A hush fell over the more than 2,000 parishioners at First Baptist Church of Glenarden as Nick Vujicic was lifted onto a table to preach during a recent 8 a.m. service.
The 29-year-old evangelist, based in California, was born without arms or legs because of a rare affliction called tetra-amelia syndrome.
“It was difficult as a child getting teased and bullied, feeling like I was the only one in pain,” Vujicic said, sharing a message about perseverance in the face of severe obstacles. “By the grace of God, I have a lot of people praying for me, loving me and caring for me.”
High-profile religious leaders such Vujicic often visit First Baptist of Glenarden to take part in events aimed at ministering to the congregation’s emotional and physical, as well as spiritual, needs.
During a midweek service, for example, minister and author Serita Jakes, stopped by to discuss her new novel, “The Crossing,” and to participate in a forum with the church’s first lady, Trina Jenkins.
The forum dealt with “post-traumatic stress,” a problem that many churches are failing to adequately address, the panelists said.
“In the church arena, we have been concentrating so much on the soul until we have not dealt enough with the inner man,” said Jakes, whose husband, Bishop T.D. Jakes, is pastor of a prominent Dallas megachurch. “After sitting across the table from moms with their children, young women who have been raped and people who have gone through traumatic experiences, I realized that the subject matter has been creeping into our churches and into our choir stands.”
Pastor John K. Jenkins said he doesn’t mind relinquishing his pulpit at First Baptist.
“The kingdom of God is so diverse, so many, so broad, that we want to give exposure to as many people as possible and to a variety of things that God is doing,” he said. “We want people to know that everybody has a place in God’s kingdom.”
First Baptist Church of Glenarden, one of most influential congregations in Prince George’s County, has grown from about 500 members in 1989, when Jenkins became pastor, to more than 10,000 today. The church built a 4,000-seat sanctuary — called the Worship Center — at 600 Watkins Park Dr. in Upper Marlboro four years ago.
The Worship Center has about 205,000 square feet, including the sanctuary and several rooms where the overflow crowd can watch services on large-screen televisions and where the church’s more than 100 ministries can operate.
The Health Ministry, for example, has a “nurse’s center,” with beds separated by curtains, similar to a hospital emergency room. It is staffed by nurses and other health professionals who are on hand to care for churchgoers in medical emergencies.
The audio-visual room, equipped with robotic cameras, is of professional quality, said Iris Skinner, director of public relations and marketing for the church. In another sound-proof room, members of the Spanish Ministry translate services for non-English-speaking members and guests, who are seated in the sanctuary with headphones.
The sanctuary and overflow rooms fill quickly for Sunday services, at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 6:30 p.m. As soon as one service lets out, a steady stream of people file into the cavernous sanctuary for the next. About 10,000 people attend services each week, Skinner said, and 5,000 more tune in over the Internet.
The old sanctuary, at 3600 Brightseat Rd., provides 100,000 square feet for day-to-day operations and for the Sunday services of Merge 2011, a new joint youth ministry with Zion Church of Landover. More than 2,000 youths and young adults also meet there on the first and third Fridays of the month for services that include spiritual hip-hop bands and dramatic productions.
“When it all boils down to it, we are disciplining our young people and teaching them how to live their lives,” Jenkins said.
First Baptist has 107 ministries organized under seven departments: Children and Youth, Communications, Education and Training, Family Life, Helps, Missions, and Music and Arts. Helps functions, for example, include writing to prisoners and providing transportation to and from services. Education programs include Bible study courses, as well as classes and seminars on financial freedom and foreign languages.
Often, the speakers are of national or international renown.
, for instance, a native of Melbourne, Australia, is in high demand as an inspirational speaker. He told the First Baptist crowd that he wanted to die by the age of 10 because so many children in his school picked on him. But he said he realized that God had a plan for him when he read a Bible story about a blind man: “I said, ‘God, if you plan for a blind man, you got to have a plan for me,’ ” he recalled.
Now, Vujicic is the author of several books, including “Life Without Limbs.” He has spoken to millions of people in 42 countries across five continents.
“I used to focus on arms and legs, but I realized that I need forgiveness,” he said. “I need peace. I need purpose, even more than arms and legs.”
Locations: Worship Center, 600 Watkins Park Dr., Upper Marlboro; Ministry Center, 3600 Brightseat Rd., Landover.
Sunday worship services: 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 6:30 p.m.; praise and worship begin 15 minutes before each service.
Shuttle from New Carrollton Metro: for Sunday worship services, 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.; for Tuesday Bible study, 6:30 p.m. Pickup on the Ardwick Ardmore Road side of the Metro station; drop-off immediately after each service.
Pastor: John K. Jenkins