Two St. Louis Congregations Strengthen Their Community Through Service, Worship and Fellowship
As one of the first groups to form a covenant of action with the New Baptist Covenant, covenant partners in St. Louis, Mo., have made great strides. Twenty miles away from Ferguson, Mo. where the murder of Michael Brown sparked nationwide protests; these two congregations are bearing witness to the possibilities of justice and reconciliation.
Their partnership first grew out of a tragedy. Seven years ago, a shooting death brought Harrison Avenue Missionary Baptist and Kirkwood Baptist churches together for worship, fellowship and ministry. The pastors of the two churches became friends as a result of meetings after the tragedy and wanted their congregations to come together to do more than have a joint worship service once a year. Since that time, relationships have been built and a community has been positively impacted by the joint ministry efforts of these two branches of Zion.
The two congregations have made a concerted effort to worship and work together in order to make a difference in the community where they live. Their major collaboration is “Hands on Kirkwood,” a one-day mission blitz that draws hundreds of volunteers to spend a day serving those in need. This includes doing yard work, home repairs, winter car checkups and safety repairs, electronics recycling and a Winter Clothing and Toy Store. Nonperishable food and baby items are also collected to donate to local organizations.
This year the event, which was co-chaired by Jason and Cindy Norton from Kirkwood Baptist Church, was held on Saturday, Oct. 3 and garnered incredible results! According to organizers, a record-breaking 100 large boxes of food and a truckload of baby items were collected and donated to Kirk Care and the Brown Bag Café, two local food pantries, and Nurses for Newborns, which provides support for families with newborn babies. More than 8,500 winter clothing items and toys were donated for the Winter Clothing and Toy Store and more than 23,000 pounds of electronics were recycled. Thirty-five home projects were completed and volunteers helped with needed maintenance and cleanup of Father Dickson Cemetery, a historic African American cemetery that dates back to the 1800s. In addition, children from the two churches made cards and put together care packages for seniors at Kirkwood House.
Planning for such a huge undertaking like Hands on Kirkwood starts months ahead of time. Recruitment of volunteers begins at the beginning of the year; and bags are distributed on the doors of homes throughout the city to collect food and baby items. Members of the two churches make a major push for participation during the community-wide Greentree Parade in September. They also clean up the trash after the parade, endearing themselves to the mayor and other city workers.
For the first time this year, Harrison Avenue and Kirkwood members also marched in the Meacham Park Homecoming Parade together. Meacham Park is a predominantly African American neighborhood and some of the houses along the parade route were part of previous Hands on Kirkwood home projects.
“It makes an impact when people see us walking together in the parades. It makes the strongest statement and they know we’re connected,” said Roslyn Croft, who is a member of the Hands on Kirkwood Planning Team and Harrison Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, where her husband, Rev. Jeffery Croft, serves as the pastor.
Due to their exceptional work, covenant partners in St. Louis were awarded a NBC Covenant of Action grant to expand their efforts. This year, more than 500 people visited the Hands on Kirkwood Winter Clothing and Toy Store. Clothing is collected at churches and other locations throughout the city, including the YMCA, library and recreation center. Unlike in previous years, there were enough hats and gloves for everyone who needed them, which given St. Louis’s cold winters is an important ministry.
Croft has also noticed how each task gives the volunteers a chance to interact with and get to know people in the community where stories are shared and relationships are built.
“There are so many volunteers from different backgrounds. Hands on Kirkwood shows that churches and people from different cultures can work together. We are able to develop great relationships,” said Croft.
Moreover, Croft believes that the relationships the two congregations forged over years of working and worshiping together helped tremendously when a tragedy like what happened in Ferguson occurs.
“The great thing about having relationship is that it made it possible for us to come together and have a dialogue about Ferguson. If we hadn’t had the relationships, people would not have been willing to participate in the dialogue,” Croft explained. “We would have stayed in our own zones and had private discussions. Instead, we had a hard conversation and worshiped together afterward. It was really powerful.”
For next year, the two churches are planning to expand by inviting two more churches – one predominantly white, the other African American – to join in with organizing Hands on Kirkwood. There are also plans to incorporate a health fair into the mission blitz, which is making great strides in strengthening the Kirkwood community, building relationships and community spirit as well as demonstrating the love of Christ to all involved.
To learn more about Hands on Kirkwood, visit their website at www.handsonkirkwood.org. You can also follow Harrison Avenue Missionary Baptist Church and Kirkwood Baptist Church on Facebook.