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Baptist church moving to downtown Queen City landmark

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 30. 2014 4:49PM
Gospel Baptist Church has purchased the former Franco American Centre property at 52 Concord St., Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — A center-city Baptist church is making its third move since it established itself in Manchester 22 years ago, this time taking over the prominent Association Canado-Americaine office building in downtown Manchester.

In April, the Gospel Baptist Church purchased the Concord Street building, known for its neo-Classical facade, ornate Corinthian columns and elaborate cornice. The Gospel Baptist pastor, Dave Carlson, said he hopes to move sometime in June.

The real-estate agent who handled the sale, Jim DeStefano, said the building sold for $865,000.

"We're tapped out of space," said Carlson, whose church at Beech and Merrimack streets counts 165 members. The church occupies the entire wood-framed, two-story building, which resembles the adjacent tenement buildings.

The new space will feature 25-foot ceilings, vaulted windows and an auditorium.

Although the new location will be a few blocks away, the move takes the independent Baptist church out of the center city. Carlson, a native of the Michigan upper peninsula, said he and his wife started the church in a small, 850-square foot building at Hall and Spruce streets in 1992.

It next moved to Hanover Street , then Beech Street. Carlson said the moves have been easy; it seems God wants him to concentrate on the flock, while He takes care of earthly matters such as the church building.

Carlson described the church's theology as conservative, Bible-based and traditional. The church offers Bible study, a missions program, and addiction recovery.

It produces a television show, and members knock on doors of strangers to increase the flock.

Some worshippers drive from from as far away as Wilton; others live nearby and arrive via bicycle or pushing a shopping cart, Carlson said. Some were former inmates at the Valley Street Jail, where Carlson ministers.

The new location, he said, just means a chance for more members.

Carlson said his church put about $50,000 into a building fund in each of the last few years, and when the ACA deal was possible, church leaders launched a six-week fundraising effort that raised $51,000.

He said the building's owner, the Franco-American Centre, financed half the purchase price, and he hopes to pay it off in seven years.

Carlson said his church is patriotic; an American flag flies out front, and he's also flown a Marine flag to honor a member who joined the Marines. The church eschews the drums, electric guitars and rock-concert atmosphere of megachurches.

"They're more into giving people what they want to please their fleshy side. We try to appeal to their spiritual side," he said.

The new location has been a clubhouse, a church, and office building, a Franco-American heritage center and, most recently, a student center for the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Carlson said he has no plans to remove the names and emblems associated with the ACA.

The building offers 17,700 square foot of usable space, but the church plans to continue renting the second floor to the Hellenic University of America.

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