Pilot ministry, plan offer real change for urban communities

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pilot ministry, plan offer real change for urban communities

Oct. 11, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0750}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Dr. Bill Bailey is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco and Tita Parham**

Drug dealing is open and common, the area is littered with prostitution, there are no parks or playgrounds for kids — that’s how the Rev. Dr. Bill Bailey describes the Triangle, a small part of Opa-Locka in Miami-Dade County.

The area is also Bailey’s mission field and the place from which he is attempting to use a lifetime of ministry, business experience and psychology to renew the Florida Conference’s African-American communities.

Rev. Dr. Bill Bailey

Bailey is pastor of Sellers Memorial/Mount Pleasant Cooperative Parish in the Florida Conference’s South East District. He is also one of the architects of the African-American Comprehensive Plan approved by laity and clergy at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference event last June.

The plan aims to present “God revealing God’s self uniquely in a community whose relationship to God is historically, theologically and biblically different from other communities.” It is also designed to take a social look at problems the black church is trying to address and its relationship to its community. Recommendations include steps to produce change in worship and strengthen outreach ministries.
The pastor’s work in Opa-Locka is serving as ground zero for the first phase of the plan’s implementation, and it will benefit from a $50,000 grant from the conference sometime in January. It’s a pilot program to determine the kind of impact outreach programs can make in the conference’s urban communities.

Turning a neighborhood around

Nearly 70 percent of Opa-Locka’s residents are black or African-American, according to the U.S Census Bureau’s 2000 Census. More than 83 percent of the nearly 5,000 households had an annual income of less than $50,000, with nearly 29 percent earning less than $10,000 and nearly 32 percent of the area’s families living at poverty level.

In 2006 Opa-Locka was among the top 25 percent most violent of 300 Florida cities reporting rates of murders, rapes, burglaries and assaults to the FBI for its “2006 Crime in the United States Report.” Of the 221 cities in that group with a population of 25,000 or less, Opa-Locka — with slightly more than 16,000 residents — had the highest violent crime rate.

The parish’s outreach, called Ray of Hope Ministries, is working cooperatively with other organizations and churches to get beyond surface issues to the heart of the area’s problems.

“Our mission is to transform that community from a self-destructive enabling community to a self-directed empowering community,” Bailey said, describing a neighborhood where children frequently play in abandoned houses. “We’re doing it in increments. The first part is to get the children under control.”
The ministry’s vision statement says it will “begin the transformation of the community by reaching out to its greatest assets, its children. … changing them physically, mentally, spiritually and socially.”

Through the outreach center, Bailey works daily with children and teens from Opa-Locka and surrounding neighborhoods, offering alternative activities and programs that build skills and self-esteem. In addition to the ministry’s after-school program, which provides tutoring, dance, drama, Bible study, music appreciation and guidance to parents, the ministry offers karate lessons and started a summer camp this year.

Bailey says the children are responding so well to the after-school program “that we have to run them home.”

“They come from an environment that breeds violence, arriving very violent, very aggressive,” he said. “After a few weeks of letting them know they can misbehave and we’re going to love them anyway, they settle down.”

Bailey says it is natural for the children to “act out in the beginning,” but once boundaries are established they learn what behaviors are acceptable. “Some of them drop out, and others continue,” he said.

There are a few incentives to encourage good behavior. Students can attend the karate class for free until their first report card, Bailey said. They can continue if they bring up any low grades by asking for tutoring help.

“Once they ask for tutoring, their behavior is under control,” he said.

Describing children as very resilient, Bailey said: “They are just living life, not seeing anything wrong with the life they are living. Children all over the world respond to the same thing, and that is love.”

Ray of Hope Ministries in Opa-Locka is focusing much of its efforts on the community’s children, but it is also trying to address other community needs, such as hunger, through it’s feeding ministry. The goal is to get at the heart of a variety of interrelated community problems so real change can take place. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Bill Bailey. Photo #07-0684. Web photo only.

Beyond its after-school programs, the outreach center provides a substance abuse program, a feeding ministry on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings in collaboration with Mt. Tabor Ministries, and a large health fair at the end of the summer. The health fair helps children and families get ready for school. The children receive school supplies, and parents get necessary health screenings. Parents are also encouraged to sign their children up for the after-school programs.

Future plans call for adult literacy, computer, parenting and technical education classes. The ministry also hopes to form a collaborative partnership to hire a community developer, buy or lease abandoned houses and apartments, and create affordable housing for the elderly. A health-care facility in the Triangle area and developing a grassroots organization to lobby for neighborhood cleanup and better police protection are also future goals.

Putting the pieces into place

Bailey’s current work is the culmination of a journey that began when Bailey was serving a Baptist church, doing street evangelism in Miami’s Liberty City. After enrolling in Atlanta’s Columbia Theological Seminary, Bailey completed an internship in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, working with children in schools and clinics. He then worked in an internship at a Presbyterian church in Thika, Kenya, just outside Nairobi, where he had his first opportunities to minister to street children.
“To see those street children … it really, really got to me,” Bailey said. “I decided to start a street children ministry. At first the elders in the church didn’t want the children on the property. I started teaching them about Jesus, and the youth became very enthusiastic, and they started a feeding ministry for the homeless street children.”
Bailey’s ministry model spread across Kenya, and two of the Presbyterian church’s youth attended seminary in the United States.

Bailey became involved with The United Methodist Church while living in Atlanta and eventually made his way to Florida, becoming a part-time supply pastor at Sellers Memorial United Methodist Church in 2003 and earning his doctorate.
After arriving in Miami, Bailey formed the cooperative parish between his church and Mt. Pleasant United Methodist Church in Opa-Locka. After attempts to conduct worship services at both locations failed, Bailey decided to use the Opa-Locka location for outreach only — and saw half the members of the small congregation leave the church.
“We became weaker financially when those people left, but God still chose us to do that work,” Bailey said. “Just like he chose Abraham, God always chooses something weak to show his glory.”
The outreach center was launched about the same time Bailey worked on the African-American Comprehensive Plan as an outgrowth of his doctoral dissertation. A key step for Bailey was forming collaborative partnerships with such local groups as St. Thomas University, Revelation Christian Academy Florida, South Florida Urban Ministries, A+ Tutor U, Mt. Tabor Ministries, and Florida Memorial University, which offers education majors to help tutor children and teens and graduate students to work with local parents.

The connection’s ministry
In the implementation of the comprehensive plan Bailey wants the conference to consider establishing a position on the Florida Conference Cabinet — the bishop’s team of district superintendents and key ministry area leaders — dedicated to helping African-American community churches.
“We need to not look at this as a local church ministry, but as a connectional ministry,” Bailey said. “We can’t be connectional only when it’s time to collect money. We have to be connectional when we’re looking at the ministries. The people in the community see this as The Methodist Church that is coming to their rescue.”
“We need to let people know that we started this on faith,” Bailey added. “It is a connectional project, and we need help.”
Bailey said a strong corps of young adults is helping him with the outreach ministries. One young adult recently left for seminary and another for Florida Southern. He says his biggest help, however, has come from other churches of all denominations.
“After our church split we started with nothing. All these ministries have developed out of nothing. Every time we need something, the Holy Spirit is moving in such a way that we get just what we need,” Bailey said. “This thing is growing every day.”
One of the proposals in the African-American Comprehensive Plan that will be considered in the future is developing an Office of African-American Church Redevelopment. Such an office would:
   • Act as consultant to district superintendents regarding African-American local churches,
   • Recommend local churches to form cooperative parishes,
   • Recommend closing churches “that no longer have the desire or potential to be productive,”
   • Travel throughout the conference as a resource person for pastors and laity,
Secure grants for churches in mission fields,
   • Facilitate training in the Florida Conference Healthy Church Academy (http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=1165),
   • Facilitate churches in the Refocus and/or Natural Church Development transformation processes coordinated by the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, and
   • Promote participatory healing.

The plan also calls for turning churches in urban areas into “high priority churches,” making them new mission fields and providing educational opportunities and awareness workshops to foster a closer relationship with the community. The plan urges the conference to develop relevant worship services and practices for these black churches, training them to connect with younger generations in particular.


This article relates to Outreach/Congregational Transformation.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

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