Matthew 25 invitation fits ‘like a hand in a glove’

Covenant Presbyterian Church in Kansas City seeks to help bridge the racial divide

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Covenant Presbyterian Church’s walking club, whose members have been traditionally underserved by the medical community, now have access to the church’s full-service wellness center and affordable health care. (Photo by Laura Hyland)

LOUISVILLE —  When the Rev. Kirk Perucca of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Kansas City heard Presbyterian Mission Agency president and executive director the Rev. Dr. Dianne Moffett speak about the PMA’s new Matthew 25 invitation, he got excited.

“It fits us like a hand in a glove,” he says. “It’s what we do.”

The invitation encourages congregations to become Matthew 25 churches by working on at least one of three goals — building congregational vitality, eradicating systemic poverty and dismantling racism.

Covenant, a predominately African-American, multiracial, justice-centered, activist church, immediately said “yes” to the invitation, which was brought to the church’s Spiritual Life Committee the week before Holy Week.

Perucca says the nation’s biggest sin is still racism. Calling it “pervasive and deep,” he points to Kansas City’s most prominent and economic dividing line, Troost Avenue, as an example.

To the west, neighborhoods are predominately white. To the east — where Covenant is located—neighborhoods are mostly African American. For decades this racial divide has cut across all lines of education, health care, housing opportunities and jobs.

But in 2017, thanks to a gift from Second Presbyterian Church, which sits west of the Troost divide, Covenant opened a community health and wellness center. It’s gone from offering a few blood pressure checks to holding exercise and dieting classes and managing chronic conditions.

Those underserved by the medical community now have a full-service wellness center that provides them affordable health care.

The church also co-sponsors the Project Equality Diversity and Inclusion Summit  in Kansas City that addresses all forms of exclusion, alongside justice and wholeness. Perucca is president and CEO of Project Equality.

“We’re working on dismantling racism every day,” he says.

Recently Perucca held two vigils for a young man who was killed while working at a convenience store next door to the church. One vigil was at the wellness center; the other at the Southeast Kansas City Youth Prevention Coalition that’s working on alcohol, drug, suicide and violence issues in the neighborhood.

On Maundy Thursday, Covenant will worship with two other predominately African American churches, Linwood United and St. Paul Presbyterian Church. They will be joined at Linwood by Second Presbyterian, where the pastor, Rev. Paul Rock, has taken his predominately white congregation deeper into examining racism with the Lenten sermon series “America’s Original Sin.”

In the series, he told Second about the church’s history — how it started as an anti-slavery church in 1865 as an offshoot of First Presbyterian Church. Yet the current land deed, from 1915, stipulates that the church’s property could never be owned or transferred “to a Negro.”

“We have both succeeded and failed in our attempt to stay open and engaged to Kansas City’s changing demographics and racial issues,” Rock said.

That is why Perucca believes it is significant that PC(USA) churches located on both sides of the Troost divide are coming together for worship on Thursday of Holy Week.

“It’s not just the symbolism of the meal,” he said. “It’s about people coming together and sharing a vision which has created hope along the divide.”

“One of the blessings of the Church,” he said, is that “through Christ we can bridge the divide.”

 


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