Americus First United Methodist Church’s Hispanic ministry is getting a new home … right next door to its old one.
The ministry, which began with five people on Oct. 20, 2005, has outgrown its current location in Americus First UMC’s chapel. With worship attendance now nearing the chapel’s 100-person capacity, ministry leaders knew that expansion was necessary.
Since its inception, weekly attendance has hovered near 75. Numerous baptisms and marriages have been performed, and the ministry welcomed seven new members in 2010. During a revival weekend in October, more than 300 people attended, overflowing the chapel into the church’s social hall.
To establish an Hispanic Worship Center and to accommodate the ministry’s ever-growing congregation, church trustees recommended that Americus First UMC approach the Sumter Historic Trust about a long-term lease of the 111-year-old First Christian Church facility, which in June 2008 was donated to the Historic Trust.
On Nov. 15, 2010, Americus First UMC entered into a lease of the First Christian Church, located adjacent to Americus First UMC’s parking lot. The lease states that Americus First UMC will rent the facility for $1 per year for three years. Following the initial three years, the lease will be restructured and Americus First UMC will pay $2,500 per year in rent.
Aside from the additional space it will afford the Hispanic ministry, the new facility will allow events to be scheduled without worry of conflict with another one of Americus First UMC’s ministries.
“I think that with their own worship space, fellowship space and educational space they’ll be able to do what they need to do when they need to do it and not have to work around schedules,” said Americus First UMC senior pastor Rev. James Smith. “I think that freedom is one of the biggest things they need, and they’re growing so they need more space.”
Rev. Noel Perez, a native of Cuba, leads the church’s Hispanic ministry. Rev. Smith credits much of the ministry’s growth to his leadership and vision.
“He (Rev. Perez) has done and is doing an outstanding job in leading the Hispanic congregation,” Rev. Smith said. “He has a great deal of vitality and a wonderful spirit, and the people have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. He gives excellent pastoral leadership to the Hispanic congregation. The attendance is growing and it’s exciting to sit in a staff meeting and have Rev. Perez talk about people coming to faith in Christ during or after a worship service. That’s what thrills me the most – the spiritual vitality that’s going on there.”
The Americus First UMC congregation has supported the transition and move, even throwing the Hispanic congregation a “kitchen shower” to help stock their new kitchen with basic essentials.
In an effort to develop a strong partnership between the two congregations, a liaison group was formed. Members from each congregation meet regularly to discuss the needs, visions and dreams of the Hispanic ministry.
The group has helped develop relationships, establish clear communication channels and build a closer, stronger connection between the two ministries, leaders say.
“Our mission is to draw the two church communities together and to share fellowship when we can,” said Angelyn Tripp, co-chair of the Hispanic ministry committee. “At least once a quarter we try to do something together. I think the thing that has made a difference is our being able to come together as a church fellowship with a one-minded mission.”
There is excitement within the church about the opportunity for growth and for life-changing ministry to continue.
“The Hispanic congregation is very much spiritually alive,” Rev. Smith said. “Lives are being changed in the Hispanic community in Americus through this congregation and through the ministry here.”