A pastor in search of his people has left Rotterdam and set up in a former appliance store on Crane Street.
The Rev. James Bookhout spent the past seven years building a congregation in the suburbs. But what he wanted to do was to minister to children in need.
“The neighborhood I was in, a lot of people had all their needs met,” he said.
When he organized bicycle giveaways and celebrated the beginning of school with free school supplies, he didn’t see Rotterdam children.
“Very few people came from Rotterdam to get those materials. It was always people coming over the bridge from Schenectady,” he said.
So he proposed that his congregation move to the city. When most of them said no, he arranged for a new pastor and headed to Schenectady anyway.
About 10 of his congregants followed him, he said.
“It was heart-wrenching for me,” he said. “It’s just that we weren’t reaching our community.”
In Schenectady, he bought the former Marcella’s Appliance building in the Mont Pleasant neighborhood.
His first clothing and bedding giveaway was last week. A hundred people showed up, and Bookhout knew he was home.
“I am just so excited. I have never been more happy,” he said.
The grand opening is next month, but he’s already holding services there for about 50 people.
Services are at 10 a.m. Sunday. He’s also partnered with a Brazilian church that offers services in Portuguese on Sunday nights.
With his new flock, he’s starting a food bank to replace a closed food bank nearby, English and Spanish language classes and smoking cessation courses. Those were the first needs he found, he said.
He also just bought a boxing ring, with which he hopes to host self-defense classes. He has hopes for teaching dance and music, too.
With such a small church and so many dreams, there’s not much money left over to support Bookhout. So he works in construction to make ends meet.
His services are contemporary, with a small band, “accent” lighting and two huge flat-screen televisions that flash words.
As for philosophy, he said he’ll take all comers.
“We are not judgmental. We refuse to judge anybody,” he said. “We’re just trying to obey the Great Commission, the Great Commandment: Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel. And to love all people.”
He was tested on that almost at once. A woman came to the church before a service to tell him that she would help him in any way she could — if he was willing to accept her.
Vicki Loika told him that she had once been a prostitute and a drug addict.
Bookhout’s response was to ask her if she would be willing to tell her story to the entire congregation. So she did.
“I wanted to be an encouragement to anybody who might be struggling,” she said. “I knew God, but I felt I was too bad of a person for him to want me.”
Bookhout welcomed her with open arms, and she is now working to start the food pantry.
“He has no condemnation whatsoever,” she said. “If you need someone to listen or a shoulder to cry on, he’s there. I love Pastor James.”