Some 23 Years After Takeover, Rialto’s Sunrise Shuts Wrightwood Baptist Church

The Baptist congregation in Wrightwood has made what appears to be a complete break with Sunrise Church, Inc., the Baptist offshoot that absorbed it in 1996.
It now appears that the faithful in Wrightwood will need to find a new venue somewhere in Wrightwood at which the assemblage can continue to worship.
By 1995 the Wrightwood Baptist Church had fallen on hard economic times, and was unable to consistently satisfy the financial demands facing it. At that point the Sunrise Church based in Rialto swooped in, offering to be of assistance.
Certainly initially there was a degree of affinity between Sunrise and the Wrightwood Baptist Church.
The Sunrise Church was founded in the Rialto area in 1956 as the Rialto Community Baptist Church, one that was affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. After a small gathering of Baptists discussed the prospect of setting up a church in the area, the church held its first modest service, with 27 in attendance, at the home of founding Pastor Wayne Frase on September 9, 1956, with 27 people attending. The church was organized officially under the name of Rialto Community Baptist Church on January 27, 1957, with 21 charter members. Frase led the flock for thirteen years, whereupon he was replaced by Pastor Raeburn Woodson, who remained in that capacity until his December 1987 retirement. In January 1989, Reverend Jay Pankratz became senior pastor.
In March, 1995, the church, while remaining oriented basically along the lines of the Southern Baptists, reinvented itself as being nondenominational, adopting the name Sunrise Church, taken from Luke 1:78-79: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the sunrise will come to us from Heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
It was the next year that Pankratz and Sunrise, learning of how events were about to overtake the Wrightwood Baptist Church, came in to save the day. Given the Sunrise Church’s Baptist roots, the Wrightwood assembly, gladly accepted the hand up, and the church grounds were retrieved from what seemed to be certain foreclosure.
By coming under the guardianship of the Sunrise Church, the Wrightwood church was able to keep its doors open and its followers intact. Initially, this entailed only a minor loss of autonomy and little in terms of doctrinal compromise. Over the years, the Sunrise Church grew more and more independent of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some, though not all, of the reforms that took place in the Sunrise Church, which came to include another parish in south Rialto, one in Ontario, one in Victorville and another in Banning, were applied to the Wrightwood Baptist Church. There was an understanding, at least initially, that the Wrightwood church would endeavor to get back on its legs financially, and after doing so it would recompense Sunrise for its assistance and then return to being its own entity once more. That took far more time than was initially anticipated, and with the departure of Pankratz, the understanding that had been in place for more than a decade eroded as the institutional memory he represented was lost. In recent years, Sunrise Church, Inc. had become more and more insistent on its doctrine being propounded during worship sessions and services, including the form of the services, the sermons and Sunday school lessons. The leadership of Sunrise had come to assume that the Wrightwood Church was to become, indeed had become, a Sunrise congregation, with virtually all of any differences or disputes between the elements of worship in which there were marked differences distinguishing the Sunrise approach and traditional Baptist observances being resolved in favor of the Sunrise Church. This occurred despite the vast majority of those attending the Wrightwood Church identifying themselves as Baptists.  As Sunrise became increasing rigid, strict, dogmatic and dictatorial in straitjacketing the mountain community into accepting the manner in which the church was to be run, including the music and hymns used during services and even the configuration and arrangement of chairs during worship, the two pastors in Wrightwood, Todd Marcy and Wayne Robbins, importuned Sunrise to allow the services to be held more in accordance with the Baptist tradition. They were met with refusals. When the church members in Wrightwood sought to assert at last independence and initiate the buyback of the church, Sunrise declined.
Things reached a turning point late this summer when Pastor Wayne Robbins sojourned on September 10 to a meeting at Sunrise Church in Rialto. At that point he was given an ultimatum: resign. Without the power of holding title to the Wrightwood Church, Robbins had no other alternative.
On Sunday, September 15, Sunrise Rialto Pastor Jeff Gonzalez was present to conduct that morning’s service at the Wrightwood church, without Robbins or Marcy participating. Things grew tense as the congregants questioned Gonzalez, who informed the multitude that Robbins had tendered his resignation. When church members later asked Robbins if that was accurate, he insisted his resignation had not been voluntarily made. Ultimately Pastor Marcy also left, having been forced out. On September 18 Gonzalez and another Sunrise pastor were at the Wrightwood church, at which point the church members were informed that the house of worship was being shuttered forthwith and that the Bible study group that met there would have to make other arrangements. Three days later, the gates and doors to the church were locked, and new locks were installed throughout. On September 28, church members were given three-and-a-half hours to retrieve food for the food bank, and to take out any personal property.
Pastor Robins has carried on, conducting what are yet well attended services at Swarthout Creek, across from the church. The new worshiping venue is known as Christ’s Church of the Canyon. Meanwhile, the congregation is casting about to find another building into which a shelter from the world can be inlaid.
Luke 12:27 reads: “Consider the lilies of the field: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Repeated efforts by the Sentinel to reach Gonzalez, including messages left at the church in Rialto, did not elicit a response.

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