The Guerrero family and parishioners of a little church in Waterville have much to be thankful for this holiday season.

The Guerreros — Joe and Jennifer — are new pastors of the Second Baptist Church at 172 Water St. in the city’s South End, filling a post that was vacant for about a year after the previous long-time minister became ill.

While the process for filling such a void may be routine for most churches, seeking a new pastor, the arrival of the Guerreros from Colorado was anything but usual.

The Guerreros, Jennifer seated, and from left, Marijane, 15, Jacob, 17, and Joe. Jennifer and Joe are new pastors at the Second Baptist Church at 172 Water St. in Waterville’s South End, filling a post that was vacant for about a year after the church’s previous long-time minister became ill. Morning Sentinel photo by Amy Calder

As the couple and church members told me last week, it was a gift to both the Guerreros and the congregants.

“God sent Pastor Joe and Jenn to us,” said church deaconess Florence Hill, 50. “We have to thank God every day for them.”

For the Guerreros, the bigger gift was to them and their children, Jacob, 17, and Marijane, 15.

“God’s blessed us more than we ever could have imagined,” Joe Guerrero said during his Nov. 17 sermon.

He and his wife had various occupations and owned businesses before becoming ordained. About 18 months ago, Jennifer Guerrero said, God came to her in a dream, telling her the family was going to move from Colorado to Maine to do ministry. They knew nothing about Maine, but sold everything they owned, packed up their belongings, including two dogs and a cat, and headed northeast. They arrived in Maine Jan. 6 after a 3-day, 2,300-mile trip in their minivan and headed to Faith Bible College in Charleston, which Joe Guerrero attended.

While doing ministry in Old Town, Joe Guerrero, who is Native American, met a homeless man from the Penobscot Nation who was living in a tent and told him about an ad he saw in the paper for a pastor at a church in Waterville.

“‘God told me it was for you,'” Guerrero recalled the man telling him.

The Guerreros had no money for gas to get to Waterville, so the homeless man sold a chain saw for $25 and gave it to the couple.

They drove to Waterville, interviewed at the church, stayed for a choir practice and were asked to preach on a trial basis, which they did. Church members voted unanimously to invite them to stay.

Since their arrival two months ago, the Guerreros, who live in their motor home on the church property, have knocked on some 1,000 doors to invite people into the church. They started a food bank and clothes donation program, and have been welcoming new parishioners. A congregation that had dwindled to about 13 two months ago now averages 30 or 40 for Sunday services.

The church was built in 1877, in part to help impoverished Canadian immigrants with food, clothing and funds until they could find jobs, the Guerreros noted. A mission branch of the First Baptist Church on Elm Street, the Water Street church’s mission was to help others. The church has a Facebook page, Second Baptist Church, that lists how people may donate food or clothing and learn about church activities.

“Our goal is to try to get the church to where it once was — giving to the community and helping out where we can in any way possible,” Joe Guerrero said.

But the tiny church offers much more, as I witnessed at the Nov. 17 service. You might say it is a safe, welcoming haven in an otherwise tumultuous world.

The 25 or so attendees greeted each other and newcomers with hugs and handshakes. The Guerreros and their children did the same.

The sun filtered through the tall stained-glass windows of the warm, immaculate sanctuary as a woman played hymns on a keyboard and a man played harmonica. The congregation sang songs, said prayers, stood during sharing time and told their stories. A woman said her daughter had had breast surgery and needed prayers, another talked of her mother’s illness, a man in the back stood to say he finally was back in church after struggling with drug issues.

In separate sermons, the Guerreros issued simple, but profound messages.

Jennifer Guerrero spoke about the importance of giving.

“We’re all alive, and we’re well today because of the seeds that someone else has sown,” she said. “When we give, it’s like a bag of seed. When we plant that seed into something, we see it grow.”

Joe Guerrero talked about why it is better to labor for a higher calling than just for one’s own benefit. Doing so allows one to rest, reflect and be at peace while working in the world.

Jacob Guerrero, their son and a Waterville Senior High School student, and their daughter, Marijane Guerrero who is home-schooled, sat in the front row with parishioners, fully involved in the service. Both said later they hope to work in ministry also.

Sitting in the parish hall with the Guerreros after the service, church members said they love the couple and their children, who are passionate and caring, and always accessible.

Sonja Poulin, 81, also a church deaconess, said the family goes above and beyond to make people feel welcome and comfortable.

“I have never had a pastor help me down the steps, across the street and into my car — and Jacob and Marijane help, too,” she said.

The Guerreros see their mission as a privilege. All your life, Jennifer Guerrero said, you look for what makes you feel whole, for what fits.

“You finally find it and it’s like, this is what we’re supposed to do,” she said. “This is where we fit.”

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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