Six years ago, West Erwin Church of Christ had just started a Spanish-language ministry. Now, the downtown church's Spanish-language congregation has grown so large it has moved to a new location.
Iglesia de Cristo, which literally means Church of Christ in Spanish, held its first worship service in its new space at 1023 N. Glenwood Blvd. on Sunday.
"I'm real excited," Iglesia de Cristo minister Israel Sandoval said. "It's a new challenge for me to reach out (to) the community and bring people to the building and serve God."
The space, which formerly housed the East Texas Rescue Mission, provides room for Bible study classes for children and adults. Prior to the move, those classes were only offered to adults, while the children attended the English Bible study classes.
The new worship space can accommodate up to 150 people.
It features a portable baptistery, basically a large rectangular box, where they can perform baptisms.
In addition, it has multiple classrooms for Bible study, two large rooms to serve as space for meals and other events, a workroom for Bible study leaders and an office.
A commercial kitchen will provide space to cook and serve food during church events.
With a history that goes back to the late 1800s, West Erwin Church of Christ had long existed solely as an English-speaking congregation.
Sandoval and his family began attending the church in 2008, after having a desire to start a Spanish-speaking congregation in Tyler. A couple of Spanish-speaking families came to the church shortly after Sandoval and from there the congregation grew.
In 2009, Sandoval started a Bible class and a worship service for Spanish-speakers, with about 25 people attending the latter.
A West Erwin Church of Christ classroom served as the group's first worship space. When numbers reached around 70, that room became too small.
So the Spanish-speaking congregation moved into a building across the street from the main church on West Erwin Street.
They met in that building for more than a year with typical attendance ranging from 120 to 150 adults and children weekly.
Danny Snell, West Erwin Church of Christ's family life minister, said when it became obvious the congregation needed more space, the church considered several options, including building a new facility.
But when a church leader found the old East Texas Rescue Mission space, they decided on that location and began renting it in November.
Making the move
Earlier this year, church members and contractors began completing the necessary renovations and repairs to the building.
The work, which cost almost $50,000, included installing carpet, painting walls, purchasing and moving in furniture and updating the commercial kitchen.
A church member made several wooden shelves, tables and even a welcome sign for use in the church.
The new location provides a space for the members to learn and worship together as children and adults.
Tyler residents Juan and Melina Gonzalez have attended the church for about four years. Gonzalez, 28, who is self-employed, said the church members are really happy with the new location because they have more space to grow.
Mrs. Gonzalez, 35, who works for the East Texas Food Bank, said the move was bittersweet. The sad part is that the children — they have two — had been attending the English Sunday school classes and were used to their teachers and were learning English. Now, they are going to be learning in Spanish and will have new teachers.
On the positive side, though, they are excited because they had outgrown the old space.
"Thanks to God that he blessed us with a new place," she said.
Norma Blas, 26, who works at a Tyler restaurant, has attended the church for about five years. She said it has been nice to move into the new facility because the church members worked together to prepare it.
"We feel like it's part of our life right now, our project," she said. "Everybody's welcome and we're gonna make them feel like a family."
Tyler resident Levi Benitez, 27, who works in construction, said the church embraced him and his family when they started attending at least three years ago and that is what has kept them there.
"It's really family oriented," he said. "Everybody gets along so good. You can feel the love as soon as you get there with the members that are already there."
He said they are excited about the new location because it opens up opportunities to reach people.
"There's a lot of people who need the word of God," he said, "and it gives the opportunity even though it's not the center of Tyler, there's (still) a lot of people in the surrounding areas that we can invite and have come to visit us."
Iglesia de Cristo is a mission of West Erwin Church of Christ. The Spanish-speaking congregation is comprised of children who were born in the United States and adults, many of whom are immigrants from countries such as Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
In addition to Sunday and Wednesday services, the church offers small groups that meet in homes and has a prayer ministry.
Members come from a variety of religious backgrounds and denominations.
Danny Snell, West Erwin Church of Christ's family life minister, said in his opinion the closeness of the congregation draws people in.
"They do a lot of things together as a whole church," he said, adding that it reminds him a lot of the early church as described in the Bible.
If you go:
Bible classes, 9 to 10 a.m. Sunday
Worship, 10 to 11:15 a.m. Sunday
1023 N. Glenwood Blvd.