Joined by a building

Evangelist Tracey Epps-Hawkins, pastor of House of Restoration Outreach Ministries of Batchelor, has a congregation without a building to call home.

Sharon Baptist Church and its pastor, the Rev. Shawn Ostoj, have an old but sturdy sanctuary building not in use, so they recently sold it to Epps-Hawkins’ ministry for a dollar.

Now the two pastors and their congregations are teaming up to raise an estimated $130,000 to dismantle the brick and wood structure at 9433 Section Road in Port Allen, move it and rebuild it on a piece of land in Batchelor.

The public is invited to attend a community picnic-style “Unity Days” celebration with both congregations on Aug. 17 at Sharon Baptist. Another similar “Unity Days” event will be Oct. 5 in Batchelor.

“We believe that this is far more than just a building — to have two groups of people come together — especially with so many things that are going on,” Epps-Hawkins said. “Not often do you see pastors as us, male and female, black and white, actually can come together in our communities and do what we have done.”

“They didn’t just bless us with a building and then leave us stranded — they are actually helping us to get it done and that is true unity,” Epps-Hawkins said. “We’re grateful to Sharon for what they’re doing for us.”

Ostoj said the confluence of events was divinely inspired.

“Originally, we had planned to tear it down but we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it,” Ostoj said. During a church business meeting in late March, members prayed about what to do about the 2,940-square-foot structure. The church, with an average attendance of around 200, has since 2008, been meeting in a large, steel building that also houses a day care and kindergarten through eighth-grade academy.

The day after the prayer was offered, Ostoj said, Sharon Baptist member Ernest “Nubbin” Swanson, heard that Epps-Hawkins’ group, which meets in the building of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Batchelor, was searching for a building. Both parties quickly agreed to the deal.

“We are one in Christ and are working together toward a common cause and that struck a chord with our congregation,” Ostoj said. “Unity is what God is calling us to — even beyond the building. That’s what God is working in our hearts. We need to be one in Christ.”

Both pastors are hoping to have the money raised and the building moved by this time next year.

According to “The Story of a Church, The History of Sharon Baptist Church,” a 50-page booklet recently published by longtime member and church historian Emily Swanson, the sanctuary was built by members in 1949.

“Children came home from school and went to work with their parents on the building,” Swanson writes. “The young people, under the supervision of John Black and Iris Felps, shellacked all the boards. The shellac left a golden glow on the finish which is still there to this day although the building is now abandoned.”

Epps-Hawkins began her full gospel ministry on July 31, 2011, with a dozen friends and family and met in the gym at Batchelor Community Center. The congregation has grown to about 40 or 50, she said.

“We believe that this is a true move of God,” Epps-Hawkins said. “We’re doing what God has called us to do: going out and preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We just need a place that we can call home.”