With churches seemingly on every other street corner, Surry County offers many opportunities for one to exercise religion and numerous denominations to choose from — which isn’t an option open to the Latino community.
However, that will change later this month when the doors open to a unique church, Iglesia Bautista Templo, south of Mount Airy.
“This is going to be the only totally independent Baptist (Hispanic) church in the area,” the Rev. Stephen Shutt, pastor of the new church plant, said in a release about the Jan. 19 launch. “It will be one of only a handful in the state.”
Many people automatically assume that persons of Latino descent subscribe to the Roman Catholic denomination, such as in Mexico, where 83 percent of the population is of that faith.
The “other Christian” category is the focus of the new Iglesia Bautista Templo on U.S. 601 (3615 Rockford St.) between Mount Airy and Dobson, which will be based at the old sanctuary of Temple Baptist Church. The new church geared toward Hispanics will reach a population not being served now, according to Shutt.
“It is very, very great,” he said of the need, “especially where we’re located there near Dobson.”
Based on census figures researched by Shutt, there are an estimated 7,000 Hispanics in the service area targeted by Iglesia Bautista Templo. It encompasses Mount Airy, Dobson, Pilot Mountain and King, as well as Carroll and Patrick counties in Virginia.
“Pretty much everybody goes to the big Catholic church there in Boonville,” Shutt said, yet local Hispanics who aren’t Catholic have limited options — unlike the wide variety that English-speaking people take for granted. “There’s really nothing in this area for them.”
The closest non-Catholic Spanish ministry is operated through a Baptist Church in King. Another popular Spanish ministry is offered by Gospel Light in Winston-Salem, where Shutt was raised and gained an early appreciation for the Hispanic population.
“I grew up right smack in the middle of Little Mexico,” he said of a community in Winston-Salem.
His father had a bus route there which increasingly was relied on by Hispanic riders, who Shutt became acquainted with at a young age. He speaks Spanish fluently in addition to other foreign languages.
Shutt, who now is associated with Believers Baptist Church in Ararat, Va., will deliver the Spanish-language sermons at Iglesia Bautista Templo, which will be held on Sundays at 2 p.m. and last 60 to 90 minutes. He says the content will be what’s important, not the fact it is rendered in Spanish.
“I am there to reach the Hispanic people — that’s a calling.”
The reverend emphasized that despite his accepting of the challenge to serve the Latino population in such a way, he has not forsaken traditional American church-goers and pledges to maintain them in his ministry.
Critics might wonder why a separate church is needed for Hispanics, many of whom express a desire to become immersed in American life, including embracing the predominant English language and its institutions such as schools.
“There are certainly families who have been going to the English-speaking churches for years,” Shutt said of Hispanics who’ve done so simply because non-Catholic services were not available in Spanish.
But just as segregation remains alive among ethnic churches such as those of African-Americans, Hispanics have a desire to worship with people of their own kind plain and simple.
“It is always important to have something in their language,” the Rev. Shutt said.
Iglesia Bautista Templo will be inter-denominational in nature. “We’re not dependent on any particular denomination or anything like that,” Shutt said.
Location A Key
The Rev. Zane Fishel, pastor of Temple Baptist Church, said this past week that he is excited about the opening of Iglesia Bautista Templo in the church’s old sanctuary.
He believes it offers a great location for the Hispanic church, plans for which began taking shape several months ago.
“At Temple, we had the facilities, the congregation and the desire to reach out and help the Hispanic community,” Fishel said in statements released by organizers of the effort. “I heard about Stephen and called him.”
After an initial conversation in September, further discussions were held between the two pastors on the nuts and bolts involved with launching the new church.
“We took a month and prayed about it,” Shutt said of working with Fishel. “Then I met with him and the deacons in October. I could not have planned something like this by myself. This is the only church I’ve seen where the burden is shared to this extent. It has been incredible.”
Fishel, who has been at Temple Baptist for about 10 years, said he knows of only two other churches in the area, Piney Grove Baptist and First Baptist of Dobson, which have offered Spanish ministries for non-Catholic Christian worshippers.
“This is something that we have wanted to do for some time, but it was only this year that God brought us and Stephen together,” Fishel said in the statements. “We are excited to see how God moves in the Hispanic community and in our church as this new church plant begins to reach out.”
Vigorous efforts have been under way to spread word of the new church, including Shutt and a visitation group at Temple Baptist Church spending every Saturday in December reaching out to different communities in the area. That visitation will continue until the first service next Sunday.
Anyone wanting additional information can contact Temple Baptist Church at (336) 320-2090.
“My prayer is for 250 people there for the first service,” Shutt said, citing much preparation that has occurred concerning the structure of the services, including music. A song leader was still being sought at last report.
The church will offer a nursery for children from birth to 3 years old. After the first service, plans call for a meal to be served in the Family Life Center.
“I’m very much family oriented,” said Shutt, whose wife of four years, Bryn, also is a key part of the new ministry. “I want this to be a family integrated church. I like seeing the children being involved in the service, and generally so do the parents.”
He added: “We are so excited to open the doors. It has just been a blessed journey so far. We cannot wait to see what God does in the lives of the Hispanic community!”
One thing is for sure at this point: a desire to reach out to a distinct population demanding a spiritual outlet.
“I want to get them involved in church,” Shutt said of Hispanic residents. “I would do anything for these people. I want them to know that.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.