Yesterday afternoon we took the boys to Hannover Street in downtown Charleston.
For those of you from around here, I’ll pause to let you catch your breath.
For those of you not from Charleston, here is the scoop on Hannover Street. Hannover and America Streets are the two streets in Charleston which receive the most crime blotter news stories. When I lived here almost 20 years ago, it was filled with broken houses and broken lives, snarling dogs and often vicious people. I drove near it a couple of weeks earlier and saw glimmers of hope for the area. College kids were living in a few cleaned-up houses and there were less rotting down, boarded-up Victorian houses than I remembered. It is still a very difficult part of the city in which to live. It is over 95% African-American, unemployment is around 90% for males, many families do not have a male head of household in Hampstead Borough. (Yes, Charleston is divided into wards called boroughs.)
Our church has partnered with a priest whose vision was to rebuilt a ruined chapel in heart of the poorest part of town. I’m sure we have given a great deal of money; however, Al’s call to the congregation is much broader. It is to give ourselves. He called us to find a space beyond ourselves and our expectations, history and comfort zone. Our navels will always be around for us to gaze intently into, but the world at large is changing and needs to see Jesus beyond the walls of a church.
So St. Michael’s Church is getting involved. A number of the women in the church wrote and received a grant to purchase a bus to transport Hampstead Borough girls to a girl’s club at the chapel. It is affectionately known as “The Pink Bus.” The church’s high school girls and women joined the girls and women of St. John’s Chapel this summer to provide activities for the girl’s of the borough.
A couple of weeks ago Al asked for people to come and partner with the founders of the chapel to pray and invite the people of the borough to fill the house of worship. The opening service is set for October 12th.
Now back to the family. We felt called to come and be in this place at this time. So at 3:30 we found ourselves wandering an old church yard reading the statements of lives lived in faith and of survivors grounded in hope. As the clock approached 4:00, we gathered and divided into ethnically mixed groups of eight or so to walk the streets with fliers. AV went with a girl who worked with the Pink Bus program, her mom and Al; they took one side of the street. The rest of our group went with the girl’s dad.
It was interesting to see that he was just as nervous as we were going through the tall gates surrounding property or up the slanting steps. We met old women making dinner, young women coming home from work, men relaxing with beers on their porch, drug dealers making money, children shopping in the corner store, college students hanging, and “the same guy walking by six times”.
We also saw beautiful “bones” of old houses, a sculpture garden with bottle trees and beautiful fish in a church yard, intensely blue trumpets of morning glories, a two-plus story lime tree, beautifully platted hair, and the best wet concrete tagging we’d ever seen.
As JV put it at the end of the day: “We were living Church not just going to Church. This was good.”