Published September 30. 2013 4:00AM
New London - The official merger of the First Baptist Church and the First Hispanic Baptist Church took place Sunday afternoon at the Redden Avenue building in song, dance, prayer, and four different languages.
It was a diverse and loudly celebratory gathering that exemplified the mission of the newly formed Church of the City, which combines the nearly 210-year-old, 100-membership downtown church with the 35-year-old, 300-membership Hispanic congregation.
Though the Rev. Tom Hogsten and the Rev. Daniel Martino were respectively facing declining numbers in a large worship space and a growing membership in a too-small building when they decided last year to pitch a merger to their congregations, the themes presented Sunday did not touch on issues of money and space.
Rather, they celebrated a so-called "new normal" that will bring together the centuries-old church with the Latino and burgeoning Haitian communities in New London, as they sang songs of praise in Spanish and English together.
Paul Hayes, pastor of the Noank Baptist Church, offered his blessing and addressed the larger mission of inclusiveness the merger embodies as his words were translated into Spanish.
"You are leading the way for the rest of us," he said, "to show us how to reach people who have not been reached before."
On a projection screen at the front of the room, the crowd was greeted in English, Spanish, and French - Bienvenidos, bienvenue, welcome; in one frame, two figures fitted one yellow and one green puzzle piece together.
In the new church, Martino will be senior pastor and Hogsten will be executive pastor, assisted by Pastors Arecelis Haye, Daryn Ortiz and Belisca Destra. Sunday services will include one in Spanish, one in Creole, and two in English.
Leaders from both churches spoke of the five symbolic pillars of the newly formed congregation - the cross, the Bible, flowers, candles and communion utensils - and the tenet of the church's vision that they represent: Peace - or Shalom - outreach, multiculturalism, multiple generations, and unity.
Holding a colorful bouquet of flowers, Destra spoke in Haitian Creole of that third tenet.
"What makes the beauty of the flowers is the different colors," he said. "It's the same for the Church of the City."
Before the "marriage" of the two churches was signed into existence, Hogsten ended the sermons on the theme of unity.
"We were not meant to be alone, isolated from each other and our creator," he said.