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Colo. church building houses multiple growing congregations

AURORA, Colo. (BP)–First Baptist Church in Aurora, Colo., a fraction of its former size, now is home to four congregations.

First Aurora was stop No. 44 Sept. 30 on Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

About 110 Hispanics, 60 multi-ethnics, 30 Filipinos and a dozen Koreans gather for worship at different times each weekend in a building where about 650 people once gathered.

“Every once in a while we have a joint worship service,” said Ron Branigan, pastor of the suburban Denver multi-ethnic church for 11 years. “At the end of the service, when we’re all standing, we say, ‘Look around at all the people gathered in this place. This is a glimpse of heaven.'”

Plan A was not that First Aurora would consist of several ethnic congregations, but that’s the way God worked it out, the pastor said.

First Aurora is the mother church of Primera Iglesia Bautista of Aurora, which started in 1996 as a Friday night Bible study. They grew larger than a home setting could handle and were invited to meet at the church. Primera Bautista, with Ernesto Morones as pastor, now cleans the building and donates what it can to help pay for utilities. It meets in the fellowship hall at the same time the multi-ethnic congregation meets in the worship center. The congregations maintain separate Sunday Schools in different wings of the building.

First Korean Baptist Church of Denver, which started about three years ago, uses the church from 1-4 p.m. on Sundays. They have in-home Bible studies on Wednesdays and Fridays, and a meal is part of their Sunday gathering. Sung Jung is pastor.

The Filipino work is less than a year old. Branigan met Rico Gutierrez, a pastor from the Philippines who was visiting his parents in Colorado Springs last year. Knowing there was a growing number of Filipinos in the Aurora area, the church voted to start this new work.

To date, Gutierrez has started at least four house churches. About 30 gather at the church Saturday nights for Bible study and prayer in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

First Aurora has overcome its share of challenges. A church split 15 years ago predated the closure within the last 10 years of the nearby Lowry Air Force Base, Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center and Stapleton International Airport. Most of the church members had been connected to the military, and by the time Branigan was called as pastor in 1993, only about 40 people remained.

“Our church is not growing real fast, but God is working through our ministries and through the other ministries we’re involved in,” Branigan said. “We started praying three years ago for positions to be filled in the church — youth, music, missions ministry outreach — and God started opening the doors.”

Church member Lynda Whitworth told the pastor that God was telling her to get more involved in the church. He suggested youth, though there were just two students. Now a dozen teens participate in a variety of Bible study and ministry-related activities.

Worship leader Valerie Bellamy visited First Aurora one Sunday “out of the blue,” the pastor said. When Branigan visited her that week, he found out she was interested in music and had taken college courses. Within a month, she was leading music at the church, and that evolved into the worship leader role.

Guiterrez is minister of missions.

“I know God answers prayer,” Branigan said. “I watched my mother-in-law and father-in-law pray for me because I wasn’t saved until I was 33. I’ve seen how God has worked in my life through prayer.”

Prayer helped him and his wife, Brenda, deal with the death of their son when he died in his sleep from unknown causes at the age of 26. Another son had died shortly after birth because of medical problems. God entrusted them with two other sons, Branigan said. The youngest is actively involved at First Aurora.

“When I came, my goal was to change the outlook and attitude of the people and declare ourselves a multi-ethnic congregation, which we are,” he said. “I praise God for that. We have Hispanics, Japanese, Filipino, Nigerian and African-American as well as Anglo people in our congregation.”

The demographics continue to change. The Fitzsimmons site was transformed to the Colorado University Hospital and Medical Training Center. Homes being built at the old airport are ushering in both middle and high income residents.

“That’s a challenge, especially for people trusting in themselves and their work and their own established goals,” Branigan said. “They’re struggling in outer darkness.

“Other challenges are to continue to encourage and challenge not only our congregation but the other congregations that utilize the building; to keep myself and my prayer life up and sharp, that people will always see Jesus Christ in me,” he added. “We want to be faithful in our service because of what He has done for us. He keeps working in our lives and we just praise Him for every step we take.”