When the Hialeah Church of Christ met for worship for the first time 39 years ago in its beautiful new sanctuary at 7700 W. 20th Ave., over 500 people were in attendance. Willie Hamblen was the minister at the time and preached the first sermon.
Last Sunday as the congregation and friends said farewell to its home at three final worship services in the sanctuary, about 150 people were in attendance. Hamblen was invited back to preach the final sermon.
The fact that Sunday's congregation numbered less than half the size of the congregation on that first Sunday is a sign of the times, said Morris B. Legg, a member of the church.
"When we built this church, we had grand visions for the church; we were a very vibrant congregation back then," he said.
But as the years passed, the congregation grew older and more work was needed to be done on the building than the congregation was financially or physically able to do. "It was easier to sell and find another property to fit our needs," Legg said.
The Hialeah Church of Christ began in 1948 under a palm tree in the Bennie Babcock Park on East Fourth Avenue in Hialeah. Later the congregation met at the Hialeah City Hall until moving to its original home at 1094 E. Fourth Ave., where it met for 25 years before moving to the location at 7700 W. 20th Ave.
Legg said over the past nearly 40 years, there have been many changes — some good and others not so good — such as deaths, members moving away, and others falling away.
"The building has also changed. It has suffered, like some of the older members, from years of service and weather. But the good outnumber the bad. We've had gospel meetings, vacation Bible schools, hundreds of baptisms, beautiful wedding showers, birthday parties and fellowships," he said.
In addition to the building being used by the church, Legg said it has served as home for Atlantic Christian School, Atlantic International Bible Institute (a preacher training school) a home for Spanish and Chinese congregations and the homes and office for Christian Homes for Children.
The property has already been sold and will become the Youth Co-op Charter School. "We have already paid on a new property," Legg said.
Meanwhile, until its new permanent home is built, the church will continue with services on Sundays and Wednesday nights at the Don Shula Hotel at 6842 Main St. in Miami Lakes.
Although there was a lot of remembering the old times at the church, it was not a sad occasion. A bright spot was that Pastor Robert Ball, the congregation's current spiritual leader, was honored Sunday for his 20 years of service to the church.
A warm Neighbors in Religion salute to the Rev. Raymond Baker, who serves as pastor of El Bethel Tabernacle in Miami Gardens. Baker, who also is a banker with Great Florida Bank and works as the bank's Broward Market Lead, overseeing eight branches, still finds the time to serve as his brothers' keeper.
El Bethel Tabernacle's membership is made up of low and moderate income Miami Gardens residents. In order to improve the lives of those in his community and church, Baker provides free financial literacy training and youth mentorship, along with ample doses of spiritual guidance.
In addition to preaching the Word, Baker also teaches his members the importance of having good credit, how to achieve home ownership, saving for retirement and other basic banking concepts.