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a762: Replanting faith's seed (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Replanting faith's seed
By Sean Cavanagh
Staff Writer

February 3, 2002

PLANTATION· Where most of them are from, you don't buy a church, you build
it. You find a prayerful spot, maybe on the slope of a hill, or if you're
lucky, overlooking the sea. You take what wood and brick you can find and
put it together along a dusty country road, where all your friends can walk
to it, or on a city street, so they can get there by bus, which everybody
calls the tap-tap.

And when it's finished, it becomes your church. You might sermonize and sing
in other places, in chapels with higher ceilings and softer pews, air
conditioning and fancier stained glass.

But in your soul, there is only one. And if anyone asks, you say things
like, "I can't wait to go back. That's my church. The most beautiful church
in the world."

The faithful who were born in Haiti and now seek out the Sinai Seventh-Day
Adventist Church, at 201 NW 46th Ave. in eastern Plantation, suggest one day
they will talk about their adopted house of worship with the same reverence.

Like spiritual centers across western Broward County, the church has become
a cultural hub for the city's growing Caribbean-born community, supplanting
a predominantly white congregation in a neighborhood that was once almost
entirely white.

Their members were reared in small towns and larger cities, Port-de-Paix and
Cap Haitien, and every Saturday, they pack its two chapels -- 1,000 voices
strong, and growing.

"Fifteen years ago, we probably would not have moved into that community, or
it would have been very difficult," said Jean-Renaud Joseph, the church's
pastor. "Now the area is changing. The church has been accepted."

Over the last decade, the black population has almost tripled in Plantation
and the neighborhood surrounding the church, census figures show. And
surveys suggest many of those new residents are from the Caribbean. An
estimated 5,100 West Indians live in the city, out of 82,000 people,
according to a recent study.

Years ago, the church's population also paralleled that of the nearby

For almost four decades, it housed Parkway Christian Church, an evangelical
congregation founded in 1957. They were a collection of dedicated young
couples and snowbirds, as one member recalled, with no creed but Christ, no
book but the Bible.

They stayed in east Plantation until 1995, when they sold the building and
moved farther west, to Davie, in search of new members and new life.

"We had just kind of stopped growing," said Shirley Shaw, 65, one of Parkway
Christian's first worshipers. "We canvassed the area, and there were no
young families anymore. You have to have young families to run a church."

At that time, change was sweeping through the quiet neighborhood around
Parkway Christian, a few blocks west of State Road 7.

Many of the original white families in the neighborhood were leaving its
two- and three-bedroom homes and sleepy streets for newer communities
farther west, or retiring to condominiums outside Plantation.

Filling the void were Jamaicans, Haitians, Bahamians and other islanders.
Many had traded apartments in Fort Lauderdale and Miami for the promise of
more space and stability, a better life.

"The West Indians, they sought out more upscale living," said Winston Grant,
62, who moved to the neighborhood from Jamaica in 1987. "Plantation was a
good neighborhood and not run-down. A reference point for good living."

The Seventh-Day Adventists also saw a natural fit. Their church drew
Haitians from all over South Florida, along with those who walked from homes
nearby. They now have more than 1,000 members.

Some of them were raised in the Catholic church, or as Baptists, and
converted. The Seventh-Day faith had grown quickly in Haiti, partly because
of the work of missionaries there over the last 40 years, and it wasn't long
before it took hold in Florida, too.

"In 1980, when the refugees started coming, it grew tremendously," said
Daniella Henry, executive director of the Haitian-American Community Council
in Delray Beach. She has seen Seventh-Day churches spring up across Palm
Beach County.

The growth of predominantly Caribbean churches can be seen across Broward,
but especially in the newer, western suburbs, said John Fleming, executive
director of the Gulfstream Baptist Association, in Plantation. Many of the
churches in those communities were less established, and eager for new
members, said Fleming, whose organization oversees 167 congregations in the

"It's something that happened naturally, over time," Fleming said. "The
church, for the most part, becomes the center of their lives. We have to
change with the community. The Bible tells us we need to go in all the
world, and teach and preach."

The founding members of Parkway Christian lived by a similar creed, a
generation ago.

In 1957, they looked across a vast expanse of pasture and swamp, and dreamed
of a church. And then they built it.

Under the guidance of Dr. C. Manly Morton, a retired missionary, it took
them 140 days to construct the chapel, now the smaller sanctuary at today's
church. They were rustic surroundings, even on the day Shirley Shaw and her
husband, Herbert, became the first couple to be married there.

"We had a sidewalk, but if you stepped off the sidewalk you were in
trouble," Shaw recalls. "I had black shoes from the mud."

A year later, they added two more buildings, for a private school. They
formed church committees and came up with long-range plans. They met in each
other's homes and set up a bowling league.

Soon they needed a bigger sanctuary, and in 1968, they built it. It is where
Creole services are held today. Thirty years ago, Parkway Christian was 750
members strong, and gaining more every year.

But by the late 1980s and early 1990s, the church membership began to slide.
Its congregation was aging, with many of them retiring and moving away, said
Richard Haskins, a worshiper who arrived in Florida 20 years ago.

The neighborhood was changing, too. More West Indians and other minorities
were moving in. Many of them were of different faiths, and the church
couldn't attract enough of them, Haskins remembered.

And without younger members, the church couldn't continue.

In 1995, Parkway Christian sold the church buildings and school property to
the Seventh-day Adventists for $1.3 million, and moved to their current
spot, at 1200 S. Flamingo Road, in Davie. They had to kick the cows off,
they way they did 30 years earlier, Shaw remembers.

"We figured with all the members having homes out there, that was the
future," she said.

They built a school, just like before, and drew families from the burgeoning
suburbs around them. Many Hispanic families joined them, and they added
services in Spanish.

"We moved and changed," Hawkins said. "I see a viable church now, as opposed
to a dying church in the old location. I see kids here, I see a new spirit.
That's what it's all about."

Today, their old church in Plantation bustles and hums on Saturday mornings,
much the way it did on Sundays a generation ago.

In jackets and ties, long skirts and heels, the faithful file into the
bigger chapel, their children skipping alongside them, clutching hands and
pant legs.

Nearby, a choir called the Gospel Stars is warming up outside one of the
school's classrooms, their voices echoing from the sidewalk to sky.

"Il est le createur du ciel," they sing, a hymn to God the creator.

Pastor Jean-Renaud Joseph slips quickly through rooms and hallways, shaking
hands, sweat dotting his brow, conferring in Creole and English about last
week's services, and the one that will begin in a few minutes.

He slips into the smaller chapel, where the youth pastor, Gerly Germain, is
in full swing. He can cite Old Testament verses about sin and God's wrath,
enough to make the teenage boys slouch in the pews and blush.

But the 30-year-old from Port-au-Prince can make them laugh, too. On this
day, he has them roaring in song, standing and clapping to a timeless
number, Old Time Religion.

The teens in the chapel are tomorrow's congregation. Each week, they meet
friends from school and their neighborhoods at the smaller chapel, as their
parents head into the service next door, given in Creole. Their mothers and
fathers want them to speak that language at home, even if they use English
everywhere else, some say.

"They always talk about what it was like when they went to church, back in
Haiti," said Drenot Pierre, 16. "At the church they had, they says three
people in one seat. My mom tells me, `You're lucky.'"

The Plantation spot has grown so popular, the Seventh-Day Adventists could
face hard decisions soon. Pastor Joseph says the church is already pushing
its limits on spaces, and may have to seek a bigger sanctuary sometime soon.

Until then, they are content worshipping where they are.

"The church means a lot to people, to immigrants who need to find their
niche," Germain said. "Church is the most important niche. Not only does it
build memories of what life was, but it helps bridge the gap with people who
were born here. It helps build a society."

Sean Cavanagh can be reached at scavanagh@sun-sentinel.com, or 954-572-2009.

Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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