YORK, Pa. (AP) — When Ezequiel Mattos moved to York County last winter, he settled in Red Lion, across the street from Emmanuel United Church of Christ.
Young, married and unemployed, Mattos wanted to do God's work. But he needed a congregation. The Pentecostal Church of God, International Mission, sent him here to find one.
"I come from a family of ministers and I felt a calling to do that," said Mattos, 27. "We started calling different (churches) to see who would work with us."
Mattos said he talked to dozens of pastors and churches across York County. Finally, he found a home for his ministry literally in his backyard at Emmanuel UCC.
The close proximity of the church to his new home convinced Mattos that it was destiny. With the support of the Rev. Ron Heagy and Emmanuel, Mattos quickly got Grace and Truth Pentecostal Church of God up and running.
About 20 people are worshipping Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays with Grace and Truth. They meet inside Emmanuel for Bible study and regular services. The first Grace and Truth services were held July 21.
"We are a young family-oriented church. We are charismatic," Mattos said. "And we are Hispanic, so we like music."
While not a large population, there are a few Hispanic families in the Red Lion area, Mattos said. The new association with Grace and Truth marks a change for Emmanuel as well, Heagy said.
"We've never had a long-term rental in our church before," he added. "So this was a whole new concept for us."
Muriel Slenker, director of Red Lion Area Community Services, said the new church will help provide Spanish interpreters as needed, as well as expanding the services offered, to the Hispanic population in the southern and southeastern portions of the county.
Heagy serves on the board of RLACS.
Mattos was born in Detroit. When he was about 1, his parents moved to Puerto Rico, where they lived in the country and his father found work as an electrician.
When Mattos was 17, his family returned to the state, settling outside Philadelphia near his maternal grandparents. Although raised in the church, it was after the move that Mattos says he had "a personal encounter with Christ and felt God's calling."
Later on, Mattos found work at an agricultural company, where he eventually became a production and quality control administrator. This job was right in his comfort zone as his family in Puerto Rico were coffee growers for many years.
He also began taking courses at a Pentecostal seminary near the city, eventually completing three years of courses. Mattos also volunteered in youth ministry for many years, earning life experience credit for the fourth year of seminary.
"I'm actually the third generation of ministers in my family," Mattos said. "My grandfather was actually a Catholic priest in Puerto Rico."
His grandfather later married and left the priesthood for the Protestant faith, Mattos said. He later converted to Pentecostalism.
After nine years with his company, Mattos was laid off in May 2012. He spent several months planning his ministry future with the Pentecostal Church of God elders, who sent him to York.
Mattos moved his wife, Alieth, and two children — a 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son — to York County in February. They settled outside Red Lion and Alieth found work as a registered nurse at Senior Life York.
Mattos began building his ministry by knocking on doors in East York. He held services in living rooms for a short time before finding a partner in Emmanuel UCC.
"We are trying to build up a church that is healthy for our families, while also building a (church) family that is healthy for our congregation," Mattos said.
Pentecostals generally adhere to the same historical creeds, such as the Apostles Creed, as other Protestant churches. Grace and Truth takes its name from John 1:17, he added: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
"We want people to know Christ and to depend on him fully," Mattos said. "We do that through love, grace and mercy."
In many ways, the young, charismatic Hispanic congregation is as different as it gets from the older, rural members of Emmanuel UCC, but Heagy said the groups focus on what they agree on and don't worry about the rest.
"Culturally, their approach might be a little different than ours, but we both gain something valuable," he said.
Heagy acknowledged "a few naysayers" among his congregation who objected to sharing Emmanuel with Mattos' ministry, but said response was 90 percent positive. The UCC has a history of ecumenical partnerships, he noted.
Emmanuel holds its services Sunday mornings, while Grace and Truth takes over the church in the evening.
"The UCC and Pastor Ron have been incredibly helpful," Mattos said. "They've welcomed us from the beginning and made us feel like part of the family."
Information from: York Daily Record, http://www.ydr.com