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The road for the Rev. Marcelino Morales has been marked by what he attributes to divine intervention.
One example is evident at what became the permanent home at 117 N. Mulberry St. for his church, Iglesia la Viña, the only Hispanic-owned Spanish service church in Hardin County.
“The Lord actually had this place waiting on us,” said Morales, a native of Puerto Rico.
Even before Morales and his wife, the Rev. Christella Morales, knew anything about the Mulberry Street property, they had a sign with a logo made for their church, which was in its second location. The sign maker suggested different shapes for the sign — triangular, for instance, to represent the holy trinity.
But Morales didn’t feel the shape was right until they decided on a circular sign.
At the time, Iglesia la Viña was renting space at their second location but decided to look for a permanent place.
Morales and his wife were looking at a different property when the real estate agent told them about the Mulberry Street property, a church that was established in the 1800s. They did a walk-through on Saturday and made an offer on Sunday.
Above the front door was a recessed circular space.
“That logo fit exactly,” Morales said, noting his congregation prayed for their own building.
Before moving to Kentucky in 2003, Morales was a recruiter for the U.S. Army and lived in Florida, where Christella worked a jail ministry.
Morales recalled having to buy a karaoke machine with a microphone for his wife to use because she was so soft spoken. She was ordained in 2002, five years before he was, he said.
When he transferred to Kentucky to work at U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, he did so alone while his wife finished up her doctorate degree in Florida.
They both moved to Elizabethtown on Jan. 1, 2005.
After attending church in Louisville for a couple years and later becoming associate pastor at another Louisville church, Morales planned to retire in 2009 and move to Panama.
During his time in the military, Morales served in Iraq for a destroy mission and, just before he retired, he volunteered for a rebuild mission in Iraq. He said it felt like closure.
But before he could move to Panama, he said, he felt called to start his own church.
It so happened he mentioned starting his own church to his barber. That barber attended Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Elizabethtown and told Morales he should talk to the pastor.
That led to Iglesia la Viña sharing space with Vineyard. Later, Morales’ church moved to a second location, where it stayed until 2012.
July marks the one-year anniversary of the purchase of the Mulberry Street church, where he and his wife — who he calls his rock — are co-pastors.
“He’s a man of God,” Christella said. “He loves his family.”
Describing him as humble, Christella noted he joined the Army to support his mother and sister when his father abandoned the family.
“He loves to give (of) himself as much as he can,” she said.
Now working for MTCI - Training and Consulting Company, in a role in which he works with the National Guard Bureau at Fort Knox, Morales also is working to build his congregation.
To that end, he has incorporated Radio Luz, a Christian radio programming broadcast from the church.
“We do our services live,” he said, explaining it is a way to reach out to more people.
And reaching out is important, Morales said.
“Thousands and thousands of churches close every day,” he said.
Ultimately, Morales wants to welcome everybody to his church and shed the image of being a Hispanic-only congregation. Though current congregation members might come from Cuba, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico or Puerto Rico, the Spanish services are translated to English.
“We’re all in the same place praying to the same Lord,” he said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.