Pastor leads 2 churches, belongs to 2 Baptist denominations
The Rev. Gregory Coates and his wife, Alisha, hope to move Of the Way Bible Church, a Southern Baptist mission church, into the old Hooper Road Baptist Church building sometime next year.
When leaders of the Fourth District Missionary Baptist Association wanted to work with Southern Baptists to offer seminary classes locally, they turned to the Rev. Gregory Levi Coates.
Coates, 41, is a member of both denominations and pastor of two churches, one predominantly African-American and the other racially mixed.
As a member of both the African-American Fourth District and the predominantly white Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, Coates was the ideal facilitator, leaders of the denominations said.
Coates' introductions led to a historic agreement last summer between the two groups. The Fourth District is now holding classes in one of its churches, taught by its pastors and accredited by the Southern Baptists' New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
"We have an opportunity here in Baton Rouge to set a precedent -- to be a model -- for the rest of the nation," Coates said. "Imagine if we actually got to the point where we do things not as black Baptists and as white Baptists, but as Baptists, as believers!"
The Rev. Charles T. Smith, senior pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, was one of the leaders who, at the behest of the Rev. Leo D. Cyrus Sr., then-president of the Fourth District, suggested Coates work with the Southern Baptists.
Smith has known Coates since Coates was a small boy.
"Greg is, first of all, a very talented young preacher," Smith said. "He has always had that outgoing kind of personality and has never confined himself to the African-American church community."
For the past 14 years, Coates has pastored the historic, 300-member St. John Baptist Church in Dorseyville. The congregation recently celebrated its 142nd anniversary.
Coates' other church is a small Southern Baptist congregation. Of The Way Bible Church meets in Building D at Zoar Baptist Church in Central, but plans to eventually move a few miles down the road into the now-empty Hooper Road Baptist Church building.
Hooper Road Baptist was established in 1957 and the main sanctuary building, at 8767 Governor Claiborne Drive, was finished in 1958. An educational wing was added in 1961, according to church records provided by the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, bringing the total size to nearly 7,000 square feet.
The church slowly grew during the decades to about 100 members, said longtime deacon F. Harold Fussell, but the congregation declined in the late 1990s.
It eventually dwindled so much the handful or so of remaining members could no longer pay a pastor or even make badly needed improvements.