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New Ogden church focuses on Spanish-speaking Hispanics, aims to create community

Saturday , June 09, 2018 - 5:00 AM

OGDEN — A church that embodies the word “action” is what Pastor Rafael Ruiz wants. And that’s what he hopes his new church will achieve.

Iglesia El Verbo, located at 2280 Jackson Ave., was incorporated in February, and its first service was on Easter, Ruiz said. The church aims to target Hispanics in Ogden through a Spanish-language service at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

“The Verb”, as the name of the church translates to from Spanish, is something that Ruiz says is representative of Jesus Christ.

“We want to be a community in action,” Ruiz said in Spanish. “We want to represent that.”

The nondenominational church, he said, is currently meeting in rented space. However, Ruiz said he wants the community to feel at home and that they belong. According to a GoFundMe page on the church’s website, Ruiz has raised about $3,700 since Feb. 19.

“The Iglesia El Verbo was developed from an idea in my heart,” Ruiz said. “It’s a community where people can find honesty and respect and where they can find second chances, especially if they’ve been abused by the religion.”

Ruiz’s name might sound familiar to Weber County residents, as he is the former pastor of the downtown campus of the Washington Heights Church. As a pastor there, he also targeted the Spanish-speaking members of the community through weekly services and outreach programs.

He left the Washington Heights Church after the organization told him in February it needed to close the downtown campus because it was not able to financially sustain a Spanish-language program. He said the church asked him to stay with them, but he chose to leave and found his own church. He still considers them friends. 

“It costs money to translate, to have bilingual employees,” Ruiz said. “At the end, money has to do with every decision made.”

The Washington Heights Church downtown campus, located at 1720 Washington Blvd., also shared space and operated Café Latino, a local coffee shop featuring beans from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Brazil, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. That space is no longer open.

“Unfortunately we had to close it (Café Latino) because they (Washington Heights Church) wanted to use the appliances for other things,” Ruiz said. “We are trying to come up with ideas as of what else we can do.”

It is unclear what will happen with the Washington Heights Church downtown campus building, although Ruiz said he believes it is up for sale.

After multiple attempts to contact the Washington Heights Church for comment, a secretary said lead pastor Roy Gruber didn’t want to comment on the church closure.  

Patricia Lopez, 44, and her family followed Ruiz from the Washington Heights Church to Iglesia El Verbo. She said having a Spanish-language service is helpful for those in the community who don’t speak English. 

“My husband didn’t want to go to church anymore,” Lopez said in Spanish. “We have a bad experience in the past, sometimes we don’t understand the language, it’s not the same.”

She described her experience at Ruiz’s church as “wonderful.”

“We are happy because he is a great pastor,” Lopez said. “He has been a blessing for us.”

In the meantime, Ruiz said he is considering, once they have a set location for the church, including a Puerto Rican restaurant on the property.

“Right now we are focusing on providing an additional space for Hispanics looking for friends ... and to create a community,” Ruiz said. 

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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