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One church, four generations

Westwood Presbyterian Church celebrates the baptism of the great-grandchildren of charter members

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Alessandra Mallory Elaine Long, whose mother is Mariah Long, was baptized on Easter Sunday at Westwood Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Alessandra is the great-granddaughter of a charter member of the church. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Each Saturday during March, people gathered at each of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery’s four African American congregations to hear the stories of each congregation, including its heritage and ministry.

One of those congregations that shared in the experience was Westwood Presbyterian Church in Louisville.

“I was talking about the history of our church and how family is so important to our church,” said Lisa Downs, a member of Westwood whose family has been a part of the congregation since its inception. “I shared that a lot of the charter members that were there in the beginning still have family members in the church.”

Not only were members of the families who chartered the church still attending Westwood, but an entire new generation was about to enter the fold. “Two babies were baptized on Easter Sunday that were both great grandchildren of charter members,” Downs said.

On that special Sunday, Jensen Jameson Jeffreys, whose parents are Jacqueline and Lloyd Jeffreys, and Alessandra Mallory Elaine Long, whose mother is Mariah Long, were baptized.

Jensen and Alessandra are cousins and fourth-generation children of Westwood. Jensen is the great-grandchild of charter members Robert and Ann Downs, and Alessandra is the great-grandchild of Ida Dooley, another charter member. It so happens that Robert and Ida were siblings.

Downs says sharing the history of Westwood gave her the opportunity to look back and think about a lot of things she hadn’t thought about in many years. She noted that there were plenty of good memories of growing up in Westwood, including the many families and all the activities they did. “Bible school and church picnics and all that good stuff in the church,” she said.

The church was birthed 59 years ago and is an offshoot of Grace Presbyterian Church, another historically Black Presbyterian church. Westwood is located in an economically depressed area of Louisville. But the church brought a great sense of pride and beauty to the community.

Downs fondly remembered the facility and what it took to build the contemporary sanctuary. “The education building existed for many years,” said Downs. “We had the building fund. We all brought our pennies in and saved our money up and then the church was able to build the sanctuary.”

“The baptisms show that time has passed, and we’ve moved forward in time. But still that same sense of family is here in the church,” said Downs, “and the fact that they are great-grandchildren of charter members — it’s like the church has its history, but it’s continuing to grow and have new things added to its history.”

Downs says that while Westwood has evolved over the years, there are still elements of the church that are consistent with her childhood memories of the church.

“We have an appreciation of our Presbyterian heritage, which is very, very important and was instilled in us as children,” she said. “Going to the communicants’ class was a big deal ― joining the church was a big deal. As you got older, it was a big deal to serve as an usher or an elder or in some other role in the church.”

“Presbyterianism and the history of the church tied you back to so many years and so many generations with people all over the world,” said Downs. “That [history], along with our African American heritage, was very important.”

“It was amazing that a group of charter members decided to move to that neighborhood. They were forward-thinking and forward-looking, thinking that there would be a need for a church there,” she said. “There were many African American families from the neighborhood who over the years have been a part of the church.”

“Kids have come to Bible school [and] kids have gone through Sunday school. There have been people who have sung in the choir,” she said. “So that long view of the charter members who thought this would be a great place for us to come and settle and start something new was very important. They started something that we’re trying to continue now and keep it moving into the future.”
“They chose to step out on faith,” Downs said, “and come to a new neighborhood and start a new church.”

She says she is most proud of Westwood’s sense of caring.

“No matter how bad COVID was or anything like that, our church is a caring church, “she said. “Caring not just for the members but caring for people in the community. There are so many people at church who live out their faith in the world and who volunteer, who work with other organizations to try to make the world a more loving, kind and caring place.”


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