First Baptist Church of Abilene, Texas, ceremonially opened a new facility Dec. 5 that will enable the downtown congregation to expand its high-demand day care, mental health and homeless ministries.
The Hope Center occupies the former property of First Christian Church, which First Baptist purchased in 2018 to increase the capacity of its City Light homeless outreach, God’s Little Ones Day Care and Ministry of Counseling and Enrichment.
This unique acquisition of another church’s property was made possible by gifts to the church’s $10 million Give Hope campaign, which was begun under the leadership of Pastor Emeritus Phil Christopher and completed under the leadership of current Pastor Brandon Hudson.
The church, which is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, raised the extraordinary amount of money for renovation of the facility that covers an entire city block located across an intersection from First Baptist.
Hudson said the new facility is state of the art.
“There’s a temptation sometimes to skimp on things outside normal congregational life. That did not happen here,” he said. “This is phenomenal work. This church has put together a first-class facility to show those in need that we value them and see the image of God in them. It is powerful.”
City Light Ministries is well known in Abilene for its embrace of those suffering from poverty and homelessness, said John Moore, pastor for missions, in a video about the center shared during worship Dec. 3. “We meet people where they’re at. We really care about the crisis and try to meet that need in a person’s life.”
The church’s hope for a long time has been to move beyond addressing immediate needs to inspiring long-lasting change in people’s lives. And the center helps the church meet that goal, Moore said. “We want to begin to move to transformational type ministry. We’re willing to walk alongside people in a deeper way, in a more committed way, engaging people and building relationships with them to encourage that type of transformational change in people’s lives.”
The Hope Center offers a much larger dining space and a modern kitchen to enhance feeding and to better prepare students in the ministry’s culinary arts program.
The day care, known as GLO, addresses the city’s child care crisis by charging families on a sliding scale based on income. It was founded in 1968 with the goal of serving children and families in Abilene by caring for children from 6 weeks to 5 years old, ministry Director Allie Tobin said in the video.
“Our teachers go above and beyond to fulfill the need of each child. Our mission here at GLO is safety first sharing the love of God. That is nurtured and heard every day through our staff and all our team members.”
The Hope Center opens the way to an expansion of that mission with a projected doubling of enrollment, which currently stands at 80. The facility also provides advanced recreational and educational environments and a chapel for worship and religious education.
“This church has had a vision of serving the community and they didn’t just talk about it.”
First Baptist’s mental health counseling ministry also is expected to grow with the new space. Additional therapists will be hired to boost the number of clients who can be served without additional cost; its fees also are on a sliding scale.
“We hope we can continue to meet psychological, emotional and mental health needs by providing psychological assessment services, family counseling, individual counseling and play therapy for children and adolescents, particularly,” said ministry director Steve Queen.
Still, it’s becoming evident that waiting lists may increase as word spreads about the ministry’s increased capacity, Queen said. “The waiting list just grew. As we add therapists, there’s just more waiting list, so the need is here in this community, and we are positioned to continue to increase our ability to meet that need.”
Meeting needs isn’t a new thing for First Baptist, Hudson said. “These are not things that have been started in the last five year or 10 years. This church has had a vision of serving the community and they didn’t just talk about it. That’s been the direction of this church for 50 years.”
Just as important, that vision is oriented outward toward the church’s neighbors, he added. “We are deeply invested in the continued flourishing of the community of Abilene, and we want to be part of that however we can.”
Moore said the Hope Center also is meant to convey a message. “We wanted to make this facility as nice as we could to show our neighbors we care about them and to be the presence of Christ on that corner.”