Fort Lauderdale church celebrates 75 years of neighborhood ministries
Feb 13, 2014
Florida Baptist Witness

WAITING Food Pantry clients lines up in the breezeway at Immanuel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale which has reached out to its community for 75 years of ministry. Courtesy photo
FORT LAUDERDALE (FBW)—Immanuel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale celebrated its 75th anniversary Jan. 17-19. Its inner city neighborhood remains the focus of its ministry, and winning the lost remains its purpose, according to Pastor Harry Watkins.

Thirty of the “mostly older” 50-member congregation volunteer in ministries to the church’s neighbors, and 10 more would help if they were physically able, he said.

“For a little group, we do a lot. We want to open the door for our neighbors and let them come in,” he said. 

When the church was established by Pastor W.C. Sparkman in 1939, most of the charter members lived near the church site. According to Audrey Naumann, who has served as church secretary 60 years, most of the charter members had attended First Baptist Church a mile away, but the new Immanuel Baptist made for a shorter walk to church. Very few owned cars, she said.

Naumann’s in-laws, Tony and Ethel, were charter members, and her late husband, Robert, was among the first group to be baptized at Immanuel Baptist in 1939. Audrey Naumann became a member in 1952, and a year later accepted the job as church secretary. 

At that time, families chatted on their front porches in the neighborhood as children played, and Sunrise Boulevard had not been construct­ed past 8th Avenue. As the church’s environment changed through the years, church members moved toward the suburbs and the church became smaller but did not lose its neighborhood focus, she said. 

SHOPPING Terri Parker assists a client in his clothing choice in the a ministry of Immanuel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. Courtesy photo
“We’ve always been concerned with the spiritual life of the people around us. They may not come to church, but even Jesus couldn’t get everybody to believe His message,” Naumann said.

Pastor Watkins has served as pastor since 2006 after working as director of English missions with the Miami Baptist Association 1991-2000, and as director of For You, Miami 2000-2005. 

He described the church’s current surroundings as “a tough neighborhood” with gang violence and “houses being torn down where homeless lived,” although he is hopeful that nearby new construction will improve the area.

In its 75th year, Immanuel Baptist is home to an array of ministries designed to meet the needs of its neighbors. The church Food Bank, open 9 a.m.-noon on Thursdays, provides groceries for about 120 families weekly. Those with homes may get groceries once a month, but the homeless may come every week, Watkins said. The Clothes Closet is open during the same hours as the Food Bank.

Needy residents line up at 6 a.m. every Tuesday outside the church’s Medical Clinic in hopes of seeing Dr. Leslie Trope, who volunteers his time to minister to about 30 patients every week. On Jan. 14 the clinic opened with no heat in crisp winter temperatures, so a new air-conditioning unit with a reverse cycle was installed the next week, Watkins said.

All of the ministries are free and are manned by mostly senior adult volunteers who drive from their homes 3-15 miles away. The oldest is 87, the proud pastor said.

MEDICAL Immanuel Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale operates a medical clinic which serves community members. Courtesy photo
“Some church senior adults go on trips and sightsee. Our people don’t want that. They don’t want to be entertained—they want to work in the community,” he said.

The church is also a “good supporter” of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Audrey Naumann said. FBCH often uses Immanuel Baptist facilities for meetings with families considering adoptions.

“We are always asking ‘What would God want us to do?’ We have to help anybody who is in need,” she said.

Church members of all ages and ethnicities celebrated its first 75 years during the three-day celebration. Planned fellowships provided opportunities for reunions with former members and staff members.

“We are never going to be a big church, but we are a unique church. Most of our new people come because of something we have done for them. As new Christians, they are our best witnesses. It’s exciting to be here,” Watkins said.

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