Born-again community finds new home in St. Agnes Church
ADAM ROSSITo residents of Cohoes, St. Agnes Church remains a local landmark, its tall spire easily spotted high on a hill.
To the congregation of Good Ground Family Church, which bought St. Agnes Church after the parish merged with nearby St. Marie's to become Holy Trinity parish, St. Agnes is a cathedral.
The Good Ground website refers to the church as a cathedral, calling it "the miracle on the hill."
In 1998, Pastor Wendell Williams and his wife, Dona, had opened Good Ground Family Church, a born-again congregation, using a small room in the Troy YMCA.
After a few months, they were able to move to a larger building on Hoosick Street in Troy, where they held two services every Sunday.
In 2001, the couple managed to raise $50,000 in just two months of fundraising to purchase St. Agnes Church. Aside from needing a home for their congregation, they felt the neighborhood needed a boost: "There's a great need in the community for people to be given new hope," said Mrs. Williams.
Since moving to the church in September of 2001, Good Ground has worked at revitalizing the community in Cohoes. Along with holding services for 75 to 100 parishioners each week, the congregation sponsors a bread giveaway program - receiving free bread from Panera and distributing it - and a backpack program that provides free backpacks and school supplies for students in the Cohoes school district. As of August, they had given away 650 backpacks.
For Mrs. Williams, that focus on helping people both spiritually and socially is vital.
"When people are fulfilled in the practical sense and the spiritual sense, they have a better balance of life," she stated.
Parishioner Freddy Morales called Good Ground "very educational when it comes to the word of God. It's a family-oriented church. It's a great environment and a great atmosphere."
According to Rev. Arthur Becker, pastor of Holy Trinity and former administrator of St. Agnes/St. Patrick's, many former parishioners are pleased to see the church in use.
"I think people were very happy that it is still being used as a church and that it wasn't left empty," he said, adding: "That spirit of worship that was there at St. Agnes/St. Patrick is still present through Good Ground Church."
Catholics who used to attend Mass at St. Agnes Church often stop by to re-live memories and to see what Good Ground has done with their beloved former place of worship.
"Frequently, visitors come through who were baptized and married in the building. They love what we're doing," Mrs. Williams told The Evangelist.
Since purchasing the building, Good Ground has made some changes: for example, the church basement has been turned into a "Kids' Zone," complete with a basketball hoop and Sunday School classrooms.
Due to damage to the roof - now repaired - and further renovations still underway, Good Ground is also using the basement as its temporary worship site.
Back and forward
Despite the new look, Good Ground has not forgotten its history. In fact, "we are very connected with Father Becker as well as the rest of the clergy in Cohoes," Mrs. Williams pointed out. "We include them in any activities that we do and vice versa."
Good Ground's current congregation, though small, is successful "because of the love," Mr. Morales said. "Pastor has a spirit of love. It's overwhelming."
"We'd like to be a beacon of hope," Mrs. Williams added.
Mr. and Mrs. Williams share preaching duties at Good Ground - but they believe that action must follow words.
"When we first saw the church, we didn't just see a building, we saw a need," Mrs. Williams explained. "If Jesus were here, He'd walk these same streets and minister to these people."
(Former intern Katie Rose Quandt also contributed to this story.)
Editor's note: By the end of Called to be Church, the diocesan realignment of parishes, 33 churches will close and most of their buildings sold. In recent decades, others have already been converted by new owners to shelters, schools, treatment programs and Protestant churches. The Evangelist will periodically profile the process and some of these buildings in their new lives.
Sales pending in Schenectady and Roxbury
On Aug. 27, the Schenectady Light Opera Company announced it plans to purchase and move into St. John the Baptist Church in Schenectady. Diocesan and city officials gathered at the church to announce a campaign to raise $1.2 million toward the purchase and, over the next five years, another $3.6 million for renovations.
St. John the Baptist, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Schenectady, opened in 1830 and closed earlier this year.
Meanwhile, another church may be devoted to visual creative endeavors: Our Lady of Good Counsel in Roxbury, a mission church of Sacred Heart in Margaretville closed during the "Called to be Church" parish consolidation plan, is being considered for sale to an artist who may open a gallery there. (AR)