Haitian church sees revival after near permanent closure
By R.A. SCHUETZ
Nov. 13, 2017
NORWALK, Conn. (AP) — The church on 244 East Ave. came to life Wednesday evening, as volunteers cleared away weeds, beer cans and vodka bottles that had encroached on the property as others vacuumed and mopped indoors.
The Mount of Olives Haitian Seventh-day Adventist Church had closed on the century-and-a-half-old building around 4 p.m. that afternoon, the Rev. Pierre Vincent said, and afterward, they used their prayer line to share the news.
The congregation, which had been anticipating the closing, came out to prepare the church for its first service.
"This was a jungle," Vincent said Sunday morning, pointing to the now-mowed lawn. "There was trash everywhere."
He said neighbors driving by as the congregation cleaned slowed down their cars to thank them.
The church has a long history in Norwalk — an engraved cornerstone indicates it was built from 1871 to 1890, and a newer education wing was added in 1951. However, it has been empty for over a year.
Its previous life was as the home of the East United Methodist Church, which worshipped there for 125 years until 2016. A diminishing congregation and troubled finances led it to merge with Norwalk United Methodist Church, forming the Cornerstone Community Church: A United Methodist Church.
The last service in the building for over a year took place June 26, 2016.
In the meantime, the Mount of Olives, which previously rented space from the United Congregational Church on Richards Avenue, was looking for a home.
The church — which conducts services in French and Haitian Creole for a congregation composed mainly of Haitian immigrants — is growing. Established in 2005, the Mount of Olives now has a congregation of about 200.
Vincent said that the church began the process of acquiring the former East United Methodist Church building in March. "That was a long process," he said.
The building is appraised at a little over $2 million.
On Saturday, the Mount of Olives had its first service in its new home.
"Wonderful, wonderful," Vincent said of the service. "Everyone was excited."
However, he quickly added that Saturday was not what he'd call "the inauguration" of the space.
As he looked around the sanctuary, lobby and education wing, he saw a lot of work to be done — painting, repairing fixtures and redoing the parking lot, for starters. The church anticipates a grand opening in January, after renovations.
The acquisition of the church by another congregation may come as good news to some who worried about the potential loss of a historic site to redevelopment.
What's certain is that it's good news to the Mount of Olives, which has hoped for its own building since its founding.
"After so many years of praying for a permanent home, we are delighted that the Lord has answered our prayers," said Vincent.