Three Jacksonville area churches are setting out to prove that race does not have to be a barrier to unity, especially for believers.
Orvin Feliciano, pastor of Jones Road Baptist Church is passionate about practicing on earth what believers from all backgrounds and ethnicities will be doing in heaven.
“I want to break the racial divide and behave like brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
Feliciano, a Puerto Rican from New York City, is not who you might expect to be pastoring the predominantly white congregation at Jones Road Baptist. And the church is no longer a true reflection of its community, having become more ethnically diverse over the years. Feliciano hopes that by connecting with other churches that don’t look like them, the church will be able to break down the barriers that keep them from reaching their community.
Genesis Missionary Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American church, has been led by Tony Belle for almost a year now. Belle connected with Feliciano through the Jacksonville Baptist Association and the two have been friends ever since. Feliciano attended Belle’s ordination service and the two often study together. Belle said Feliciano’s generosity in helping his church do more than they otherwise could is part of the reason his congregation is looking forward to the first joint worship service in April.
“Orvin has been a tremendous help to me as a new pastor,” Belle said. “This is the kind of relationship churches should have – not in competition but complementing each other.”
Jim Clendenen, pastor of Biltmore Baptist Church, also cherishes his friendship with Feliciano.
Clendenen connected with Feliciano through JBA when Feliciano’s congregation was looking to help another church in the network with vacation bible school. The two meet regularly to pray and encourage one another. Clendenen shares Feliciano’s passion to see God move them toward becoming a more unified body of believers. Clendenen is pastoring a primarily Anglo congregation in a mostly African-American community and has seen firsthand the racial divide.
“God has given us a heart for the community and we just keep getting out there and telling people about Jesus,” he said. “It’s challenging but that’s where Jesus would be.”
By Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Convention, January 30, 2018