Main Street becomes a haven for city’s churches

Main Street becomes a haven for city’s churches

David Clementino Soares and his wife, Juliani Clementino, pictured with their son, Logan, are the pastors of Assembly of God, a new church opening on Main Street. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – The first time David Clementino Soares and his wife, Juliani, were approached by another family for help, they did what they could to find food, housing and connect them with work in the community.

Soon, word spread to other families, and the Clementinos found themselves at the center of a small community of predominantly Brazilian immigrants relying on each other for support as they settled into a new life.

On Monday, the couple, who live in Milford, Mass., took the next step in formalizing their community into a new church, appearing before the Zoning Board for a special use permit. With the Zoning Board’s blessing, Assembly of God will begin holding regular services at 128 Main St. within the next few weeks.

“We’re going to try helping people, helping families,” said David.

The church is the latest in a trend of small worship spaces filling vacant commercial units in downtown Woonsocket. Though the city has seen success bringing new businesses to either end of Main Street, many of the storefronts at its center remain stubbornly vacant, opening up space for alternate uses from the banks and shops that once brought customers downtown.

Other churches along a stretch of Main Street from Market Square to Monument Square include the First Baptist Church of Woonsocket at 55 Main St., Church of Faith at 154 Main St. and La Primera Iglesia de Dios Inc. at 2 Monument Square.

Former commercial buildings have also been repurposed for worship space in other parts of the city, including the former Mark Stevens Outlet on Diamond Hill Road that’s currently under renovation by Waters Church.

The trend occasionally draws concerns about the compatibility of worship spaces with future development goals. On Monday, board member Dennis Losardo asked whether a state law prohibiting businesses from obtaining a liquor license within 200 feet of a worship space will prevent organizations from holding events around the new church.

“When you have these Main Street block parties and such, will it interfere?” he asked.

Zoning Official Carl Johnson explained that an exemption exists between Market Square and Monument Square, allowing businesses to obtain a liquor license or host events at close range to their religious neighbors.

The city’s zoning ordinance, he said, also includes an exemption for parking requirements within the Downtown Overlay District.

According to the Clementinos, Woonsocket is the perfect place to open their new church. The city, they said, is home to a growing population of Brazilian families, many of whom struggle with disabilities or unemployment. Some of them arrive in the country speaking only Portuguese, making basic tasks like enrolling their children in school a challenge

“Some people are living here for three or four months and their kids are not in school,” said Juliani.

Along with holding services on Wednesdays and Sundays, the couple, who will serve as pastors, plan to assist families with basic needs like food, clothing, mattresses and school supplies. Currently, they meet with individual families in their homes, helping with translation and other needs on a volunteer basis.

Though the new space will be their first formal location, the couple is no stranger to religious work. Both have served as pastors, and Juliani’s father is also a pastor. They immigrated to the United States from Brazil separately more than a decade ago, making them well placed to help new arrivals.

“It’s going to be good for the city,” said David.

Juliani said she hopes the church continues to grow and will soon outgrow their new space on Main Street.

The former Kresge’s department store at 128 Main St. will be home to Assembly of God, the latest in a series of small churches moving into the city’s Main Street.