Pastors marks 30 years of faith-building in Lynn
LYNN, Mass.—Many churches face challenges pulling people into their pews on Sundays, and while church attendance may never break past records, Washington Street Baptist Church Pastor Eric Nelson said Lynn's faith community can continue growing if churches work together to address common needs.
Nelson's perspective on local worship is rooted in his 30 years working as a minister in the big red brick church at Washington and Essex streets. Nelson said 900 people attended services at Washington Street Baptist a century ago, compared to 80 congregation members who now regularly attend Sunday services.
"One of the frustrating things is there is a lot of competition on Sunday -- a lot of people get drawn away from church," Nelson said.
Nelson's congregation celebrated his 30th anniversary as their pastor last Sunday at the church. Nelson is quick to point out the party is not a retirement celebration and he is not planning to step down from the pulpit.
"It is a celebration of ministry together over 30 years," he said.
Nelson, 67, grew up steeped in Baptist ministry with his father, aunts and uncles involved in the faith. His family lived in Mexico City for four years while his father ran a seminary training Mexicans to be Baptist ministers.
"I felt the call of God, which wasn't so difficult to hear with all of my family in the ministry," he said.
After attending the University of California-Berkeley, Nelson studied in New York and in Scotland, and landed his first pastor's job in East Boston. During his tenure at a Pittsfield church, he learned about Washington Street Baptist's search for a new pastor.
"It seemed like a good fit," he said.
He took over a church built in 1874 to replace one built on nearby High Street 20 years earlier. A 1905 fire gutted Washington Street Baptist, but left its brick walls intact. Nelson said safety concerns prompted the dismantlement of the church's original steeple.
Nelson said his experience living as a boy in Mexico prepared him to minister to a congregation that has changed significantly since 1982 when many congregation members grew up in Lynn and stayed in the area.
Washington Street Baptist's current congregation counts members from 14 nations, Nelson said. Two congregation members are involved in African ministry work.
The church operates a food pantry and a new women's support group, along with a kid's club and a free after-school program for neighborhood children.
The church hosts a summer youth program run by college students and concerts performed by North Shore Christian School. Nelson, a Lynn resident, makes repairs to his sprawling church with help from his congregation and family.
Washington Street Baptist has a 1,700-pipe organ and a wall along the steeple tower stairway signed by congregation members following their baptisms.
"This church is just a nice place to work in," Nelson said.
Nelson and his wife, Priscilla, were married in Washington Street Baptist and their son, Samuel, is Washington Street Baptist's organist and a finalist in a national organ competition.
As a Greater Lynn Council of Churches member, Nelson has seen the council's membership shrink to five active churches. He said members are looking for ways to reach out to other congregations, including Spanish-speaking Pentecostal congregations.
Nelson said faith is an important aspect of life for many Lynn residents, but said regular church attendees need to share their faith with others.
"People who go to church need to be more intentional about inviting other people, and then -- if they come to their church -- invite them back," he said.