CLJ : A brief history
Congregación Leon de Judá (originally Iglesia Bautista Central) is a vibrant congregation ministering and serving the Latino community in Boston, and seeking to expand and reach other ethnic groups throughout the city. Our congregation, also known as Congregation Lion of Judah, began meeting at Boston’s Emmanuel Gospel Center in 1982, under the leadership of the Rev. Juan Vergara; and six months later relocated to an inherited church building in the city of Cambridge. In 1985, through a series of events orchestrated by God, the Rev. Roberto Miranda, a lay leader who had been actively serving under the leadership of Rev. Juan Vergara, was appointed as lead pastor, and formally installed as senior pastor by 1986.
Our church continued to grow and enjoy the benefits of our inherited rent-free facilities in the city of Cambridge. Then in 1993, the Lord called the congregation to leave our comfort-zone, and move across the Charles River and into the inner city of Roxbury. Three years later, in 1996, after much prayer and consideration, and stepping out in faith, our church purchased an empty warehouse in lower Roxbury, that would rapidly become our new home. Then the renovations of the new building began, supported by the volunteer labor and sacrificial giving of faithful parishioners, who in 1997 moved into their new facilities having experienced God’s provision and favor in a remarkable way. Fanny Rodriguez, a faithful member of the congregation still recalls the day in which they all began to write a new chapter in the story of this church, and marched from their old facilities in Cambridge and into our new home in Roxbury: “It was something worthy of seeing. I cannot describe the feeling one felt that day as we walked from across the bridge and all the way into our new sanctuary. Children, teens, young adults, the elderly, everyone was together. It was an unforgettable day.”
Strategically located in the geographical center of the City of Boston since 1997, our congregation has been primarily serving in different capacities a wide and diverse population of Spanish-speaking, first and second generation immigrants. Our church’s membership mainly reflects the wide diversity of people who make up the Hispanic community in the greater Boston Area, with practically every Spanish-speaking country represented. Attendants from as far North as Lawrence, southern communities such as Brockton and Randolph, people from Lynn and Salem, as well as Needham and Marlboro; and since moving to Roxbury, our greatest growth has been from the surrounding areas of Jamaica Plain, Villa Victoria, Dorchester, Chelsea, and East Boston. In general, almost every community where Hispanic reside is represented within our church body. At the same time, this community of believers is also conformed of a socioeconomically diverse group which includes laborers, teachers and social workers, some who are illiterate and some who hold Ph.D’s, members of the working and middle classes, etc., yet all together make this church a serving community where resources are shared. The diversity that exists within our congregation is also reflected in our leadership team. We have a variance in education, economic status as well as gender, who currently serve our congregation.
As a religious entity, our church is affiliated with the conservative Baptist and American Baptist Churches in the United Stated; nevertheless, we try to carefully maintain a fine balance between teaching Christ-centered theology and being a Spirit-led church. Our leadership team fosters the importance of being a bapti-costal church where the gifts of the spirit are present, needed, and indeed healing our broken community: “I always want to keep that tension in our church between the Spirit and the Word, because the Word is the foundation.”
Our congregation meets in a three-story building surrounded by residential and commercial buildings. It is near the Northampton Community Garden and the Boston Medical Center, in a neighborhood that has experienced dramatic gentrification, with the construction of high-priced condominiums on either side. Yet several institutions which serve the lower income communities continue to exist: Boston Medical Center; Woods Mellon Shelter; “Room 5;” Rosie’s Place; Grant Manor Housing Project; Suffolk County Jail; Salomon Carter Center for Mental Health…etc. Thus, CLJ exists in a permanently mixed socio-economic community. The first floor of the building holds the sanctuary where worship services are held. This space seats about 600 people. The second floor is open to the sanctuary on one side and has additional seating for services, and also features two flat-screen TVs overhead for viewing the services. This floor also holds church administrative offices and the ALPHA office. The third floor includes space for the Higher Education Resource Center (HERC) programs, classrooms, a computer lab, and a multi-purpose room during the week; and on Sundays the whole space is used for Children’s Ministry. We are currently in the process of moving the HERC offices to our newly renovated five-story building next door. This building is immediately adjacent to our present sanctuary, and will serve as the headquarters for community-oriented ministries of our church.
Once again we are in the process of expanding our outreach and ministry. Three years after relocating to Roxbury our church doubled in size, and engaged in a number of significant social service and evangelistic projects that became a blessing to our community and promoted transformation of lives. Similarly, in the past few years, as we expanded to two worship services, we have once again doubled in size and continued to experience the blessings of God in, through, and for our ministry. And as our ministry continues to expand and reach out to a primarily English speaking audience, composed by an even more ethnically diverse group, including second-generation Latinos, we are seeking to build a new sanctuary. We will continue to improve our task of addressing the spiritual needs of our community, while contributing to the well being of the social, emotional and economic dimensions as well. “In the next few years, with God’s help, we hope to become a significant resource for our community, a source of concrete help and encouragement to families and individuals seeking to overcome the challenges and difficulties of urban living.”
In the fall of 2007, while looking for a program to strengthen our children’s ministry curriculum at CLJ, we decided to explore AWANA Clubs; a program that seeks to equip churches and parents worldwide to raise Christ-following kids for life. Through this program our church has been exposed to a new, fun, and edifying way of ministry, that everyone seems to love. We hope to echo Awana’s vision of leading children to know, love and serve our Lord Jesus for life. Given that our society has constantly highlighted the fact that children are the future; at our church we are trying to take this statement seriously and act upon it, for we do believe children are our future. Therefore we are seeking to nurture and empower the generation that will eventually run our society. While most ministries at our church target teens, young adults, and men and women from different walks of life, our Children’s Ministry staff is progressively sharing the vision of investing in the lives of our children to eventually impact our society. Children’s Ministry is not Christian babysitting.
To a certain extent we consider ourselves blessed by the impact Awana has had at our church so far. We believe this program has the potential to, in the years to come, positively transform the lives of our children, their families, our church, and eventually our community. We hope to share this vision with the Confraternidad de Pastores Hispanos de Nueva Inglaterra (COPAHNI), (Fellowship of Latino Pastors in New England), an organization based out of our church that exists to provide leadership for Latino pastors in New England, and seek to transform our community one child at a time.
Source: Jonatan Toledo