Sunday service was a bit different this past week at New Life Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis: it was held out on the lawn, reports Stephanie Lecci on St. Louis Public Radio's website.
That's because the church building at Plover Avenue and Bircher Boulevard — roughly 3 miles north of Union Avenue Christian Church (just north of I-70) — sustained significant damage following a fire on October 17, one of a string of arsons perpetrated against predominantly black churches in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County.
Arson damages the structure of the buildings, but Michelle Mueller of our congregation was more concerned about how the criminal attacks on these churches was affecting the morale of the congregations that call these buildings home. She was outraged by the criminal acts, and wanted to reach out to these congregations in a way that communicated our community's love and concern for them as part of the Body of Christ.
The seventh unexplained arson fire was reported early Thursday morning (October 22): It was on the opposite side of the city, outside the historic Shrine of St. Joseph. The crime did follow part of the pattern over the past two weeks, with a small blaze set against exterior doors. In this case, it was the entrance to the rectory of the shrine, at 1220 North 11th Street. The Roman Catholic church is at the northern edge of downtown, north of the Edward Jones Dome in what is known as Columbus Square.
Michelle, a member of our Council of Shepherds, reached out to the other Shepherds and Pastor Suzanne Webb with her suggestion for acting in solidarity with the seven congregations. Each week in worship we express our unity as the Body of Christ through the sharing of bread and juice. Michelle suggested we share "bread of love" with the seven congregations as a way of expressing our love for them and unity with them as part of the Body of Christ.
With the blessing of the Shepherds, Michelle recruited Dorothy Brazil Clark, Catherine Davis, Crystal Parker, Donna Carey, and Suzanne Webb to join her in baking loaves of bread — "bread of love" — to be shared with the seven congregations Sunday (October 25) morning. Michelle and Catherine delivered the bread throughout the morning.
"I have to say that the pastors and members of the congregations we visited today showed tremendous resiliency and vibrancy — and you knew just by meeting them that the Holy Spirit was alive and well within them," Michelle said. "I will admit that at first I was a little sad that I was missing our worship service, but God filled me with so much more than I expected on this morning’s route. The energy I received by these visits was more than I can put into words."
Flour, water and salt are the simple ingredients that formed the loaves of bread that were delivered, but love was the ingredient that transformed the loaves into "bread of love" with a message of hope.
"Catherine was a fabulous navigator," Michelle reports, "and I truly loved our conversations as we drove through aesthetically bleak neighborhoods that truly sparkled with the Holy Spirit stemming from these congregations that were hit with violent acts. For the first time in a long time, I am a true believer that our city has what it takes to survive, grow and flourish. We just need to keep cultivating it, feeding it and letting God’s light shine through it."
Catherine echoed Michelle's feeling of hopefulness following her Sunday morning experience saying, "We responded to our brothers and sisters in Christ with a small but meaningful gesture that reinforces our connection as the Body of Christ at work in our city."
Police continue to look for suspects and members of every company in the St. Louis Fire Department continue to hand out fliers to spread the word about rewards that have grown to more than $9,000 for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator(s) of these crimes.
FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS: Faith for Justice (FFJ) is a national movement among Evangelicals with a strong local expression. FFJ has been a valuable partner with Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU) in responding to racial injustice over the past year. They are inviting us to contribute to a fund for the affected churches.
Amy Pedersen of FFJ shares the following details: We are friends with some of the churches that have been burned and we have received the OK from several of the pastors to start a fund immediately to help with their needs. They quickly need to implement a security system to prevent future damage or fires and the system the fire department suggested is quite expensive. We would like to raise the money to provide this security system in the same amount of time that the fires were burned. So, we've started an Indigogo page, which seemed like the fastest way to raise the money.
A second fund has been initiated by leadership of New Life Missionary Baptist Church. Its link is contained in the St. Louis Public Radio story.