Churches unite

Monday, July 25, 2005

Often in their zeal to do good, churches go far afield to help people in need, ministering to impoverished people in Appalachia or building schools in Latin America. In Cape Girardeau, two congregations have launched a mission in their own back yard.

Predominantly white La Croix United Methodist Church has teamed with predominantly black New Bethel Baptist Church with the goal of working together to improve their community's quality of life by spreading the Gospel.

New Bethel, located at 1029 S. Benton St., is led by the Rev. Johnny Thomas, who decided to respond after a young black man was shot to death in Indian Park five years ago. He began holding block parties at the park with the goal of reaching out with a positive message to young people. The response was restrained. Thomas was discouraged until Shari Stroup, who organizes La Croix's Helping Hands outreach program, contacted him looking for a partner to help sponsor a "garage-sale giveaway" on the south side of the city.

Both wanted the same thing: to reach out to the city's south-side residents. For the past year, members of both congregations have been gathering for monthly block parties at a vacant lot at the corner of Henderson and Jefferson avenues.

The Rev. Ron Watts, La Croix's pastor, says his church would be lost trying to help people on the south side without the participation of New Bethel, which already has the support of the neighborhood.

Now La Croix has bought the building at 428 S. Frederick St. that formerly housed Second Missionary Baptist Church with the intention of providing a program there called The Bridge. Beginning perhaps in the spring, The Bridge will be open year-round offering breakfast to students and reading classes to both children and adults.

Last weekend, La Croix members with carpentry skills worked on the church building. At noon people from both congregations gathered for another block party.

This kind of cooperation between churches, between people from differing racial and cultural backgrounds, happens infrequently enough that it's news when it does. Beautiful news.

The programs to be offered by The Bridge doubtless will have a positive effect on some people's lives. The people in the two congregations actively taking part in the project could realize even more dramatic effects from working with each other for a common good.

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