Small New London church celebrates move into new building
New London — When Tanecia Foster first walked into the Redeemed Christian Church of God Sanctuary of Praise in 2015, she knew she finally was home.
The church, she said, was more than just a place of worship. It was a place where its parishioners, as well as its pastor, Femi Adekoya, went out of their way to make her feel welcome and a part of their community.
“But what really stood out to me was how pastor (Adekoya) made an effort to call each member every week to check on in them, no matter how busy his schedule,” said Foster, a human resources professional from Montville. “It just speaks volumes to his character.”
Foster was one of several dozen parishioners who came to the church on Sunday to celebrate, through joyful singing and dancing, both its 10-year anniversary and the opening of its new place of worship at 862 Bank St. — significant milestones in the brief but arduous history of the small church.
"This moment, of finally having our own place, was years in the making," Foster said. "Today is truly a joyous day for all of us."
Originally formed in 1980 in Lagos, Nigeria, The Redeemed Christian Church of God is a worldwide Pentecostal megachurch and denomination with a presence in 198 countries.
Presently, the parish here is home to around 60 active members, having grown significantly from four initial families.
Aside from its weekly services, the church regularly makes a concerted effort to give back to the surrounding community by donating to local homeless shelters and soup kitchens, as well as hosting food and clothing drives. And though the church was formed in Nigeria, Foster said the parish welcomes parishioners from countries such as Ghana, Jamaica and Haiti.
Much of the church’s growth and success, however, can be attributed to its pastor Adekoya and his wife, Funmi — a co-pastor at the church. The couple moved to East Hartford from Nigeria in 2007 with their four children (a fifth was born later) after obtaining a green card to come to the country with the hope of providing a better life for their children.
The family arrived with some luggage but no jobs or income. During that time, the couple said they relied on soup kitchens and clothing drives to help meet their basic needs.
“If there is anyone who understands the struggles in a community, it’s them,” Foster said. “This is why they are so adamant about giving back, because they too were once in that same situation.”
Besides wanting better opportunities, Adekoya also knew he wanted to open his own parish after working as a pastor in Nigeria for the previous eight years. In Nigeria, however, The Redeemed Christian Church of God was a well-known and popularly accepted Christian denomination — a stark difference compared to the United States. But in Connecticut, several RCCG parishes had been established in cities such as West Haven and Hartford, allowing Adekoya to integrate himself into a familiar community. Eventually, pastors from those parishes encouraged Adekoya to found his own place of worship in New London.
Adekoya originally started his New London parish by hosting worshipping services out of New London’s Holiday Inn before renting a small street-facing room out of a home at 866 Bank St., which is next door to the church's new location.
“What’s amazing is that he and his wife rented that space every month on top of trying to make ends meet for their own family,” said Foster. “He has overcome many challenges to make this church a reality, and that is simply inspiring for all of us.”
As the church eventually outgrew the rented space, which also had some structural problems, the parish raised and donated the money needed to buy the dilapidated home next door.
Aside from those issues, Adekoya also faced several municipal hurdles in making the building a place of worship. Besides having to find the money to purchase and renovate the building, Adekoya had to rezone the property, tie the building into a commercial water line running across the street and receive a medley of necessary permits from the city.
“We didn’t quite realize how involved the process would be,” Foster said. “But we were all working together for the greater good of the church and of each other, to open this door to the community and to welcome everyone."
When asked how it felt to finally see his new church, Adekoya said he felt joy and appreciation.
“It’s just exciting,” he said.
“This is a joy he can’t really explain,” Foster said, stepping in to help Adekoya express his gratitude. “It’s a calm for him after the storm. The excitement he is feeling is overwhelming.”
Stories that may interest you
For nearly 40 years, John Russel has lived in a quiet, quaint neighborhood on Robinson Street. But over the last 18 months, he said, "it's become like a war zone."
Group criticizes Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for shifting guidance as the delta variant of the coronavirus fuels increase of COVID-19 cases.
One of the biggest construction projects in downtown history is slated to start next summer.