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First Baptist calls new pastor & welcomes new Hispanic members

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–When the pulpit committee at First Baptist Church of Lexington, Ky., contacted Juan C’deBaca about becoming their pastor, they knew he would be bringing his congregation with him.
“We went into it with our eyes open,” said deacon Larry Vance of last fall’s merger of the Anglo church with the Hispanic mission from North View Baptist. “We presented it at a business meeting and people unanimously supported it.”
The new pastor, who earned his doctorate in systematic theology in December from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had been praying for direction. He wanted to return to New Mexico, since his family is
there and his and his wife’s children are grown.
Yet, said C’deBaca, as he talked with First Baptist’s committee, it became clear God was leading him there. The clincher was their acceptance of his mission members.
“I felt if I was called to a church in another state the Hispanic congregation could accept that,” he said. “But if I moved across town to take another church it might seem like a betrayal to them. And I felt they were ready for a full-time pastor.”
“We saw this was something we couldn’t do alone,” added Vance, a member of the search committee. “We needed the Lord’s help to make it work. But it could if we were open to it.”
Once one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the nation, First Baptist had fallen on hard times. Located across from Rupp Arena (home to University of Kentucky basketball), attendance declined noticeably after their pastor left in October 1996.
When C’deBaca came, Sunday morning attendance ran about 50 in a sanctuary seating 600. He said it presently averages between 95 and 100.

An English-speaking service begins at 9:30 a.m. Next is a combined, mainly English Sunday school which includes an adult class in Spanish. Hispanic worship follows at noon.
Midweek Bible studies are in English on Wednesday nights and Spanish on Thursdays. The church has also started a Spanish-language radio program on Sunday afternoon.
While there have been some joint worship services and fellowships, language has been the main obstacle to integrating the two groups, the pastor said.
“The transition has been fairly smooth,” said C’deBaca. “We haven’t merged as much as I would like. The cultural barriers are not that serious. Our separate worship services are because of the language barrier.”
Planning is under way to overcome the problem. They hope to begin Spanish classes for Anglos within the next few months, Vance said. There has also been discussion of English classes for Hispanic members.
“The younger kids are pretty well versed in English,” he said. “They take it at school. It’s us older folks on both sides who have a problem.”
While the pastor is concentrating on rebuilding leadership and programs, he plans to lead the church in reaching out to the neighborhood.
Despite last year’s attendance decline, First Baptist maintained a “Feed the Hungry” program that distributes about 150 free sack dinners on Wednesday evenings. C’deBaca hopes to start a business prayer luncheon and some form of outreach to University of Kentucky basketball fans.
Knowing there was a chance the church could have died, he said he believes God wanted First Baptist to survive and grow so it can minister to the downtown area. Its new flavor could be a key.
“He doesn’t want us to be a homogeneous group,” the pastor said. “He wants us to reach a variety of people. I think we’re going to reach a lot of street people. We’re at the hub of the social center of the city.”

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  • Ken Walker