Paul Casola, the former pastor of the Passion Community Baptist Church in Covington recently launched a new church in Conyers.
Given the horrific events Casola has endured, he could not be faulted for losing faith.
In May 2006, Lanny Barnes repeatedly ran over five victims with his car while in a McDonald's parking lot on U.S. Highway 278. Paul Casola's wife and two sons were three of the five victims.
Barnes was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of Casola's niece, 2-year-old at the time Avery Nicole King and died in prison in 2009 from leukemia.
After the accident, Casola stepped down to focus on rehabilitating his family and resigned from the ministry in 2008 with no plans to return.
But on May 6, Northminster Baptist Church, located off of West Hightower Trail in Conyers, opened its doors for the inaugural service with Pastor Casola officiating.
Church member Amanda Wilson was tasked to getting the word out about the opening of the new church.
"Knowing in all of our hearts that it was time for a change, we decided to re-vamp our church home," Wilson said. "And that is exactly what we are doing. Giving people a safe place to worship and find God's love."
Though Wilson was excited for the opening, the days leading up to the May 6 launch proved to be very stressful.
"Everything that could possibly go wrong did. None of the flyers went out on time. Flyers sent via email could not be opened. It was hectic. Hectic and stressful," Wilson said.
Despite all the mishaps and stress, Wilson was so surprised at the turnout of the launch of the new church when approximately 60 people came for the inaugural service and stayed for the pot-luck lunch afterwards.
"It did turn out better than expected. I have never experienced anything like this. It was an amazing feeling to be wrong," Wilson said.
Wilson met Casola through a New Depot Player's play last year where they both had acting roles.
"Paul got me to the church but it was everything else about the church that got me to stay," Wilson said. "The people there are so amazing and I have made some life-long friends."
As for Casola, he said he has always been involved in theater as well as being involved in ministry for 20 years.
"The commonality between acting and ministry involves creative communication in both," Casola said.
Casola's new church uses The Bridge as an integral part of its ministry - both as a metaphor and symbolism.
"Basically with my experience being in and around the church ministry, the church can be a place that's not safe to be yourself I feel like," Casola said. "In a religious environment, sometimes you're made to feel like you're not OK. Like there's something wrong with you and we want to create an environment where it's OK to be yourself. We want a place where people can be loved and accepted as they are."
Casola's hopes for the church are building bridges for people to come - a safe place for people as well as a place for healing.
As for his feelings on the tragic accident that occurred, Casola said that he had personally forgiven Barnes before Barnes' death.
"I am still sad that Avery was taken from us. But any anger I had toward him or his mother, I let go a long time ago," Casola said in a 2009 statement.
For more information, visit the church page at safebridge.org or call (770) 922-5433.