South Texas fans are looking forward to the WNBA San Antonio Stars home game opener on Sunday, June 14 in the Freeman Coliseum as they take on the Tulsa Shock team at 3 p.m. Particularly meaningful, will be the presentation of colors prior to the game, by New Jerusalem Baptist Church members, a congregation that has survived and grown since the devastating loss of their Southeast side church last October.
“We will present colors, hold the Texas living flag, and our very own Pastor’s daughter, 19-year-old Janay Garner will sing the National Anthem at the opening,” said church member Melody Green-Booth. “We will be wearing our red T-shirts, which were made after the fire to show unity.”
Booth, who worked with Spurs-Stars-Rampage team member Adam Pena, to make the event happen, stated she is excited because “it shows that this church has survived and continued to thrive even having no building of our own.”
Church secretary Mattie Williams received a call from their alarm company on Monday, October 13, 2014 and immediately went to the scene. Williams, a choir member and soloist, made certain Pastor Jeffery Garner was notified.
Garner, founding pastor of the church 13 years ago, met with head deacon Leroy Morrow in the parking lot and watched as firefighters attempted to subdue 30 foot flames flowing out of the facilities. The fire formed dark and disturbing billows of ash and smoke above the southeast side of the Alamo City for over two long hours.
When Booth arrived, she recalled church “members were taking off from their jobs, coming on break, before or after their jobs. They came from downtown, nearby, the medical center, near SeaWorld, and from Converse. I walked from group to group. We were praying, crying, and hugging each other. It was like a wake. We were gathered to see the end of a very important part of our lives.”
Pastor Garner, who was as stunned and hurt as everyone witnessing the blaze, was “just trying to be strong for my congregation. I still know God is in control.”
“Our sister church, Wheatley Heights Baptist Church, with Pastor L.A. Williams offered us a place to gather and pray” on Wednesday, Booth explained. “Wheatley Heights had succumbed to a flood several years ago and had to relocate and chose to rebuild in the Windcrest area. The church was packed.”
The following Sunday, a congregation of about 160 worshipers gathered near their half demolished church at the parking lot under tents, where Garner emphasized “the people are the church, not the building.”
“The church is in our hearts and what we have to stand on is our faith,” Garner specified. “Something good is going to come out of those ashes.”
Local city and county officials, including Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Commissioner Tommy Adkisson, and City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran attended the healing and prayer services that day.
“The owner of the demolition team and his wife came,” Booth remembers. “We worshipped and fellowshipped together. And, we cried. The next day, demolition came and by the end of the week, the shell of a building and lots of memories were reduced to rubble which was then hauled off.”
“The phone lines were down, of course, so City Base Cinema, located at S. New Braunfels and SE Military Drive, at City Base West shopping center, contacted us via social media, Facebook,” Booth added. “City Base Cinema offered us a place to meet” in October. “We are still meeting there.”
“We are very grateful to City Base Cinema for the use of their facilities for our worship service 10 a.m. until 12 noon on Sundays,” Booth smiled. “They have been more than kind.”
“We continue to persevere as a church,” she continued. “Now, to find land and build because we cannot rebuild where we were because we would outgrow it in no time. We have a vibrant 21-35 year old ministry and Hosea Easterling is now directing the choir. Nicholas Ray is our worship leader and was just installed as the minister of worship.”
“Now, all that remains is the foundation,” she declared. “Since we still own the land, one of our families, the Sanchez family, has since purchased a food truck, ‘Lucianna’s New Mexican Cuisine’ and sets up there on Monday evenings. We have had a time to visit and eat some of the best food around. There we receive our fellowship time. A time of laughter and remembrance and talk of the future.”