It’s a tale of three churches.
And it has a happy ending.
Calvary Baptist Church on Market Street — a church that was building, expanding and thriving in the 1970s — has dwindled to a congregation of fewer than 25.
Arlington Heights Baptist in east Pascagoula, began growing rapidly in recent years, welcoming young couples with babies. It outgrew its nursery, but couldn’t afford to expand with all the flood-zone regulations. Meanwhile, the surrounding neighborhood was becoming increasingly Hispanic and few of the church members lived nearby.
Iglesia Bautista Fuente de Vida, a new church in east Moss Point — and the first Hispanic Baptist church in the area — needed to be closer to its community in Pascagoula.
It’s easy to see in hindsight what should happen here, but while it was happening, it wasn’t as clear to the parties involved.
When asked who came up with what happened next, one church member said, “God did. Man couldn’t have, it was so harmonious. Not one selfish bone has been expressed in this whole thing.”
The buildings at Calvary were worth more than $1 million, but as the congregation grew smaller, upkeep was impossible. They couldn’t handle it. They were looking for a way out.
Talks started a year ago with Arlington Heights Baptist and a transition team was set up. Calvary deeded its campus to Arlington, which has the money to fix it up and renovate. And on Sunday, Arlington will deed its church campus, which has a similar value, to Iglesia Bautista in a ceremony after the morning service.
“We’re getting Arlington,” the Rev. Ricardo Fuentes said. “It’s a beautiful church. “It’s amazing what God’s doing between these churches.
“It started as just talk. I never thought it would be real. We thank God we’re having the new place in Pascagoula, where we can reach more people in our home.”
No money changed hands
The truly amazing thing, Arlington Heights parishioner John Jones said, is no money changed hands.
When Fuentes was told the Arlington church his congregation will inherit is worth close to $1 million, he had a quiet laugh.
“I didn’t have an idea, but it’s beautiful. It’s something we never even dreamed about.”
The thing you have to understand about church buildings and their value, Jones said, “is that none of this belongs to us. It’s God’s. We’re just stewards.”
Former Arlington Pastor Ben Carlisle is heading up the renovations to Calvary.
The new sign went up along Market Street on Thursday. It is no longer Arlington Heights, named after a nearby subdivision in the old neighborhood. It is now Arlington Baptist Church.
It’s planning a soft opening April 2, a community open house April 8 and a celebration service April 9.
What goes around comes around
The Rev. Michael Wilkinson has been Arlington’s pastor for almost five years. During that time, the church has seen a literal baby boom, something necessary to keep any church going for the long haul.
Wilkinson said when he began as associate pastor in 2006, there were so few children parishioners had to round up grandchildren for Christmas pageants and such events.
Now there are so many children is was Calvary’s large nursery that attracted Arlington the most.
Interestingly, the mission church that became Iglesia Bautista Fuente de Vida, which means Fountain of Life, began in a fellowship hall at Calvary Baptist.
Calvary let the mission church use the hall during off hours, helping it get its start many years ago.
Fuentes’ wife and children were saved at Calvary, when their church met there. He was saved there too. He later became a pastor.
Members of Arlington came to know Fuentes and Iglesia Bautista through co-mission work in El Salvador, where he’s from.
Fuentes donated land he inherited from his father in El Salvador to the purpose of growing churches there, a move Arlington and other churches in Jackson County are helping with.
Arlington Associate Pastor David Easley said, “We knew they had been praying for a church building in Pascagoula. When the Calvary offer came to us, it was a natural next step that we thought of them.
“We’re sort of sister churches.”