“Glory, Glory, Hallelujah” rang out on Strong Street as congregants from Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church marched nearly two miles Sunday from their worship space on Hamilton Hill to a new one across town.
About 40 people raised their voices in song as they set out down the rutted sidewalk, some waving flags and others carrying a banner that read, “When God says move Mt. Olivet Missionary Baptist Church moves just like that!”
The church, which has been in operation for 83 years, is relocating because of an increase in attendance.
Strong St. to Park Ave.
Over the past year, the congregation has grown to include more than 200 members, which has stretched the limits of its 4,000-square-foot space at 809 Strong St., a brown wooden building built for the church in 1975.
Mt. Olivet’s new home is the former Union Presbyterian Church at 1068 Park Ave., near Union College. The purchase was finalized last month, and on Sept. 1 the congregation held its final service on Hamilton Hill.
“We’ve grown tremendously over the past year since I came here,” said the Rev. Horace Sanders Jr., who attributed the increase in worshippers to “the power of God and the grace and love that we share with everybody.”
Umbrella in hand, 80-year-old Carl Jackson was ready to walk from the old church to the new one Sunday morning, to attend the first Park Avenue service. A Mt. Olivet member since 1964, he recalled a similar walk in 1975.
“While our church was being built [on Strong Street], Albany Methodist Church was kind enough to let us hold our worship services there, so when the church was up, we marched from Albany Methodist at the corner of Steuben and Albany Street to this one,” he said, as he stood in the parking lot of the now-shuttered church on Strong Street.
Jackson voiced a bit of sadness about leaving the building.
“I truly believe we’re the first black church to actually build a church from the ground up [in Schenectady]. We’re proud of that. We like that distinction,” he said.
Mt. Olivet’s old building, which is owned by the church, will likely be sold, he noted.
The congregation now inhabits a church that measures 24,000 square feet, has 32 rooms, 6 bathrooms and 6 tenants, including Schenectady Inner City Ministry and Park Avenue Nursery School, according to the Rev. Debra Sanders, the wife of Mt. Olivet’s pastor.
Room to grow
The larger space will allow the church to reach more people, said Diana Cooley, who organized Sunday’s walk.
In the old building, it became necessary to put chairs in the sanctuary’s aisles and use a back room for overflow, she said.
During a prayer before the walk, Horace Sanders asked God to guide the group on its journey.
“We pray, oh God, in Jesus’ name, that you will give us energy and zeal, give us sweet fellowship as we walk along the way,” he said. “Give us, Lord God, the strength. Help us, Lord God, to keep on pressing on. Remind us, Lord God, that if we just put one foot after the other, one step after the other, we will make it.”
Church member Billi Jackson, 83, was waiting for the walkers in the sanctuary at the Park Avenue church, beaming as she surveyed the massive worship space and the sunlight spilling through the stained-glass windows.
“I call it a new beginning, a good new beginning,” she said. “It’s just wonderful to be alive to see it. I just thank God for that.”