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Hands & Feet initiative launched in St. Louis

Presbyterians encouraged to engage with ministry prior to and during the 2018 General Assembly

 by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

ST. LOUIS — The genesis of the Hands & Feet initiative came from Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, after his experience at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) in Portland. He had never seen so many homeless people in one place.

“It was baffling to me,” he said. “I really got a chance to understand the depths of homelessness through a different set of eyes.”

Nelson began to wonder if the church didn’t have a responsibility to do something toward transforming communities in the cities in which General Assemblies meet. In preparing for this year’s Big Tent gathering and next summer’s 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis, it was clear to him the church needed to see how that could be done.

“When J. Herbert came up with the idea of Hands & Feet, it was an opportunity for us to put mission and faith into action,” said the Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard, transitional presbytery leader at Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery.

“We already had congregations here that were doing work around poverty and racial justice that could be highlighted, that others could learn about and take back home into their own communities.”

One of those congregations, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, has held “Sacred Conversations on Race” for three years, which began immediately after black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014.

Since the events in Ferguson, Oak Hill has implemented what they’ve learned about race and poverty into their AMEN St. Louis ministry. They’ve become key partners in the Hands & Feet initiative, hosting church groups at their Amen House for a week of doing mission and ministry in their neighborhood and city.

One of the first groups to stay at the Amen House, now open five years, was a group of students from Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. Their first Urban Plunge went so well that they kept coming back.

“We worked at a community garden this year close to Ferguson,” said the Rev. Melanie Smith, Ladue Chapel’s pastor for youth and young adults.

On the way back, Smith chose to drive down King’s Highway which runs north to south and crosses over the Delmar Divide in St. Louis. There’s a place on Delmar where the setting changes from blighted houses, run-down factories and abandoned buildings to beautiful stone churches.

When they got back to the Amen House, Smith asked her group, “What did you see?” They said, “It switched. It switched like really, super fast.” Then Smith asked, “Why? Why do you think?”

Smith says students are willing to have conversations and ask hard questions that adults are sometimes scared to venture into. She said, “If we’re going to have racial reconciliation, it will come through the work of our youth.”

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Oak Hill’s AMEN St. Louis ministry, and St. Louis Urban Missions, a ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, have agreed to help facilitate service-learning experiences for groups interested in participating in the Hands and Feet initiative.

Additionally, First Presbyterian Church of Kirkwood has offered to host Presbyterian groups who want to participate in Hands & Feet activities during General Assembly. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has partnered with Hands & Feet to work with interested groups and the church to confirm lodging.

For more information about each mission and ministry opportunity, click here. For additional resources on racial justice and reconciliation go to facing-racism.pcusa.org.


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