is an autonomous congregation that meets on the Dawson campus.

“We have created a ‘church within a church’ model,” said Ben Hale, Dawson’s minister of evangelism and missions.

“There are differences in language, culture, style of worship and dress, but (they) are still members of the Dawson family of faith. We strive to have as many open doors as possible for people to come into the church.”

And the open doors go both ways, Mosquera said.

The Spanish-speaking members of his congregation spend much of their time at church interacting with the Anglo members, and the Anglo members are able to develop friendships with the Hispanic members.

“We have two VBS (Vacation Bible School) weeks here — one in English and one in Spanish — and often our kids go to both,” Mosquera said. “We baptize from both congregations. We go on a beach trip together with both congregations every year called (Beach) Breakaway. When we can collaborate, we do, anytime we see the opportunity.”

And according to Fenton, this consistent interaction and sharing of culture, language and tradition have made Dawson members better missionaries.

“In some ways, this diversity, this wide expression of faith, has been an impetus to our desire to do missions, because we’re used to working with people who have accents and who have a different approach to things,” he said.

“I don’t think people are really intimidated by interacting with (other) people.”

Fenton said the church hopes to continue its collaborative, inclusive model for years to come.

“We recognize that the basic need of humanity is Christ and that it’s not style of worship or language that matter but rather the commitment to Jesus Christ and the church,” he said.

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