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Columbia Street Baptist Church reaching out to help troubled Bangor neighborhoods

Posted Oct. 14, 2013, at 9:32 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 14, 2013, at 11:27 a.m.
A rock climbing wall donated by the YMCA of Bangor is being erected in the Columbia Street Baptist Church gym on Sunday.
A rock climbing wall donated by the YMCA of Bangor is being erected in the Columbia Street Baptist Church gym on Sunday. Buy Photo

BANGOR, Maine — Columbia Street Baptist Church is looking to its past to solidify its future.

Founded in 1845 as a mission church of the city’s First Baptist Church, the Columbia Street church’s early pastors ministered to the sailors, loggers and “ladies of the evening” who flooded the Queen City’s waterfront. Then, it was called Second Baptist Church.

Instead of looking toward the Penobscot River, the congregation in the early 21st century is looking at the neighborhoods behind it and to the west as its ministry field. That is a section of the city in which residents and city leaders have raised concerns about destitute properties, absentee landlords, crime and feeling unsafe on the streets or in the Second Street Park at the heart of the neighborhood.

To do that, it is partnering with The Mansion, a four-year-old ministry focused on the incarcerated and the homeless, and Celebrate Recovery, a faith-based program for those struggling with addiction that has been meeting in the church for two years.

“We have moved from allocating [church] space to anyone who wants it, to requiring that we work together in partnership,” the Rev. Stan Moody, senior pastor, said Friday. “The idea is to integrate the ministry and discipleship we ought to be providing as an organized church with structure. What does the mansion need to round out its ministry and what does Columbia Street need to fulfill its mission?”

The Mansion started four years ago as a ministry at the Penobscot County Jail and the Maine State Prison, its founder Terry Dinkins of Carmel said Friday. Moody and Dinkins joke that they met in prison in 2008, when Moody was the chaplain and Dinkins was a volunteer. Since then, Moody has worked with Dinkins to structure his Mansion ministry.

In an effort to build a bridge between jail and church after people were released, Dinkins, who owns and operates an armored car company, started a Bible study group at the Isaac Farrar Mansion because “that’s where people lived,” he said referring to the neighborhood between First and Third streets.

That turned into an evening worship service followed by a meal that also drew in people from the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter. The group, which now draws between 50 and 60 people, moved to Wellman Commons on the historic Bangor Theological Seminary campus. Before each service, Dinkins picks up people who want to attend at the shelter and at Hope House, a shelter located on Indiana Avenue in Bangor.

While Dinkins was building his ministry, Columbia Street Baptist and other Bangor churches in 2009 began offering a free meal at noon Sundays for downtown area residents and the homeless, which now draws about 100. Over the past three years, Columbia Street also has struggled financially to pay the salary and benefits of a full-time minister.

Early this year, the congregation decided to create a ministry team made up of Moody, whose primary role is to preach Sundays, the Rev. Edward Merrill, associate pastor for administration, and the Rev. Rick Bach, a military chaplain, who is head of Christian education. All three men work part time for the church and none of them receives a benefits package, Merrill said Saturday.

Moody and Merrill both said that they see great potential in the partnership with Dinkins’ ministry.

“We are largely a middle class congregation smack in the middle of the action in an inner city and Terry has an inner city ministry,” Moody said. “We have to work together to bring these people together so we can empower them to bring themselves out of their circumstances — spiritually and economically.”

Columbia Street Baptist also has something few other churches in Maine have — a gymnasium. In the late 1960s, the congregation purchased a former bakery next door and converted it into their Christian education building with classrooms on the first floor and a gymnasium on the second.

It seemed like the kind of space that could be used as a community center with some renovations, Merrill, who previously worked for the YMCA, said Saturday. When the YMCA, located on Hammond Street, merged with the YWCA, the climbing wall could not be relocated to Second Street. The climbing wall and basketball backboards were donated to the church.

“We are creating a curriculum to use the wall to teach the values of the faith along with giving people a sense of achievement and teaching them how to support one another,” Merrill said. “It’s a way they can learn about themselves and others.”

Merrill said the church is launching a $395,000 capital campaign to fund renovations to the former bakery that would include a new furnace, installation of an elevator and converting some former classrooms to offices for staff and ministry partners.

The congregation of about 100 regular attendees could have sold the church and moved out of its downtown location, but has chosen to stay, Moody said. Its partnership with The Mansion is an opportunity to bring together the city’s poor and middle class cultures and make a difference in everyone’s lives, he said.

“Because of our location, we are in a unique position to possibly bridge this divide as no other church has been able to do,” Moody said.

Columbia Street Baptist Church, 63 Columbia St., holds Sunday school at 9 a.m. with a worship service at 10:15 a.m. followed by a meal at noon. The Mansion will conduct evening worship services at 6 p.m. Sundays following a meal. Celebrate Recovery meets at 6 p.m. Mondays.

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