By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
Those passing by the stately structure on Connecticut Street would never guess that the church bearing the name Unity Baptist was started in someone’s home. Reverend Jerry and Gwendolyn Protho began the church with 43 people attending Bible Study each Sunday. That number grew very fast, so fast that the group soon had to move to a larger location.
In 2007, Protho moved his congregation to the building formerly occupied by Davis Seafood. As he watched the congregation grow, Protho recognized that it was necessary to apply for a Federal Identification Number. He planned to complete the process in time to start as a church on the first Sunday in May 2008.
While the charter membership of Unity Baptist Church waited for the federal papers to be processed, the church met at its sister location, the Greater St. Stevens Baptist Church. They met there for a short time and then began meeting at the House of Praise. Unity Baptist eventually held service at Be Car Diamond Center.
Unity Baptist Church moved into its present location at 2019 Connecticut Street in May 2009 and was active in the community from its earliest beginnings, sponsoring annual neighborhood cleanups.
Taking care of home, the church replaced its air conditioning unit, purchased a new organ, musical instruments, sound system equipment for the pulpit, and kitchen appliances for the lower level of the church.
To support the community, each summer they sponsored back to school giveaways for the children to make sure they received book bags, school uniforms and needed school supplies. The church also participated in the One Church One School program.
Unity’s prison ministry accepted letters from inmates so that they had someone to correspond with them. That had a great impact on the inmates, who appreciated having someone to write. When inmates were released, some of them would visit the church. To this day there are some former inmates who are faithful Unity members.
According to Reverend Protho the greatest thing about Unity Baptist church is being able to preach the word and teach Christian conduct. He said, “Sometimes we catch people at their lowest times in life. We encourage them to not give up, and continue to give out the church literature. Our Unity Baptist Church was started after nine years in the ministry.”
He says that at one point the church had Bible Study for a couple of years in the home of Gloria Chambers, with seven people. She did that to have her friends to come over. Chambers recently passed away and Protho officiated at her funeral.
The theme of Unity’s Ninth Anniversary is found in scripture, Matthew 16:16, which reads, “And I say unto you that thou art Peter, upon this Rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The protection in God’s church is always there.