SENECA FALLS — At the property closing, Raul Fuentes forgot the token dollar, but no worries.

The historic Wesleyan Church on Fall Street still was officially transferred from the Women’s Interfaith Institute of the Finger Lakes to the Delivering Word Church of God’s Manifesting Power of Geneva for $1.

Allison Stokes of the Women’s Interfaith Institute and Fuentes, pastor of Delivering Word and owner of the Creator’s Touch barbershops in Geneva and Seneca Falls, met Tuesday with a lawyer to facilitate the changing of hands of the 1871 church, which was built by the Methodist congregation that hosted the first women’s rights convention in 1848 at its chapel just a few doors down.

The Women’s Interfaith Institute purchased the Wesleyan Church in 2003 (see history box) and had hoped to convert the structure into a gathering place for female members of different faiths to discuss and work on ways to better the world. But a 2009 fire heavily damaged the building, stalling the group’s momentum.

More recently the Seneca Falls Performing Arts Center had been interested in the church as a site for arts productions, but last fall purchased the old House of Concern on State Street instead.

How a Geneva church came to be the building’s newest owner is a story of serendipitous connections, or as Fuentes might argue, divine intervention.

The owner of the Creator’s Touch barbershop at the corner of Exchange and Castle streets in Geneva had long wanted to add a Seneca Falls business location. He says his Geneva shop attracts customers from this community, as well as those from Waterloo, Wayne County and beyond.

“Seneca Falls, it’s more like a base area,” Fuentes said about why he chose to open an annex barbershop here. “I like its historic small-town feel. It’s very vibrant.”

Last fall he rented space in the Elements Salon building (the former Mynderse Library), but when a separate storefront became available on Water Street through a friend, Fuentes jumped at the opportunity for his own space. His hope is to eventually have eight barbers operating at that location.

He was at his Seneca Falls shop one day in January, having finished a customer’s haircut and readying him for a shave, when a friend excitedly ran in and told Fuentes, “You gotta come right now; they’re selling this church around the corner.”

That friend is a NYSEG employee who was at the Wesleyan Church with Stokes doing a meter reading when he learned about the institute’s longtime desire to unload the building for free.

Fuentes said he left his customer in the barbershop chair while he went to meet Stokes and take a quick look at the church.

“The moment I started touring, the Lord says this is what’s going to happen,” said Fuentes.”Everything was flowing.”

He and Stokes exchanged phone numbers and Fuentes said he shared news about the church building with his congregation, which including children, numbers about 200. He and his wife, Mary, had a vision of using the Fall Street church as an outreach center to help the needy.

“The Lord gave me instructions on what to do with it,” said Fuentes, who met with Stokes again to lay eyes on the building a second time and solidify his interest — which resulted in the building’s transfer earlier this week.

Stokes said responsibility for the building has been weighing heavily on her and Treasurer Kathy Keller for awhile, and they are relieved Delivering Word is its new owner. She noted when some of the building’s bricks fell onto the street in 2019 the Institute had to take out liability insurance, yet another expense.

Still, she’s proud the Institute preserved the building until a congregation, especially a diverse one, decided to make it its home.

“It’s exactly what the Institute stands for,” Stokes said. “Kathy and I couldn’t be happier about this.”

Big plans

Since 2017 Delivering Word has been meeting in space provided by Faith Community Church on Lewis Street in Geneva and has been planning to build a 6,000-square-foot worship space on Idlewood Drive. Assuming ownership of the Seneca Falls church will not alter those plans, said Fuentes, who is hopeful ground can be broken on the planned pole barn-type building soon and the church can move in by the end of the year.

Fuentes envisions the Wesleyan Church building as a satellite to Delivering Word, a multi-use building where the less fortunate can receive food and clothing and be connected to helpful programs. He sees religious services being held there eventually in the downstairs sanctuary, but also perhaps a music school and the outreach center upstairs.

The building sits on a 50-by-100-foot lot and the property is assessed at $120,000. But the church is in poor condition, with charred beams from the fire still visible, caked pigeon droppings on the floor and several broken stained glass windows. But Fuentes, who met with his architect there Wednesday, seems undaunted by that reality. Instead, he is bolstered by the fact he has support within his congregation and a clear vision.

“The brothers in my church, they’re like remodeling minions,” he said, noting they have done much work at Delivering Word’s original location at 5 Genesee Park Place and their current quarters at Faith Community, including the installation of sidewalks and repainting the sanctuary.

“I’m looking to bring that [Wesleyan] church right back to its original state,” he said. He is not in a rush and is comforted by his firm belief that he is not in control. “God’s time is always the best time.”

Fuentes’ path to success is a story of endurance. He writes on his church website of being born in Puerto Rico with myriad health problems and growing up in inner-city Rochester, “deceived that the streets showed more love than home.” A high school dropout who dealt drugs, at age 22 Fuentes was charged with murder. He was acquitted of the charge by a judge who ruled he acted in self defense. Around this time, Fuentes dedicated his life to the Lord and has not looked back.

He formed the Delivering Word Church in 2012 (under the Church of God’s Reveal Truth) and branched out on his own in 2017. In addition to religious services Fuentes said his church offers men’s and women’s spiritual teaching groups, outings, a young adult club, marriage classes and financial counseling.

“We do a little bit of everything,” he said.

Many congregants, when they joined, lacked a job or a car, Fuentes said. But when “the Lord started dealing with their minds” they encountered growth in many areas of their lives.

“The Lord brought us to where we can be helpers. It’s time for us to give back,” he said, and assuming ownership of the Wesleyan Church building provides a place to do just that.

“We humbly come to help.”

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