‘God talks to me, I talk to members about the best ways to follow Him’

Eglise Evangelique Bethel Le Rocher and Christ Tabernacle Church are the first houses of worship churches a traveler comes to along Norfolk east of Morton Street. Located at the corner of Middleton Street, they share a building next to the Pauline Agassiz Shaw School and across the way from Metropolitan Baptist Church.

The church building could easily be mistaken for a home atop to a small, single-level business. The exterior first floor is concrete and freshly painted; the two floors above show off-white siding and a light gray trim to complement the gray shingles. An attached building, of brick battered by the years, resembles an old business or workshop. A sign on the left side details the names of the two churches, their pastors, and telephone numbers.

The sanctuary of Eglise Evangelique Bethel Le Rocher Church is small, about the size of a classroom. Several rows of pews face a podium on a platform that is adorned with an ornate white cloth, a red stripe down the middle, and a gold cross at the bottom. Behind the podium, two bunches of red flowers hang on the wall.

Rev. Jean Joassaint, who leads the congregation of Eglise Evangelique Bethel Le Rocher, notes that this is a house of God and that there is awareness throughout the congregation that although this is their property, they do not own it “This is not my house,” Joassaint says. “This is not my church. This is Jesus’s house, his church.”

Joassaint presides over a congregation of about 50 members who gather every Sunday for religious services that covering topics of God, faith, and religion. “God talks to me, and I talk to church members about the best way to follow Him,” Joassaint says. “Like Moses leading his people from Egypt, I tell them what God says so people understand what God wants from them.”

Christ Tabernacle Church has been located at 403 Norfolk St. for nearly 35 years. The Rev. Sam Brown leads the congregation in a service at noon every Sunday after Sunday school, which begins at 10:30 a.m.

“Our mission here is to go forth to this generation and introduce Christ to the church, and help young people find their way in the world,” Brown says. His congregation is made up of about 25 African-American members, who listen to sermons ranging in topics from salvation and responsibilities to morals and ethics. “We encourage people to come and hear the word of God, and learn what the Lord has to say,” Brown says. “We welcome everyone.”

In recent years, Christ Tabernacle has contributed to food drives for local families, a program it hopes to continue in the future.

Next door sits Metropolitan Baptist Church, with its front porch and polished white shingles. Made up of a congregation of about 135 people, almost entirely of African-American heritage, “members attend church to hear the word of God preached, and to find salvation for themselves,” says the Rev. Ronel Gunn, the congregation’s seventh pastor since its founding in 1935.

According to Gunn, when the congregation was forced to relocate from its Roxbury location by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1973, Norfolk Street was a convenient place to settle given its location between two of the busiest streets in the area, Morton and Washington. While much of the church’s history took place in its original location, including a month of service in 1952 led by Martin Luther King Jr., the church began its new life in Dorchester.

Rev. Gunn says Metropolitan Baptist strives to be “not just a church in the community, but a community church,” and often donates in collaboration with other churches to local organizations as a collective effort. With strong women’s and men’s ministries already in place, its members are actively working to strengthen the youth ministry.

Less than a quarter-mile up Norfolk at Nelson Street, members of Strait Gate Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ have heard themes of repentance and salvation of faith through God for 79 years. The pastor, Elder Simon Turner, says members of the congregation number about 50 and they come to services to have their lives changed and “to hear the word of God. We welcome all people of all races. To us, all human beings are equal,” he says.

The 19-year-old Bethlehem Haitian Baptist Church, at 281 Norfolk a few hundred feet from Strait Gate Church, presents an unconventional face to the public. The site can easily be mistaken for a trailer park or construction site, but it is the worshipping place for a congregation of some 50 members of Haitian heritage. The church comes to life on the inside where a podium stands at the far end of the sanctuary where more than a dozen pews line a wall the length of the building.

The voice of the pastor, the Rev. Robinson Simon, can be heard clearly from the back row, echoing throughout the hall as he passionately “preaches the word of God. “That is what it is all about,” he says, “to let them know that they have to follow God so when they die, they have a home, a place to go to.”
For this short stretch of church-rich Norfolk Street, service to the Lord and to others seems a hallmark of every congregation.