Calvary Baptist has served South Providence for over 150 years. In 1902, the church opened its doors to the community at a time of severe coal shortage. Their service continues: walk into the church any Sunday and you will hear voices singing and praying, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish; the services are joyful and loud and often go on longer than the scheduled hour. The church’s Late Gothic Revival-style building welcomes an extremely diverse congregation, with members from Ghana, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Laos, and Liberia attending the English language services, while the Latinos have their own. Sometimes they combine in worship.
Already in the early 1970s there were two Hispanic Pentecostal congregations in Providence, and the American Baptists were anxious to not be left out. An energetic Cuban Baptist, the Rev. Pedro Ortiz, scouted the area and found a welcoming home at Calvary Baptist Church, which opened its doors to Spanish-speaking congregants in 1974. Rev. J. Francisco Litardo, from Ecuador, became the full-time pastor of Iglesia Hispana “El Calvario” in March 1974, though the United Methodist Church paid part of his salary. A second Latino Baptist church opened in Pawtucket in 1977. Now there are dozens.
The Rev. Litardo recalled "When I was here sometimes we were 200, 250, sometimes 150, 180, because people are coming and leaving, especially in Rhode Island because it's small…"
Litardo's congregation included Guatemalans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, and he tried to bring them all together in one family by instilling a strong sense of Latino culture and organizing dynamic and exciting services.
Just as home-town newspapers and familiar food helped the new immigrants feel at home in Rhode Island, so did Spanish language services of worship help them to feel spiritually at home.
The Rev. Juan Francisco Jr. of the Iglesia Puerta de Refugio, or Door of Refuge Church, on Valley Street in Providence, sees Hispanic churches as serving two important goals; “they are a point of assimilation and of keeping identity."