Three nonprofits in Pueblo, Colo., received an early Christmas gift from an American Baptist church that closed its doors in April after ministering in the community for nearly 150 years.
Leaders of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains gave $200,000 each to the Salvation Army, Pueblo Rescue Mission and Pueblo Cooperative Care Center from proceeds of the sale of the First Baptist Church of Pueblo.
The Baptists didn’t tell leaders of the three charities about the gifts until they showed up at a luncheon at the church in Pueblo on Dec. 15.
“They were Christ’s hands and feet in Pueblo, so they wanted some of that money to stay here and do ministry,” Steve Van Ostran, regional minister of the 84-church regional affiliate of the American Baptist Churches USA, told Colorado NBC affiliate KOAA.
Founded in 1872 and located at the corner of Ninth and Grand near downtown Pueblo for 132 years, First Baptist Church in its heyday boasted more than 1,000 members. The church, located on high ground, made headlines by opening its doors as a base for telephone workers trying to restore communications in the aftermath of the historic Great Flood of 1921, one of Pueblo’s best-known disasters where rising waters from the Arkansas River claimed 1,500 lives and destroyed most of downtown.
When membership declined, the congregation found relevance by reaching out to people unwelcome in other congregations, such as the homeless, addicted, working poor and those struggling with mental illness.
A particular “servant evangelism” project earned recognition in 2007, when church members recognized the high cost of gasoline as a problem in the community and collected $3,600 to provide a 50-cent-a-gallon discount on 7,036 gallons pumped into 616 vehicles over the course of a day until the money ran out.
When the aging remnant of church members finally voted to dissolve the church on April 16, they asked the Rocky Mountain region to dedicate some of the proceeds of the property sale to worthy organizations in Pueblo. The sale was concluded in November.
Regional officials didn’t specify how much money the sale of the property raised but said additional funds would go to American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains to help other churches.
“Churches nationwide are closing their doors every day,” Van Ostran told the Pueblo Chieftain. “But for something like the Pueblo effort, well that doesn’t happen every day.”