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James Newsom, director of the Acadian Baptist Center, stands in front of the new worship center completed in May. The center in Richard has been emptied of campers due to the coronavirus. (Photos by Harlan Kirgan)

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Inside the new worship center at Acadian Baptist Center.

COVID-19 batters Acadian Baptist Center

There was reason for celebration at the Acadian Baptist Center where a new worship center was completed in May, but then coronavirus pandemic hit.
James Newsom, center director, describes it as the “best of worlds and the worst of worlds.”
In April 2019, there was ground breaking event for the new worship center with hopes it would take the pressure off crowded conditions at the center that usually is filled by campers all summer.
“Attendance had been great until the pandemic,” Newsom said. “We had over 4,000 kids come to camp last summer, which was a record.”
Then the pandemic hit.
“Our groups started cancelling because you couldn’t meet together. I thought it would end in March. I thought it would end in April, in May,” he said.
“We ended up losing the whole summer. We didn’t have any kids come to camp this summer,” he said.
“We get about 80% our of budget from camps and retreats and the rest from donations from churches and individuals,” Newsom said.
“It is kind of a weird time. We just built a new worship center. Our attendance had been so good,” he said.
Space was tight on the center, so a capital campaign was launched to build the worship center that seats about 1,000 people.
“We raised a million and a half in cash and pledges and we started a little over a year ago. We finished the worship center in May just in time for summer camp. We finished it, but it wasn’t used until this past weekend,” he said.
Terry Hoychick, of Eunice, led a men’s ecumenical retreat in the new center.
“That was a blessing,” Newsom said.
But the reality is the center has to make up ground lost to the virus.
“We’ve had to layoff most of the staff and take pay cuts to help us get through the pandemic,” he said.
The hope is the pandemic will slow down and allow retreats to take place in the fall.
The new worship center cost about $3 million and the center owes about $1.6 million, he said.
Newsom said this is the first summer since the center started in 1975 that camps weren’t held.
The virus even hit home for Newsom. He thinks his wife, who is nurse practitioner at Opelousas General Hospital, was one of the first people in St. Landry Parish to get the virus.
Newsome wasn’t spared. About a month ago he donated blood and discovered he must have had a mild case at some point.
Other camps across the nation have experienced the same downturn with some being forced to close and even being sold, he said.
Acadian Baptist Center campus is on La. 370. The center has about 500 rooms in three renovated dorms, 32 hotel-like rooms and four cabins. The Baptist Center has a swimming pool, tennis courts, 18-hole disc course and group meeting spaces.
The Center began as the Acadian Baptist Academy in 1917. In 1973, the Academy closed and the site reopened in 1975 as a camp and retreat.

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