Galveston church brings light to darkness

“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”

James 2:5

GALVESTON, Texas?What was once a dark place is now a place of light for those who once abandoned hope a long time ago. Called the Imperial House when it was constructed in 1914, the block-long building was designed for one purpose?to serve as a bar and brothel in the heart of downtown Galveston.

More than 80 years later Abe Hudson said the Lord lead him and cohort Mark Weible, with the Galveston Baptist Association, to start a church for the poor and homeless on the island in 1999. Two previously selected sites were discounted by God, Hudson said. The first site selected was destroyed in a storm, and the owner of the second building decided to use his facility for storage instead. That led the men to 306 25th Street where the church is now located two blocks off the Strand, a popular Galveston tourist destination. In the section of the building adjacent to Mission Galveston, Calvary Church put down pews.

According to those who operate the church, it’s the only congregation of its kind on the island. Lennen joked that what was once the Imperial House of Sin is now the Imperial House of God.

The long, narrow room which now serves as a sanctuary used to be a dark and dreary place said Hudson’s wife, Diane. The walls and ceiling were painted black. But with the help of a youth group from Denton the walls and ceiling are now white, and the dirty floor has been stripped to bare concrete.

“It’s been a joint effort,” said Diane. She points to the pulpit. It was made by some folks at Northside Baptist in La Marque. The communion table was a gift from Central Baptist in Galveston. The pews came from Nassau Bay Baptist following a remodel of that church’s chapel. The piano and organ were donated by NBBC member Jane Harton after the death of her husband, Paul.

Some may think it’s not much to look at, and most congregations would not choose to worship there. But that is the point, state the Hudsons, adding that the homeless and poor who come to worship at Calvary Church would not feel welcome at a typical church.

And, so, they said, the need for such a church is real and ongoing. Calvary Church is not an outreach ministry of a congregation seeking to give a hand out and a hand up for those less fortunate. It is a place of worship, fellowship and Bible study for people on the fringes of society. It is the church home of the homeless.

One Calvary congregant who takes great pride in his church is Roger. A confessed former drunk and drug user who, when he was intoxicated, was so mean he wanted to shoot his neighbors.

Taking a sip of coffee, Roger said, “I used to drink here,” indicating with a wave of his mug around the portion of the former bar which now serves as the church kitchen. Each of the five entrances to the building had a different themed bar, Roger said. And he tried them all. Now sober and on fire for the Lord, Roger now ministers to those who stumble upon the church.

Hudson joked, “Roger’s our outreach director.” On more than one occasion Hudson has arrived at the church to find the pews filled with sleeping homeless people. None of which, Roger admitted, would leave without something to eat. His specialty? Ramen noodles.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are washdays, and Roger sees that everyone who comes to the church for a shower and shave signs in and receives toiletries and a towel. A stackable washer and drier are also available on those days. And no one leaves without Roger giving them a list of community resources.

“I used to think you had to have money to be rich. I’m not making money, but I’ve got the Lord. I’ve got peace,” he said. Roger is also getting his family back. He has taken his small disability check and found a place where he, his adult daughter and son, and his grandchildren can live.

“I got us a house together?and I’m trying to teach my grandkids a better way of life.” Roger’s children have troubles of their own and have not made a profession of faith. “But,” Roger said with a grin,” I’m working on them.”

A year ago, church member Nando left a life of drugs and violence when he and his wife, Debra, happened upon Calvary. “This church,” he said, “serves people that most people would turn their noses up at.”

But Nando admitted to turning up his nose up at the idea of going to church. He and Debra were passing Mission Galveston where a sign announcing jobs was posted. Needing work the two went inside. While being assisted the couple was told they would have to attend a brief church service next door before getting aid from the mission. Recalling that moment, Nando rolled his eyes and said he did not like being told he had to go to ch

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