When the Rev. John Engel came to Salt Lake City three months ago to begin a Baptist ministry, he was coming home, he said, even though his roots are in Idaho and Nevada.
The Rev. Engel, who began his Liberty Baptist Church ministry Jan. 15 with services at the South Salt Lake City Hall auditorium, left the western United States after graduating from Reno High School. He has spent most of the rest of his life in the Midwest and East.The Rev Engel, 43, and his wife, Susan, have two sons and three daughters, aged 5 to 13, and have purchased a large, comfortable 12-room home near 24th South and Fifth East. The home has belonged to a long line of religious leaders and was owned by Brigham Young and a succession of LDS Church leaders, including Parley P. Pratt.
"I bought the home sight unseen through a newspaper classified advertisement. My family is very happy with it. We are renovating the home, and we will use it as our church office. Our office number and Bible Hotline, open from 5 to 10 p.m., is 485-4255."
Most of the 25 to 30 members of Engel's congregation are from the Heritage Baptist Church, 15 N. Ninth West. Engel said he was asked to come to Utah by pastor John Boggs of Heritage Church. "My church is a new mission church of the Heritage Church," he explained.
"People who live in the South Salt Lake and Sugar House area who used to attend the Heritage Church will probably find it easier to go to the Liberty Baptist Church."
Engel said he believes many Baptists and others who live near his home and church have been inactive churchgoers in the past for one reason or another and, he said, "I hope they will come to my church and feel welcome."
Sunday services include a Bible study class at 10 a.m., and Engel preaches at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
"Eventually, I hope our congregation will grow and we can find a building in this area. Coming from the East, I find real estate prices, including homes and business property, especially low."
He said he believes Utah has a great future "once people on the East and West coasts discover how inexpensive the cost of real estate here is, compared with their own costs. A home here would sell for twice or three times as much in the East or in California," he said.
"The lifestyle in Utah is great, too. The wide open spaces and the relatively small population compared to the crowded East or Los Angeles, for instance, is a boon."
Engel grew up in Hagerman, Idaho, between Twin Falls and Boise and moved to Reno when he was 15. After high school, he spent four years in the Air Force as a medic stationed at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
Afterward, he went to Baptist Bible College, Springfield, Mo., graduated in 1971 and was assistant minister at the Bible Baptist Church in Mountain Home, Idaho, for two years. He went to Spokane, Wash., for three years and ran a fleet of 18 buses for the Baptist Temple there, bringing 1,200 youths to Sunday school each week and to other church activities.
In 1978, Engel went to Buffalo, N.Y., where he became minister of Light House Baptist Church, starting with a congregation of 20 and building it to more than 500 in about nine years.
He went to North Carolina in 1987 to become minister of the Bible Baptist Church on the beach near Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers developed their airplane, and when he was called to Utah late last year, he said, "I felt like it was a chance to get back to the West where I grew up and where I feel at home."
During his ministry in Buffalo, N.Y., Engel attended the Baptist Bible College in Ontario, Canada, and earned his doctorate of divinity in 1986.
Engel calls his church in South Salt Lake an independent Baptist church that is not affiliated particularly with any larger or national Baptist organization.
"I believe in the autonomy of the local church; one that is locally owned and operated," he said.
He explained that he believes man goes to heaven not by works but by the atonement of Jesus Christ. "Everyone who accepts Jesus as his personal Savior will go to heaven, no matter what their prior experiences or their earlier religious affiliation.
"I believe if you love others, they will reciprocate. I think if you expect good from others, you will get good - and vice versa. A lot of preconceived ideas and feelings that are negative produce negative results.
"A smile begets a smile," he said.