It’s quite a change for the congregation that gathers each Sunday in the large, red-brick building near Bells Ferry Park.
Born in South Africa where members of his family have lived since the 1700s, Pastor Adrian Coetzer moved to Georgia in 2006 to marry his wife, Jennifer.
Neither Adrian nor Jennifer Coetzer said they could have foreseen what God had planned for their service to the Marietta community.
“We just try to be stewards of what God is giving us and trusting us with,” said Adrian, 29.
Adrian’s parents have been in the ministry his whole life, including his young childhood when they lived on the Comoros, a small group of volcanic islands off the east coast of Africa.
The islanders were very poor without access to many resources or agricultural land and relied on large shipments to their community, Adrian said.
Adrian said when his family moved to Madagascar, they would venture into remote villages by driving until the road ended, canoeing until the river ended and walking into the jungle.
“I always joke that in Madagascar, there is a wet season and a rainy season,” Adrian said.
Adrian said he wants to encourage his congregation to reach out to people “they don’t know or don’t understand.”
The year before he became the head pastor, Elizabeth Baptist Church sent three missionaries on short trips, Adrian said. This past year, the church sent 32 missionaries, mostly youth, to Vermont, Canada and Ghana.
Falling in love in Paris
Adrian attended high school in South Africa before moving to France, where his parents still pastor a church, to attend the University of Paris.
In 2006, Jennifer met her future husband when she traveled to Paris for a four-week children’s outreach mission.
Their first date was at the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille on July14, 1789.
“I probably set the bar too high there,” Adrian said.
But then he topped that romantic night by coming to visit Jennifer in Georgia for Christmas a few months later and proposing.
The couple decided to settle in Georgia to be close to Jennifer’s family.
Jennifer said her family has been in the area for seven generations.
“So I’m about as native as they come,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer added that her grandfather was raised and baptized at Elizabeth Baptist Church and is related to several families who still attend.
“It was definitely God who brought us here,” Jennifer said.
Stepping up to the pulpit
After two years of being unemployed when he first moved to Marietta, Adrian went to seminary school at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in east Cobb and studied under Steve Echols who had been the pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church since 2006.
When Echols left the church to become president of Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Adrian moved into the position after being a part-time youth and education pastor at the church.
Adrian said the offer seemed too good to be true.
The couple’s first son, Sutton, who is now 3 years old, was born during Adrian’s first week as head pastor. They had a second son, Jacob, nine months ago.
Adrian said Elizabeth Baptist Church is a well-established church that has existed in Marietta for 93 years and helped to grow the community around it. But the area is changing.
“There is a need for renewal…to reach out to the younger generation,” Adrian said.
This past winter, Adrian said 20 to 30 regular parishioners died, so it is vital that more young families become part of the congregation to keep the church going and growing.
Adrian said it is important to respect the traditions of Elizabeth Baptist Church and its history, which includes the original location off Cobb Parkway near the Canton Road, which is now The Elizabeth Inn, an emergency homeless shelter.
Adrian said his long-term goal as pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church is to teach the Bible to his congregation and help them to grow in their faith.
The couple says a church service should be relatable to appeal to everyone.
“What this area needs is not church people, but followers who are real,” Adrian said.