Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
All you need is love Things come together at Fuente de Amor United Methodist Church
BY JOAN KERN, Correspondent
It's been a long and winding road, but they're finally both where they belong.
After many moves, Fuente de Amor United Methodist Church has found a home at First UMC, Duke and Walnut streets.
And after a lifetime of feeling called to spread God's love, Belkis Martinez has found her place as Fuente de Amor's lay pastor.
"I felt the call a long time ago, to praise only the Lord, to preach and teach," she said. "It's the only thing I know how to do."
The church began a number of years ago as the Latino ministry of St. Paul's UMC, Queen and Farnum streets. But when it moved to Fulton Elementary School and needed a name of its own, it was Martinez who christened it Fuente de Amor, or Fountain of Love.
"God gave me that name," said Martinez, 47, of Lancaster, who came to this country from the Dominican Republic at age 14.
And it all happened quite by chance.
Formerly a member of Alpha and Omega Church of the Brethren, Martinez was introduced to the Latino ministry at St. Paul's by her son, Dennis Pou. A professional vocalist and musician, Pou, 27, of Columbia, discovered St. Paul's when he dragged his keyboard into the wrong church on Queen Street. He liked what he saw and went back, eventually taking his mother with him.
In 2005, Martinez was named a lay leader at the church.
But then Pou moved to Florida, and Martinez, and her husband, Pedro, followed. Life was good in Florida, she said, but something was missing.
"I had planned to stay," she said. "But I felt stirrings to come back."
One day her husband came home from work to find his wife packed and ready to go. They left for Lancaster that very day.
She was no sooner back than she got an email from a Fuente de Amor member who was frantic because the church suddenly was without a pastor.
"We miss you. We need you. We wish you were here," the emailer wrote.
"I'm here," Martinez replied.
When the Rev. James Todd, superintendent of the Southwest District of the UMC, asked Martinez to help out, she thought he meant to preach just that Sunday.
"He meant to take it over," Martinez said.
Although Fuente de Amor has been meeting at First UMC for more than a year, it marked a new beginning in September, with Martinez as lay pastor and following a retreat to bring people closer together.
"A lot of healing had to be done," said Correen Russo, a deaconess in training at First UMC and coordinator with Fuente de Amor.
"If First Church would not have received us and loved us, then this ministry would not be standing," Martinez said. "I can feel the love. They give me confidence."
Russo said the Rev. William Lentz Jr., First UMC's senior pastor, wants his congregation "to walk alongside Fuente de Amor, not take it over. To share our strengths, shore up our weaknesses."
Fuente de Amor worships in a lively service in fellowship hall on the lower level of the church from 12:30 to about 3 p.m. Sundays, with Sunday school for all at 11 a.m. and Bible study at 7 p.m. Wednesdays. The last Sunday of the month features a fellowship meal.
"It ain't Spanish if there ain't food involved," said a laughing Pou, who works for the Jay Group and performs on Sundays at Holy Cross UMC, Reading, before leading praise and worship at Fuente de Amor.
The congregation has about 25 members, with 30 worshippers attending on a typical Sunday. There are about a dozen children, who Russo said join with First UMC's children on mission projects and retreats.
Because everyone speaks Spanish, the service doesn't include translation. But Pou said he is ready to provide it at a moment's notice.
Martinez's goal is diversity, "not just Spanish and English but everyone who has work to do. Everyone needs to know how to love," she said.
"Our vision is very much what our name says: a vision of love for all of Lancaster. We want all the hungry and thirsty to feel healed and find themselves with God and be a part of the family."
"Only by love will man be saved," said Pou, quoting what he said his mother has "banged into our heads forever."
"If you don't love yourself," Martinez said, "you're not going to love your brother, you're not going to love God, and that's what he is: love."