Church and Family

November 29, 2007 7:11:53 PM PST
'People, Places & Things: Church and Family,' hosted by Harry Porterfield and produced by Deborah J. Gunn, is a compelling half hour of television focusing on the church as an institution and its influence on the success of the African-American family.

Harry Porterfield: Hello, I'm Harry Porterfield. Welcome to People, Places & Things: Church and Family. The question, how relevant is the church to setting the foundation for the prosperity of the African-American family? The answer, well, we'll let you decide. What we found was that whether on the south side, west side, north side or in suburbia, the churches we visited are pillars in their communities and a source of strength to the congregations they serve. We'd now like to invite you to come along as we take a look at some of Chicago's finest.

Reverend James Meeks: I started preaching when I was 17 years old and I've been pastoring now for the last 23 years. And it seems as if it was a life's calling.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright: The one hour to two hour shot you get on a Sunday doesn't do it. That doesn't really impact the family. But what happens after Sunday and all the different ministries that take place from Monday thru Saturday become for me the important piece in terms of what difference you're making in the family's lives.

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: We found four reasons that people didn't go to church on a regular basis. Number one, they didn't have nice clothes to wear. Number two they didn't have money to put in the offering plate. Number three they were angry at God. Something was wrong with God. And number four, they thought the church was irrelevant to the community.

Rev. Marvin E. Wiley: Many people when they talk about the relevancy of the church, they talk about Sunday morning worship, but what that provides for is principles and precepts to live by and without the knowledge of the word of God, the family is in trouble.

Pastor Bill Winston: Well a lot of people don't go to church because not seeing the bridge or the relationship between them going on Sunday and what's going on Monday. And what I have done in this ministry, or have endeavored to do in this ministry, is to build that bridge.

Cheryl Burton: Unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian, that is the motto here at trinity United Church of Christ. Seeing the congregation grow from a mere 87 to more than 10,000 members, it has not been an easy feat. It took a man like reverend doctor Jeremiah Wright to understand that a community needs more than a good sermon.

Rev. Wright: Most of the members started the ministries themselves. I came up with one or two ideas in terms of what should we be doing as a congregation to address the African-American community and the families in this community.

Cheryl Burton: Going back to the 70s, much to the surprise of the church, Reverend Wright discovered that the public schools within a ten block radius of the church had the lowest reading scores in the entire city. And that startling statistic led to an extremely successful reading and tutorial project. And now, years later, it has proven that for every month that a child participates in that program, their reading score increases one decimal point.

Rev. Wright: I can preach sermons all day about why Johnny can't read, but at the end of the sermon, Johnny still can't read, so we needed a program to address reading tutorial program, and those kinds of programs I said yes to.

Cheryl Burton: Reverend Wright also gives his blessing to the youth sexuality project. This program keeps it real for the teens and allows them to talk about issues the church normally doesn't talk about.

Reverend Ann Patton: This program was created to help prevent teen pregnancy, as well as help our youth to understand and make healthy decisions regarding spiritual, as well as sexual beings.

Rev. Wright: One of the adults asked, should we be teaching you abstinence, or should we be teaching you safe sex as a church? And this 15-year-old kid said, well, um, if you want to save our souls, you need to teach us abstinence. And if you want to save our lives, you better teach me how to put a condom on.

Cheryl: Another very successful ministry offered by Trinity is the single adult ministry. This ministry serves those who are single because they are widowed, divorced, never had an opportunity to marry, or never had the desire.

Reverend Stacy Edwards: We have a singles choir within our ministry. We also have an outreach component. We have a hallelujah happy hour. We have a worship service, and we even have sacred steppers set. We take food to shelters. We also have a wellness component within our ministry. Right now we're in the process of talking about money management, and helping singles to invest and manage their money.

Zyra Smith: Wives, can husbands take hints? No. Well see we are clear.

Rev. Wright: Where do you learn how to fight fairly? Where do you learn how to argue and stick to the topic, without tearing the other individual down?

Cheryl Burton: Where? Trinity's Marriage Enrichment Program, run by Kenneth and Zyra Smith.

Kenneth Smith: What is my role as an African-American man, an African-American husband? And what is my role uniquely as an African-American female, wife how do we keep our unique flavor of our culture, and yet how do we blend that together in a household so that we don't combat one another.

Rev. Wright: The spirit of the Lord is upon me.

Cheryl Burton: Trinity has been compared to a miracle ministry, but sometimes the needs of the congregation are even more than Reverend Wright is able to administer personally.

Rev. Wright: Ministers do pastoral counseling, we do not do therapy. But we run into members and families that need therapy. And across the years, I've always had to make referrals to other counseling centers. And a lot of our members come back fussing, saying these aren't Christians.

Cheryl Burton: Thus the birth of the Synergy Counseling Center, run by Reverend Pamela Fox, associate pastor and executive director of the Pastoral Counseling Center.

Reverend Pamela Fox: The blessing and beauty of what we provide here is that we very intentionally look at a Christ centered approach and even talk about the bible and scripture and involvement in various ministries at Trinity, or whatever their church home is and we incorporate that as part of our therapy.

Cheryl Burton: Trinity United Church of Christ has nearly 80 different ministries to serve its members and while it is constantly adjusting to the changing needs of its congregation, its value in the lives of those it serves has never been more important.

Rev. Wright: I grew up eating, sleeping, breathing church. It was understood you got certain values from your different faith traditions. Without the church you don't have that inner guard, that kind of inner saying no, I'm not going to do that because it's wrong. Without the church, from our tradition, without the mosque, without the synagogue, anything goes. Without that foundation, we're like a ship just cut loose at sea with no anchor. So when a storm hits, there is nothing to hold.

Harry Porterfield: Amen to that. I'd say it's pretty evident why Trinity's congregation has grown a hundred fold since Reverend Wright came to lead the flock. It may seem as though he's said it all, but believe me, Reverend Wright is one of many ministers guiding the way, but first we're going to take a short break. Stay with us.

Harry Porterfield: Our next two churches are in Chicago's western suburbs, Forest Park and Maywood. One is Living Word, which is non-denominational, and the other, Rock of Ages, which is Baptist. Both are singularly focused on the success of their congregations and the communities they serve.

Hosea Sanders: Thirteen years ago, Bill Winston, with his family in tow and $200 in his pocket, landed in Chicago. He had been an airline pilot and a successful corporate executive, but the yearning for his real calling was just about to take off.

Pastor Bill Winston: What has happened is religion sees God way away. He's far off. They have to shout and get God's attention. But if a person truly has a concept of being a part of the church, they know that he is in them.

Hosea Sanders: Pastor Bill Winston has proclaimed Living Word Christian Center to be a place for leaders, not followers and that it's never too early to instill these beliefs. Thus, the Living Word Christian Academy, a private Christian school and an arm of the Living Word Christian Center.

Theresa Byrd-Smith: We teach children academically, spiritually, and morally. The day here is very peaceful. It's nice to know that you can send your children somewhere where they are free to learn and they don't have to worry about anything except learning. My hopes are that we are producing students who will go forth exemplifying excellence. Who will be sought after for their wisdom and their insight.

Pastor Bill Winston: We want to put it all together. We want to put together the discipline. We want to put together the practical academic knowledge. We want to put together the behavior. Making it so that the students are well rounded in everything that they do.

Hosea Sanders: Putting it all together, no matter what the age is one of the goals Living Word Christian Center has for its entire congregation. And when it comes to the family, they go straight to the core.

Pastor Bill Winston: The male constituency of the family has to come back into a sense of what it takes to be a good father and a good husband, and that has never, in most cases, never been taught.

Hosea Sanders: Living Word Christian Center knows that for families to be strong, they also need to have a sense of independence, especially financial independence. To this end they have created the Joseph Center for Business Development.

Raymond Thomas: We focus on entrepreneurs. We focus on business persons to provide an environment and equip them with skills so that they can be successful in the business environment.

Pastor Bill Winston: I want to see Living Word become an influence to other communities, people's lives, and even churches. That we can all participate in some of the things that I see happening at Living Word.

Leah Hope: Rock of Ages Baptist Church has a strong history here in Maywood, going back more than 50 years. In 1991, Pastor Marvin Wiley came to lead the congregation and grew its flock from just 300 to 6,ooo. Now the community surrounding rock of ages is plagued with many social ills, but Pastor Wiley is making it his mission to provide guidance and assistance to those he serves.

Pastor Wiley: We're conscious of where we are. We're conscious of the neighborhood that we're in. What we're trying to do is make an impact where we are and influence our community for good.

Leah Hope: Rock of Ages Congregation is made up of people from all walks of life, some more fortunate than others. The church tries to cater to all and in doing so offers a number of different ministries. Some members are on the giving end, some on the receiving.

Pastor Wiley: The Men's Professional Ministry was organized because we recognized the fact that many people who are professionals don't really have time to give to the church. What we wanted them to do is to give what they can back to the church through their regular occupations.

Antoine Hinton: We're in the process of planning a career day. At this career day we're going to have the different men that are in the Men's Professional Council that are in specific backgrounds and careers, whatever their career focus is

Pastor Wiley: What we're trying to do right now is to get more youth involved in our ministry. They're right now giving away computers. We have a mentoring program, college tour, and they're also doing scholarships.

Raquel Hinton: We get together and we plan programs and activities for the youth here at Rock of Ages Baptist Church and the youth in the Maywood community. We have a couple of College tours coming up. We're going to Northern Illinois University for a college tour. We're going to the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, Illinois State for College tours, and then we're going to Atlanta in the fall.

Dr. Carolyn Walker: We did a survey, we did an evaluation to find out exactly what were some of the seasons that people were going through. Seasons of grief, seasons of divorce, marital problems, family problems, problems with their children.

Pastor Wiley: People have needs. People have seasons of life that they go through, different problems that they're faced with. What we want to do is help them through biblical studies to get through those situations in life. We don't expect them to go through their situation forever. It's just a seasonal, what we call a seasonal situation. This too will pass in their lives.

Leah Hope: Young or old. Rich or poor. Rock of ages is there whenever, wherever.

Harry Porterfield: Think you've seen it all, believe me you haven't. Our next two churches may be on different sides of the city, but their congregations are very much the same. Talk about making a difference to the congregations they serve. You've got to see this. Stay with us.

The Howard Family: Our ministry is in marriage. We just think that with our family we exemplify what God wants a marriage to look like. And so with all the love that he's given us, that's what we give to each other, and that's what we give to our girls, and that's how we raise them.

Reverend James Meeks: We started Salem Baptist Church in 1985 with about 200 people. Today we have over 17,000. I'd like to think that one of the uniqueness in our ministry is clarity and relevance.

Charles Thomas: Salem has opened its doors to everyone and is fortunate to attract a diverse congregation. There is something for everyone at Salem and once you have joined, Michele Pullen, director of the membership ministry, will be right there to guide you.

W. Michele Pullen: We have a great mixture of people from all walks of life. We have seniors, we 're now getting a cross section of Hispanics as well as Caucasian, so it's becoming a multicultural church.

Rev. James Meeks: One of the hallmark signatures of our church is our capacity to have overwhelming love.

Charles Thomas: And you can feel it as soon as you walk in the door. Another ministry that is so important at Salem is the Pastoral Care Ministry. Led by Reverend Dearal Jordan, this ministry makes it a priority to make sure the needs of the entire congregation are being met.

Reverend Dearal Jordan: Every day we get phone calls of people who just have needs. They just need someone to talk to and share and try to get some biblical advice as to what they can do, what they should do.

Charles Thomas: Salem's congregation knows what they should do, and they do it. Under Reverend Meeks' guidance, they have brought and continue to bring a renaissance of change in Roseland.

Rev. James Meeks: We have been instrumental in getting two of our schools off of academic probation, the West Pullman School and the Curtis School. We sent 300 mentors into each school and we stayed with those kids for six weeks, every Saturday, until we brought their reading scores up.

Charles Thomas: Speaking of young people, Salem has a youth ministry led by Reverend Willie Comer that serves as a model for others.

Reverend Willie Comer: I don't spend a lot of time telling young people what they can't do. You can't wear this, you can't say this, you can't do this, you, I spend most of my time saying do you know that you can dance for God? Do you know that you can step? Do you know that you can rap for the Lord?

Charles Thomas: Reverend Meeks has always taken pride in having his finger on the pulse of his congregation. Knowing that many young people are basically on their own during the hours after school, he immediately set out to do what he could to rectify the situation.

Rev. James Meeks: Now we're building a 10,000 seat sports arena that will house activities for the community. Because we know that the problems that our children get into most are between the times of four and eight o'clock in the afternoon. We need supervised recreation. I think that when the story is told, one of the greatest delights of our ministry will be having turned so many families around

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: We have been working hard to not just come to church on Sundays and have a great worship service, of which we do, and we've got a great choir, and we do great singing, and hopefully we have good biblical teaching and preaching that goes on here too, but then we really are working to love our neighborhood.

Bill Campbell: And love his neighborhood he does. Dr. Wayne Gordon came to Farragut High School in north Lawndale to teach and coach. A few of his students had something else in mind. They, along with 'coach', his wife, and a few other couples started the Lawndale Community Church, and the neighborhood hasn't been the same since.

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: In the early 1980's we realized that there was no adequate healthcare for people that lived in North Lawndale. They had to go to Cook County Hospital and the wait there was three months. We were seven times the national crisis level of physician to population ratio. So we needed to open a clinic.

Dr. Art Jones: We have, we take care of all ages. We have pediatricians, family practice doctors, internists, ob-gyns. We also provide in-patient care for those patients who need to be taken care of in the hospital. In addition to providing medical care we try and compliment that by doing case management, education out-reach, and other types of services to improve the health of our patients beyond the exam room.

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: The schools in our neighborhood, they're not doing as good as many Chicago Public Schools. We're working hard as a city to make our schools better, but what are we going to do about it? So we opened up a Learning Center back 15 years ago and now we have a computer lab and a computer tech center with a T one line and everyday after school 40 - 50 kids come over and they're working on their homework, their working on their skills.

Richard Townsell: We have classes that teach web design, html. We have some classes that teach young people how to open up computers and how to put in a sound card and a mother board because most young people in our neighborhood, even in their schools, don't have a computer lab, that we've created a computer lab with state of the art equipment in a real beautiful space so that young people will learn about technology.

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: We built a gym, back 20 years ago. It's a beautiful gym, glass backboards, beautiful maple floor. Kids are over there. Hundreds of kids every day use that. We have another program called the Lawndale College Opportunity Program, helping kids go on to college. Just from our little church, over a hundred kids have gone away to college and graduated, but the amazing things is, is 50 of them have moved back to the neighborhood. They moved here because this is home, this is where community is. And so we're building families.

Bill Campbell: One of the things coach does best is listen. And when his congregation speaks, he not only listens, he takes action.

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: The neighborhood told us about 10 years ago there's no sit-down restaurant for dinner at night, in our whole neighborhood. 70,000 people living in North Lawndale at the time, no place to sit down and have dinner with your family. So we struck up a partnership with Lou Malnatti's pizza and have a restaurant in the neighborhood. One of the things that we're here to do is to try to bring and to help everyone in our community to have a quality life. That doesn't mean being rich, but it certainly doesn't mean being poor. It means that people have choices. We love our community. I mean I love Lawndale. This neighborhood is so wonderful. On a sabbatical I lived out in a suburb, I won't mention its name, but you know what, we did not have the kind of community out in the suburbs that we have here in the heart of the city of Chicago.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright: I just wanted to make a difference in people's lives, and I think that in terms of what this church can become and the vision that younger people have, much younger, half my age, is awesome, and there's a lot of work to be done, a lot of work to be done.

Dr. Wayne 'Coach' Gordon: My goal would be that people, you know maybe 10, 15, 20 years from now, people would say, where's there a community that people love each other, that people are caring for one another, and they, and people really have a high quality of life. Where's that neighborhood? People would say that's North Lawndale. We're getting pretty close to that.

Rev. James Meeks: When the story is told, one of the greatest delights of our ministry will be having turned so many families around.

Pastor Bill Winston: A family has to be together so that the church can be together. You'll find that problems in churches are many times happening because there's a problem in the family. And if we can get that family made whole, you'll find that the church can be made whole.

Harry Porterfield: Well said, and well done. For 'People, Places & Things,' I'm Harry Porterfield.

Produced by
Deborah J. Gunn

Edited by
Tim Kelleher

Videographers
Mike Torchia
Andy Ryan
Joe Sciarabba

Stagehands
Bill Barth
Reggie Howell
Deborah Sullivan

Graphic Designer
Susan Mitchell

Director of Local Programming and Creative Services
Tom Hebel.