RENSSSELAER FALLS - On a Saturday evening nearly five years ago, about a dozen people gathered at the home of Reginald S. Curtis, an ordained minister and town of Edwards native who was eager to spread his Christian faith.
That humble beginning marked the launch of Fresh Start Fellowship Church, a non-denominational, born-again Christian group that has since grown to roughly 80 members who reside in several St. Lawrence County communities.
After outgrowing a series of worship sites, church members now gather 11 a.m. each Sunday at the former First Tabernacle Church, affectionately known as the “log cabin church.”
Constructed of pine wood, the church, 50 County Route 14, is sparsely decorated and has a relaxed, homey feel. It was constructed a few miles outside the village of Rensselaer Falls about 18 years ago by Keith and Norma Stiles.
“I believe God led us here,” said Mr. Curtis, the 51-year-old church pastor who resides in DeKalb Junction. “This church really lends itself to a spiritual family. It feels like you are going home to be with your family.”
Through fundraisers, contributions from members and other donations, the congregation is close to purchasing the wooden church. So far, about $42,000 of the $50,000 purchase price has been raised.
Mr. Curtis said he feels Fresh Start Fellowiship provides a welcoming, non-judgmental place for those who are searching for a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.
A five-member church council meets regularly to make decisions and discuss church issues.
“Our objective here every Sunday morning is to give people the message that they can get a fresh start,” Mr. Curtis said. “No matter who they are or what they’ve done, they are welcome here.”
Rose I. Palmer, a senior citizen from Gouverneur who regularly attends Sunday services with her husband, said church members are accepting of others.
“We all mess up, and we all need to be able to start over,” Mrs. Palmer said. “God is very gracious. He gives us second chances over and over. Everybody encourages everybody here.”
The church also practices full immersion baptisms for those who have voiced their commitment to following Jesus Christ. An above-ground swimming pool on the church grounds is used for baptisms. On Sunday, six adults were baptized before the congregation. During services, members have a chance to share testimonials if they wish. The church is drawing families and individuals from Ogdensburg, Lisbon, Gouverneur, Fowler, Edwards, Russell, Canton, DeKalb, Prescott, Ont., and other communities.
Timothy H. Boprey, a church deacon, described baptism as a “public display of submission to Christ before family and friends.”
The church also provides Sunday school classes for children as well as programs to help people with marital problems and other family issues.
Kara E. Whitford, Gouverneur, said she and her husband, Adam M., and two children enjoy attending Sunday services.
“It’s like another family. They have something for all of us and our kids are learning the Bible at an early age,” she said.
Mr. Curtis worked for 10 years as a corrections officer at the Gouverneur State Correctional Facility, when he felt a calling to become a minister. He moved his wife, Pamela M., and their two children to Missouri, where he studied at the University of Missouri and was ordained in 2001.
After serving as a church pastor in Missouri for three years, he felt a pull to return to Northern New York.
“We don’t have a lot of pastors or Christian workers here. I really cared about the north country and the people here,” Mr. Curtis said.
After returning to the region, he served as pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Ogdensburg, and then as associate pastor at Grace Covenant Church, also in Ogdensburg.
Eager to share Christian teachings with others, Mr. Curtis started Bible study groups through his organization, Fresh Start Ministries, which evolved into Fresh Start Fellowship Church.
“My goal was to see that every hamlet and town had an opportunity to know God and grow in their faith in God,” he said.
For more information, Mr. Curtis can be reached at 323-9571 and Mr. Boprey can be reached at 854-0679.