Monday, August 13, 2007

Musings on Very Small Churches With No Apparent Edifice

A different take on the Newark shootings. First, some background:

About midnight Saturday, three of Newark's finest - kids who'd stayed out of trouble, kids with real futures ahead - were shot to death execution-style outside the Mount Vernon Elementary School. A fourth young person was blasted in the face and left for dead....

The city's young mayor, [Cory] Booker, briefly tried to pin all blame on the sins of "the previous administration." Then he got hold of himself. He quickly seemed to grasp that this crime was bigger than politics....

the real hero of Newark is lying in a hospital bed, under 24-hour, armed police guard. I won't say which hospital. The cops are jumpy enough already. But she is 19-year-old Natasha Aeriel, and oh-my-God does Newark ever need her now!

This young woman did what so often distinguishes heroes. She refused to keep her mouth shut.

She was the sole survivor of the schoolyard massacre. A junior at Delaware State University, she was like the other victims - a product of Newark's Ivy Hill neighborhood who was somehow managing to rise above.

It turns out that Natasha identified a suspect (Jose Carranza), and Carranza's fingerprints matched those on a beer bottle at the crime scene. Carranza turned himself in to the mayor (nice photo-op, I'm sure), and everyone is happy.

But there's a side note about Natasha, and her brother.

Her 18-year-old brother Terrance was one of those killed. He was planning to follow his sister to Delaware State. He too was bright, ambitious and looking for a right way up. He'd already begun preaching for the family's church, the Higher Dimensions Ministry.

As I am wont to do, I began looking for information on the church. I found this:

But it was [Natasha's] younger brother who took his Christian faith as a personal calling.

T.J. Aeriel, ordained a minister as a teenager, identified himself as a Pentecostal. Ken Bobien, a family friend, said he had preached a trial sermon at a church in nearby Hillside and blossomed at Higher Dimensions Worship Ministries in Bloomfield, west of the city.

So I began looking for the website of Higher Dimensions (Worship) Ministry(ies) in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Couldn't find it.

Failing that, I went looking for an address for said church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. Couldn't find it.

In my sheltered life, I'm not used to churches without websites or addresses. But they're there. And Tony Campolo knows that on any Friday, someone's gonna know that Sunday's coming to a storefront church:

Campolo and [Michael] Battle survey the strengths and weaknesses of black storefront churches, megachurches, and mainline denominational churches. It is refreshing indeed to hear words of appreciation for often-denigrated storefront ministries and to be reminded that not all the megachurches in America are white congregations. When white Christians reach out to black churches, the authors note, they usually ignore both the storefront and megachurch congregations.

The storefront churches maintain their anonymity even when the searchlight hits them. In an article about the People in Peril homeless shelter, storefront ministries are only mentioned as an afterthought:

When I saw that there was going to be a service for Allan McKeon at the People in Peril homeless shelter, I decided to attend. I wondered what kind of service it would be and who would be there....

PIP is located in the infamous Main South where drug dealers and prostitutes and all manner of petty criminals ply their trade and where the police stage periodic sweeps....

Main South is within easy walking distance from downtown Worcester. It is so near and yet so far away. These are mean, densely-packed streets where everything you see says poverty and lives on the margin.

There are liquor stores, Spanish and Asian grocers, check-cashing places, used-car lots, storefront ministries, and apartment buildings offering short-term housing and halfway houses. Each year, the funeral home on the street, Graham, O'Brien and Maloney, buries dozens of victims of AIDS, drug-overdose, and alcoholism.

So these outreaches of the church of Jesus Christ all kind of blend in with the scenery...unless someone dies. Odd.

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