May 13, 2014—I am tired of closing down churches! As the pastor of a congregation that enjoys great health, I am too often called upon by Presbytery to assist with the closing of churches in our area. What can healthy congregations do to stem this tide, even turn things around? If starting a new church is the most obvious answer, what would it look like? In our diverse city of New Orleans, where the racial mix is approximately 55% African American, 35 % White, and 10% Hispanic, likely nothing akin to my mostly white church! Rather, it would reflect the unique demographic of its own neighborhood. But how to begin?
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, the church where I serve, wrestled with this question for two years. We were also looking for ways to serve the community other than solely building Habitat houses. Finally, we hit on an idea that centered around mission: an after-school center for children and youth in the area where we have been building these homes. There is a tremendous need for safe, nurturing places where crime, housing, unemployment, and poverty are major community issues. Something like this, we reasoned, might even be the genesis of a worshipping congregation.
This Christmas holiday we took our first step with the launch of “Carrollton Christmas Camp.” The church leased portions of a local public school, and for eight days fed breakfast, lunch, and snacks to thirty children while offering them opportunities in art, music, recreation and reading. Paid staff and a host of volunteers taught, mentored, played with, and befriended both the campers and their families. On the last day, several children expressed wishes to stay at camp, and parents were asking if we were going to do this again. The answer is yes, we hope, this summer – with an expanded schedule if possible.
All of us in ministry know the axiom that churches are in the business of mission. What we may not know is that mission both excites current members and attracts new ones. Mission succeeds where traditional “church” fails. Over the last three years, our church has grown by 250 members. Many of our new members tell us it’s because they want to be a part of our growing missional presence in the community.
We are grateful to God for the initial success of Camp Carrollton, and pray for its growth and development. Who knows, maybe God will use this camp ministry to start a new church!
By Donald R. Frampton (DMin ’82), Senior Pastor, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, New Orleans.