In a crowded room at the Youth for Christ offices in Kendall, a group of Christians met to dream, discuss and plan for a new church in Miami. Rev. Jose Abella and Rev. Alex Comesañas, both pastors at Primera Iglesia Bautista de Coral Park, had been dreaming about starting a gospel-centered church, passionate about the preaching of the Word, about living in community, and concerned to be about the mission. The meeting was Jose and Alex’s opportunity to cast the vision of this new church.
The process of developing a mission statement, core values and name was arduous. Jose and Alex would end their days late in the early morning hours of the next. But, the dreaming and long hours would pay off because a unified vision was laid out for this new work. The mission statement encompassed the spirit and purpose of this new church.
We exist, as a gospel-centered community, living in a multi-cultural city, making known the gospel of Jesus Christ, to all people for the glory of God.
Within the mission statement the developing core values are outlined: gospel, community and mission. There was also a recognition that the church would be diverse like the city she was birthed in. Unfortunately, the history of America, and Miami as well, is a history of racial, cultural, financial and ethnic division. This new church would desire to be different. It would be a gospel-centered community in a multi-cultural city—it would be a multi-cultural church.
The name Providence Road Church would not gain it’s identity from a street or a geography. The name was inspired from an illustration from the famous English pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In the illustration he tells the story of a conquered king and his conqueror. The king was captured and tied to the back of a wagon; he laid there staring at the wagons wheel. Initially he cried but eventually he looked up and smiled. The conqueror was startled by the levity of the king and asked him to explain. The conquered king spoke of the wheel turning on the road. At some moments the wheel is deep in the dust, but at other moments it’s high in the air. The king reckoned that like the wheel, the Lord’s providence at times has us in the dust, but at other times has us in the air. And so, the name, Providence Road Church, stuck. It is a recognition that we as a people are bound and joyously dependent on the Lord’s work of providence in our life.
Although meetings began in July of 2010, the church officially launched, October 3rd, 2010. Soon after the launch a third pastor, Jesse Crowley, joined the church. The church began its meetings at the historic Riviera Theater in South Miami. The location was perfect. The facility was modern and welcoming. However, over the next year as the church grew in number it became evident that the church would soon outgrow the space and needed to move.
In an act of providence a door was opened at the historic Coral Baptist Church and Providence Road moved services to this location and began meeting.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
At this moment in time Providence Road Church’s story intertwines with a larger story. There is the story of Coral Baptist Church and the story of Iglesia Bautista La Fe.
Coral Baptist Church was a church start from Coconut Grove Baptist Church from the late 1940’s. At the time the area that we now know as Golden Pines was known then as ‘Little Georgia’. Many Coconut Grove residents saw the need for a church in this area and banded together to form what we now know as Coral Baptist Church.
On February 29, 1948 sixty people met together at Woodman Hall in Coconut Grove to be organized into a church. They soon bought four lots of the 2700 block of 32nd Ave and set-up a tent. For two years the church met in a tent as they began construction on their first building. In October of 1952 they called their first full-time pastor, Rev. Forrest H. “Woody” Watkins. For twelve years Woody pastored Coral Baptist. The church grew substantially. By 1959 there were 819 members and 50 people baptized in that year alone.
Woody, in his annual report to the church that year, would remember 1959 this way,
“I shall not try to state statistically all the visits in the office, home, hospitals and elsewhere. I shall not enumerate the weddings, funerals, meeting speaking engagements at home or abroad. I shall not speak of the hours spent in counseling with people about their need of Christ individually and in their homes. I shall say simply I have stayed busy ‘in my Father’s business’ and that is the greatest business in all the world.”
Under Woody’s ministry the membership increased and a modern sanctuary was built. These were years of growth, of possessing the land. In a church report from this time they optimistically printed Joshua 13:1 on the front page, “There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.” This was a moment of momentum, of faithfulness and gospel proclamation.
Over the years meticulous records were kept and the story of Coral Baptist written down. In 1964 Woody moved his family to Stuart, FL and so ended the twelve year journey that saw such growth and progress. Over the next two decade several pastors lead the church and moved on. None stayed longer than four years. By the late 1970’s records and documents from the church and it’s life become scarce and vanish.
In the mid 1960’s the church created a Spanish mission and for a time Coral Baptist had two congregations, an English speaking congregation and a Spanish speaking congregation. Under the leadership of Rev. Domingo Fernandez the Spanish mission gained substantial traction in the community and the burgeoning growth combined with the limited space of the church’s basement created the need to seek a change. In 1970 Coral Baptist’s Spanish mission formed itself into an autonomous church called Iglesia Bautista Resurrección and moved to a new meeting place at Southside Baptist Church.
As Miami changes so does the church. In the 1960’s and into the 1970’s Coral Baptist experiences the tumultuous trends of the city. The neighborhood culturally and ethnically transforms and the once vibrant 800 member church slowly transforms into a neighborhood relic and a monument to a previous time.
By the early 1990’s Coral Baptist begins sharing her space with a Spanish ministry, Iglesia Bautista La Fe. Over time Coral Baptist and La Fe merge together to join into one church. La Fe, though meeting separately, injects renewed vigor into the life of the church. Over the next many years La Fe, now Coral Baptist (or, Iglesia Bautista Coral), ministers to the new community. Pastor Jose Acosta, initially, and then Pastor David Rodriguez in February 2001 lead services and engage the local community with the gospel of Christ. During these years the Coral Baptist facilities become home to several churches as the building maximizes its space and multiple groups use the building for services, discipleship classes and training. David, alongside Julio Piñeiro, the church administrator, lead the church through difficulty as the facilities are ravaged and heavily damaged by flooding and wind of the 2005 hurricane season.
A New Chapter
By late 2011 a one year old church start begins using the facilities on Sunday mornings and throughout the week. This church, Providence Road Church, full of idealism, energy and hope marks a new chapter in the life of Coral Baptist. In January 2013 Coral Baptist Church, also known as Iglesia Bautista Coral, merge together with Providence Road. The two churches join forces for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of the church’s presence in the Golden Pines community.
The years since 2013 are marked by continued effort, building renewal, growth and greater impact in the community. It is the new hallmark of this Church’s effort to equip and send. To not only be a newly planted church, but to be a church that plants other churches.
The name Coral Baptist Church has been retired for this season and the new name Providence Road Church now identifies this building, but the purpose remains the same. Coral Baptist Church in their founding documents identified it as following the commandment of Christ to make disciples. Providence Road Church identifies it as establishing gospel-centeredness, but the object is identical, Christ glorified, among ourselves and in our community.