Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Multiplying Loaves

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Multiplying Loaves

Article excerpt

A small congregation in Kentucky demonstrates how your church may have more money-and power-than you think.

"WE DON'T WORK toward justice; we bring about justice through sys¬temic change," says Rev. Cindy Weber, with a fierce and loving smile, when asked how her congregation, JeffStreet Baptist Community at Liberty, seeks justice through reaching out to the community. There is no pride or bravado in her statement, but a firmness that comes from more than 20 years of pastoring a small, community church that actively helps bring about Gods peace on earth.

JeffStreet, located in Louisville, Ky, has an active membership of approximately 100 people-a David-sized congregation compared to many mainline or mega-churches. However, the creativity, dedication, and passion of the church's members, manifested in hospitality pro¬grams for and with the homeless, have made a giant-sized impact on local economic justice issues. And the congregation didn't stop there; as part of a coalition of area churches, Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together (CLOUT), the church has made an impression with pol¬icy work and community organizing on the state level as well. JeffStreet's commitment to empower poor people has even reached inter¬nationally: Members have invested in Oikocredit micro-lending programs to the tune of S 180,000.

"We are a church that knows the difference between justice and charity, and also between charity and hospitality," says Weber.

JeffStreet, as members call it, started as the Jefferson Street Baptist Chapel, a worship com¬munity that had been meeting for decades at Louisville's Jefferson Street Baptist Center, an out¬reach to homeless people that is a mission of the Southern Baptist-affiliated Long Run Baptist Association. But when the congregation's head pastor leftin 1987 and it promoted Rev. Weber from associate to interim pastor, the move touched offa four-year struggle with the Center's parent organization. The Long Run Baptist Association refused to recognize Weber's leadership because she is a woman-even though, at the time, she was also serving as director of the center. In 1991, the year the congregation installed Weber as permanent pastor, it was told to leave the center. The church kept the name "JeffStreet"-the shortened moniker by which Jefferson Street Baptist Center was known in the nearby Clarksdale housing project and environs-and moved a cou¬ple blocks south, into a rehabbed former machine shop on Liberty Street. Its new site is about four blocks from the banks of the Ohio River on the edge of Louisville's business dis¬trict. Dotting the immediate horizon are empty lots where the now-demol¬ished Clarksdale housing project stood; new facades built by Hope VI, a federal program to revitalize "severely dis-tressed" housing projects; the mixed-income housing project Liberty Green; and a few construction sites punctuated by shiny signs advertising "luxury lofts."

"AFTER THE MOVE," says Weber, "we didn't want to just do social service." Instead, many of the church's ministries address soci-ety's and individuals' needs by asking the ques¬tion, "How can we all be on equal ground?" Sunday morning services at JeffStreet, as in many churches, begin with a gathering time. People-black and white; teenagers, children, and parents, young and mid¬dle-aged; persons in wheelchairs; men and women who are homeless, and others who know where they will sleep that night-all come together. Everyone dresses down "so everyone feels welcome," says Kevin Borders, who has been a member since 1991. He describes the church as a theological mix of Southern Baptist refugees, first-time churchgoers. Catholics, Anabaptists, and Presbyterians.

On a recent Sunday the sermon themes, announcements, and sharing of joys and concerns radiated from the personal to the communal to the global. A woman prayed for a sick coworker. Another was thankful for her niece's musical gifts. Many looked forward to the annual community retreat and talent show. …

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