Iglesia Emmanuel’s Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner

By Contributor Cole Rosengren

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Pastor Johnny Mercado used his special recipe to cook the turkey for Iglesia Emmanuel’s fourth annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner, but didn’t have a chance to eat any of it. He was too busy preparing for one of the most important sermons of his career.

“I’m really excited because today’s a new beginning for our church,” Mercado said.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Mercado held the first official service in his congregation’s new home. Iglesia Emmanuel recently moved into Bright Temple A.M.E. Church after outgrowing its small storefront space on Hunts Point Avenue around the corner. The two congregations — one Dominican Pentecostal, the other African Methodist Episcopal — will save money by sharing the building.

Bright Temple’s Reverend Kahli Mootoo was out of town, but a few members from his church were on hand to welcome more than 80 people upstairs to the newly redecorated Catherine Hicks Hall.

Mercado’s congregation had been setting up for the celebration all week. Annette Mercado, the pastor’s wife, hung custom-sewn red curtains, put up paper light sconces and set the tables with leaf-shaped cutouts.

“Couldn’t have asked for no better,” said Robert “Pops” Jenkins, a longtime Bright Temple member.

Little kids ran between tables, teenagers in button-down shirts passed out drinks and a group of women from Emmanuel served heaping portions of food at the buffet. Light saxophone music played in the background.

“It’s always a good vibe here,” said Leo Brito, a friend of the Mercado family who was waiting in line for a plate.

emmanuelthanksgiving2In addition to Mercado’s special bird, guests had their choice of a second turkey, chicken wings, rice and beans, macaroni and cheese, potato salad and more. A parade of desserts — pumpkin flan, tres leches cake, bread pudding and rice pudding — were brought out later to stretch stomachs even further.

A little boy gnawed on a turkey drumstick long after most people had finished cleaning up.

Downstairs, a printed banner with the message, “Iglesia/Church Emmanuel: A place to worship, a place to gather, a place to get closer to God,” hung on the sanctuary’s front wall. Mercado’s daughter Linda led the church band in upbeat songs, such as “Happy Day,” that got everyone on their feet.

By the time Mercado took the microphone, with wife Annette translating into Spanish, the crowd was swaying and waving their arms.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Mercado’s sermon focused on being grateful during tough times and always staying connected to God.

Mercado told his congregation to not get too comfortable. Within a few years, he said he plans to outgrow this space and move into his own, bigger church.

“In the work of the Lord, we gotta keep on walking and moving,” Mercado said. “You wanna get closer to God, this is the place.”

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