Istrouma grows The Grove

— A new chapter in the 125-year history of Broussard Grove Baptist Church has begun. The small, aging congregation merged with Istrouma Baptist Church of Baton Rouge and has a new, young pastor.

The former Broussard Grove Baptist is now The Grove, and the Rev. Thomas “T” Alan Lusk is campus pastor. Lusk, 33, preached his first sermon Sunday and the church will host a public launch on Sept. 8.

“For the next three months, we’re running what we call ‘preview’ services and working out the kinks,” he said.

“Our vision is the same as Istrouma’s vision,” Lusk said. “‘We glorify God by making disciples.’

“We want to be worshippers, we want to be missionaries, we want to be disciples and servants to our families,” Lusk said. “We’re going to keep the essentials essential like providing a place for families to bring their kids.”

Lusk replaced the Rev. Larry Badon, Broussard Grove’s interim pastor for the past 21 months. Badon, a long-time transition pastor for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, plans to retire.

“This is a historic occasion for this church,” Badon said in his farewell sermon. “It’s not an end. It’s a new beginning.”

Istrouma Baptist is one of Louisiana’s largest Southern Baptist churches with an average attendance near 1,700. Its senior pastor, the Rev. Jeff Ginn, characterized the merger as a biblical calling similar to an account in the book of Acts Chapter 16, where the Apostle Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, “Come and help us.”

“Immediately (Paul) went there,” Ginn said about Paul’s Macedonian call. “They called us. This is a new chapter in the ministry of both churches.”

In April, both churches voted to merge so, legally, Ginn said, Broussard no longer exists.

“Istrouma now exists in two locations,” Ginn said. “We are one church at multiple locations, and we’re praying a spirit of unity will permeate that campus.”

About 50 Istrouma members now attend The Grove, joining the church’s remaining 40 or so mostly elderly members. The goal, all three pastors said, is to revitalize a once-declining congregation in a rapidly growing area of Ascension Parish.

The merged congregations will also renovate The Grove’s buildings at 39258 La. 42. Facilities have suffered minor disrepair in recent years.

That’s good news to longtime Broussard Grove deacon and trustee Clyde Berthelot who has been tasked for many years with opening and closing the buildings, making minor repairs and mowing the grass.

His wife, Maribeth Berthelot, 60, grew up in the church and has been the pianist for 45 years.

“We’re sad, but excited,” he said. “Very excited about what Istrouma is bringing to the table — sad to see it get to this point, but we need to move forward.”

Broussard Grove began as a small country church in rural Ascension Parish and has founded five other churches, Badon said, listing Oak Grove Baptist (1914), Dutchtown Baptist (1963), Little Prairie Baptist (1970), Central Baptist (1986) and Ascension Baptist (1993).

A chart of statistics showed that 395 people have been baptized since 1980, the average worship attendance reached 400 in 1999, and hit a high of 687 in 2007.

“I pray that we’ll see that again,” Badon said.

Henry Geter served as song leader for the past year and Jordan Atwell will serve as the incoming worship leader. “Jordan is as much a pastor as a musician,” Lusk said.

Children’s ministry is why Steve and Rachael Barrow and their five children, who live in Ascension Parish, are part of the Istrouma launch team. He is a deacon. She’s a children’s Bible study teacher.

“I’m excited that the kids will have a place to come and learn more about Christ and get to know their Heavenly Father,” Rachael Barrow said.