By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
MONROE – Greater New Antioch Baptist Church accepted God’s call to take a leap of faith in late June and move from their long-time home to another area of Monroe, and the blessings have been supernal.
Since relocating, the Lord has blessed the obedience of the African-American church re-plant with a 20 percent increase in attendance, including 15 new members by baptism since moving.
The success of the relocated congregation might have been foreseen from the huge welcome the congregation received at the new location, when more than 750 individuals from the community attended the initial service.
The June 24 service was a combination of the launch of Greater New Antioch and the dissolution of College Place Baptist (a predominately Anglo congregation), which was transferring its property to the incoming group.
Now running an average of 150 in morning worship, Greater New Antioch members truly understand the importance of them taking the step of faith to move.
“We all had the emotional attachment to the old building we had been in for 20 years but we prayed the Lord would open the door to move,” said Pastor John Russell. “My members had faith in the leadership and vision of the pastor. But most of all, we trusted God.
“It’s been a blessing to have acquired this property in the way we have and to continue the ministry,” he continued. “The field is so big in this area. It’s just awesome to know we have a chance to play a part in seeing a great harvest in our community.”
Russell was installed as pastor January 7 at a time when he believed God was calling his church to find a new location. Two weeks later, he learned College Place Baptist Church was closing its doors after 74 years of ministry, but was seeking another church to continue meeting in its building.
Initially, he met with College Place Baptist Pastor Stan Wyatt and James Jenkins, Louisiana Baptist church planting director, Russell said. Then lay leaders from both congregations came together and all involved felt the Holy Spirit was leading the two churches to move ahead. A unanimous vote by the Greater New Antioch Baptist was the final confirmation from God they were to make the move from southern part of Monroe to the northeast area of the city near the campus of the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
On June 24, the few remaining members of College Place Baptist shed tears of joy with congregants from Greater New Antioch Baptist, each remembering the past but also looking to the future of renewed ministry to this vital community.
“It was very emotional during that time for the members of College Place,” Russell said. “We thought honoring them was important because they had spent so many years in this community and the university. That evening I was in the back getting things lined up and when I walked into the sanctuary I was like, ‘Wow!’ I had a moment where it hit me that this was really happening.”
Since their first worship service at the new location, the church has hosted 110 children for Vacation Bible School, held a block party, coordinated a Trunk or Treat in October for 150 who attended and distributed clothing to the less fortunate.
“There are a lot of needy people in this community and we want to provide for physical and spiritual needs alike,” Russell said.
The relocation of Greater New Antioch Baptist was an answer to prayer in more ways than one for Janet Campbell. For many years, Janet attended services at the former location, but her husband, Mark, opted to remain at home. During a worship service in July at its new location, Mark felt led to restore his fellowship with Christ and he joined Greater New Antioch Baptist.
“When I saw Mark coming down the aisle, it was a shock to me,” Campbell said. “To see him there brought tears of joy because I had prayed for so long that he would come to church with me. Now, we’re sitting together on Sundays and praying together at home. And we have a common mission to reach our surrounding community for Jesus.”
Ronald Hunter, a member of the church for 22 years, believes the Greater New Antioch Baptist is positioned for reap a great harvest in its community.
“We are seeing people come nearly every Sunday from this neighborhood and other areas,” said Hunter, who attends with his wife, JoAnne. “We have a heart for those around us and go into stores to invite people to come join us for the marvelous things God is doing here at Greater New Antioch Baptist.
“But I believe even with the growth our church has just begun to see the kind of growth God will bless us with,” he continued. “God put us there for a number of reasons, but that is one of the biggest reasons is to get his Word out from our church into the neighborhoods so He will be glorified and the Holy Ghost will put a fire into all of us for God’s purpose. We can’t wait to witness the multitudes of lives that will be changed.”