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Congregations celebrate common ground

NEWTON, Mass. (BP)–Newton Corner Worship Center is the new name for a historic New England building that is home to six different congregations, including people from Arabic, Brazilian, Greek, American, Philippine and Russian-Jewish backgrounds.

The 121-year-old red granite structure in Newton, Mass., about 20 minutes west of Boston, began in 1886 as Newton Baptist Church and changed names several times. In 1990, it became the Hellenic Gospel Church in exchange for $1 and a promise to open the building to smaller church groups with no place for corporate worship.

Carla Bertonazzi, event coordinator for the worship center, said the arrangement is “living proof that people from these same ‘warring’ cultures can and do coexist peacefully.” The center also is home to a food pantry and clothing ministry.

In 2004, the Hellenic Gospel Church was a stop on Bobby Welch’s “Everyone Can” bus tour when he was president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Much like an incubator, the worship center provides an affordable, supportive and safe haven for small groups to grow, Bertonazzi said. Once established, the congregations eventually outgrow their space and move to a permanent location that serves a greater number, she said.

In the past 17 years the church building also has been a haven for Chinese, Indian and Haitian worshipers, and it remains a place for other Christian cultural sects to find a welcoming home for their beliefs to
grow and prosper, Bertonazzi said.

“On Christmas Day, all six churches will join together as one body to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” Bertonazzi said. “As it was on the day of the rededication service, the air will be filled with excited chatter in many different languages. Arabs, Jews, Brazilians, Greeks, Filipinos and Americans will embrace each other and share their joy while giving thanks for the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The church was packed for a rededication service as the Newton mayor helped rename the building Nov. 18 to better reflect its diverse reach. Church members “chattered excitedly in many different languages,” according to an account by the local newspaper, the Newton Tab.

Following a ribbon-cutting in the sanctuary, two of the stewards of the church walked down the aisle carrying a Bible that was carried down the same aisle in 1886, the first time the building was dedicated as a church, the newspaper said.

Letters from Jim Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, and from the Greater Boston Baptist Association were read, and the pastors of each of the six churches read Psalm 100 in their own languages.

“Different cultures worship the same God,” Porfirio Dos Reis, pastor of a Brazilian congregation that includes about 70 people each week, told the newspaper. “It shows the peace we should have, even if we’re different from each other, and the importance of a common place to worship.

“Today is a special day. You can see the unity. We’re all here for Jesus Christ,” Dos Reis said.

A Syrian immigrant who attends the Arabic services, said, “I come every Sunday to hear the Word of God.”

Bertonazzi, the worship center’s coordinator, recounted in an e-mail released to Baptist Press the obstacles the church members overcame in order to have the rededication ceremony. She referred to “those dicey 48 hours before any event” when Satan starts to attack.

The day before the service, meteorologists were predicting snow. And the person responsible for installing a new sign to reflect the name change didn’t show up, Bertonazzi said, adding that her car broke down and she was stranded when she most needed to coordinate last-minute details.

Meta Deligiannides, whose husband Hariton Deligiannides is pastor of Compass Community Church, was hospitalized two days before the ceremony because she was going into premature labor. Also, Hariton Deligiannides’ mother was hospitalized because of breathing problems.

“Hariton Deligiannides is not only the pastor of one of the churches sharing the building, but he is the son of Dimirios and Lia Deligiannides who are the ‘stewards’ of the church facility. It makes so much sense that Satan would attack them,” Bertonazzi wrote.

Despite the challenges, Sunday morning brought sunshine and no snow, she said.

“When I arrived at the church, I found Hariton’s mom playing the piano, looking radiant,” Bertonazzi recounted. “When Hariton arrived, I asked about his wife, and much to my amazement there she was still pregnant, looking fabulous with their 18-month-old by her side. God is so faithful.”

Bertonazzi said the best part of the day was when she overheard some elders from the Russian-Jewish church inviting the pastor from the Arabic church to preach at one of their services.
Compiled by Erin Roach, Baptist Press staff writer.

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