Knox Presbyterian Church

Knox PresbyterianBaltimore, Maryland

During the year 2020, Knox Presbyterian Church in Baltimore faced both the start of the pandemic in March and the loss of its pastor, the Rev. Michael Moore, who accepted a call from the denominational headquarters in September.

Already committed to the Matthew 25 mission and vision, the church knew that it had no other choice but to become a more vital congregation, even as it faced many obstacles. What better time to deepen community engagement than at a time when all members were forced outside the four walls of the church? Although members were shut in and faced with many challenges, the congregation dug deep to stay connected with each other and reached out to the community.

Knox quickly adapted its weekly Soup Kitchen to a Food Giveaway to meet the needs of the urban Oliver community. Volunteers from the church and the community rallied to provide groceries, meats, masks, and sanitation supplies to neighbors in need, including community members who lived in a food desert, worked in an essential job or lost jobs altogether.

The church organized teams of volunteers to pack and distribute the bags of food and supplies. Basic sustenance was, and remains, a key issue. Another important aspect of supporting the community was passing out flyers in the neighborhood and calling neighbors. The flyers provided pertinent information about the dates of the food distribution, voter registration, and COVID-19 vaccinations.

As the church began to make deliveries to a local senior building, neighbors started to recognize and welcome Kenneth Walker, a ruling elder at Knox Presbyterian Church and co-chair of the “In the Loop” ministry group that organized a speaker series on the 1619 Project, on his regular “flyer run,” which also invited neighbors to worship with Knox. Every Sunday, the church announcements include the dates of the food giveaway and a request for volunteers.

The author, who co-chairs the Presbytery of Baltimore’s Dismantling Racism Team, says that Knox offers a way for everyone to be involved in the community endeavor, from socially-distanced onsite food distribution to a phone team to make calls from home.

In addition to charitable action, Knox has joined the Baltimore Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) group Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD) to learn community organizing skills and to help shape policy.

The IAF partners with congregations and civic organizations at the local level to build broad-based organizing projects, which create new capacity in a community for leadership development, citizen-led action and relationships across the lines that often divide our communities.

BUILD is a broad-based, nonpartisan, interfaith and multiracial community power organization rooted in Baltimore’s neighborhoods and congregations. The organization is dedicated to making Baltimore a better place for all residents to live and thrive. For more than 40 years, BUILD has worked to improve housing, increase job opportunities, and rebuild schools and neighborhoods, among other issues.

Plans are under way to work with other churches and community groups to restore a full-service grocery store in the Oliver community. “Knox knows that the church can help to organize people and money to build power in the community,” according to Moore.

The congregation has also started to focus on dismantling racism. The predominantly African-American church has a history of activism going back to engagement in the civil rights movement. This year, Knox started the Relationships, Action, Communication, and Education (R.A.C.E.) Committee to address racial justice issues.

Knox has initiated partnerships with two larger predominantly white churches in the Presbytery of Baltimore, Govans Presbyterian Church and Catonsville Presbyterian Church, to work on joint racial justice projects. Key to the success of these projects is the relationship stage to build trust and communication. The churches are sharing worship and Bible study and supporting each other’s projects.

In 2021, Knox plans to live more deeply into the Matthew 25 vision as the congregation builds bridges and make disciples for Christ.

by Charese Jordan Moore, ruling elder at Knox Presbyterian Church