From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Shalom sites address diverse needs

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 19 Dec 2002 15:11:28 -0600

Dec. 19, 2002  News media contact: Joretta Purdue7(202) 546-87227Washington

NOTE: Photographs are available with this story. 

By Joretta Purdue*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - What do a church for the deaf, a sprawling after-school
program, an urban neighborhood revitalization initiative, and a health and
wholeness ministry have in common?

Each is a United Methodist community of shalom in the Baltimore-Washington
Conference (region). The 290 participants in the denomination's Shalom Summit
VI, held Dec. 12-15, each had the opportunity for in-depth visits at two of
the sites.

Shalom ministries began as the church's response to the 1992 Los Angeles
riots, which erupted after four white police officers were acquitted in the
beating of black motorist Rodney King. The Communities of Shalom program was
built on the concept of urban enterprise zones that would bring about change
by pulling together neighborhood religious and civic organizations, along
with individuals and businesses. It has spread to include more than 500
communities, with more than a dozen in Africa.

In Christ United Methodist Church of the Deaf in Baltimore, the community of
shalom is a non-traditional agency of deaf and hearing people working
together to serve the area's deaf community. 

Much of the ministry touches one person or family at a time. The community of
shalom has become a place of advocacy and empowerment of deaf people in
service of other deaf people. 

The church has about 125 deaf members and 10 hearing members, according to
the Rev. Peggy A. Johnson. The shalom ministry serves whoever needs it.
Johnson pointed out that those who are culturally deaf, were deaf at birth or
became deaf in early childhood, communicate in American Sign Language, which
is not the same as English with signs. They are often isolated and rarely
read English well, if at all, so they do not benefit from captioned
television, newspapers or magazines, she explained. 

"I thank God that I am deaf," testified church member Catherine Vaccarino.
She directs the choir, whose signing performances are almost like liturgical
dance. Vaccarino and others at the Deaf Shalom Zone were explaining to their
hearing visitors how much the church community means to them.

Her assistant director, LaSander Saunders, told the visitors how lonely and
isolated she felt when she became deaf during her school years. Then she
discovered sign language and eventually the church for the deaf.

"I love music here in the deaf church," she declared. And her involvement in
the church has resulted in four trips to Africa for mission work. Members of
the church have worked in Zimbabwe to help the deaf form a community there,
and they plan to return next year. 

The community of shalom has a social services case manager, Susan Wrightson,
working with deaf people and their families. One man brought in a trash bag
full of mail that he had been unable to read. Wrightson found letters
threatening jail for bounced checks, but the man said he never had a checking
account, although he had a savings account at that bank. She did extensive
work with the bank and others over the next two years to resolve the problem.
It turned out that the man's identity had been stolen by another resident of
the group home where he lived.

In another situation, a Hispanic woman needed the help of both a volunteer
case manager and a Spanish interpreter to get proper medical treatment and
schooling for her deaf son, who has multiple disabilities.

The church also made 35 calls to set up an appointment for a man who needed
to apply for food stamps with the help of an interpreter, which the law
requires government agencies to provide. 

In some cases, the case manager contacts a person whom the shalom zone has
aided to get help for another person. 

"It's getting people involved in being in mission," said Carol Stevens, a
missionary and site coordinator. An opportunity to help other people is
empowering, she explained. "It's that whole asset-based community development
thing," a basic premise of the shalom program. She enthused that using the
gifts and strengths of the people who want to be involved is central to the
program and works wonderfully.

Ministry through community

Partners like the Good Shepherd Baptist Church Deaf Ministry and several
community agencies have helped provide new shalom opportunities. The
first-ever deaf parenting classes taught by deaf teachers with deaf role
models were sponsored with a grant from the Baltimore-Washington Conference
Board of Child Care. Deaf-blind services, including a camp, have been
enhanced with the help of a grant from another organization. The state of
Maryland provided a grant enabling the funding of an interpreter for
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Ministry through community characterizes the diverse shalom sites. Four
hundred children take part in the vibrant Shalom School for the Arts Inc.,
also known simply as the Shalom School. The school is an outreach program of
First United Methodist Church of Hyattsville, Md. 

The school offers classes throughout the academic year, using professionals
to teach liturgical dance, hip-hop, jazz, tap, African dance and ballet;
steel drums; Afro/Cuban/Latin drumming; musical instruments; drawing and
other visual arts, including cartooning; computer skills; creative writing
and other enrichment classes; and martial arts. All students are required to
attend the homework lab daily. 

Adult classes include English as a second language, yoga and computer
training. Pre-school art and music are also offered, and academic tutoring is
available by arrangement. Sponsorship through partner organizations or
individuals is available for all but private instruction and tutoring. The
school is designed as a multifaceted program for an inclusive and
multicultural student body. Sharon Starling, the director, started the Shalom
School mainly with music classes six years ago.

Josephina, a parent of 10 children, has three kids in the after-school
program. It has helped her be a better parent, she said. "I love everybody
here. This is my new family."

Joshua I. Smith, president of the Shalom School board of directors, said the
school sees itself as a partner to the church and plans to be self-sufficient
in three years, while continuing to use partners and sponsors so that no
child is turned away.

Some participants in the shalom summit visited Emory Beacon of Light Inc., a
community of shalom at Emory United Methodist Church in Washington, where
several religious and legal aid entities collaborate to assist low-income
families - mainly African-Americans and immigrants from Latin America, Africa
and the Caribbean.

Mount Winans-Westport Shalom Zone at the United Methodist church of the same
name in Baltimore works in a predominantly African-American community to
revitalize the area. The community has created youth activities and substance
abuse intervention and recovery programs. It is working to convert an
abandoned school into a community center.

Guiding principles

Lynda Byrd, director of shalom ministries since 1997, said each community of
shalom is different because it designs itself according to its own strengths
and resources. Shalom ministry "has to be bottom up, not top down," she

"This is hard ministry," she said. "It's a ministry of invitation," not a
check-writing ministry. "It's about people, not stuff." 

Part of the value of the summit networking and site visits is that people see
"they are not in it alone." They find resources in one another, Byrd said.

The denomination's National Shalom Committee hired a consultant to evaluate
the program's first 10 years, she said. The question now is how to best serve
in the future.

"Shalom was never intended to become an institution," she said. That would go
against the spirit of the program, she explained. At the last three summits,
50 percent to 60 percent of the trainers were successful participants in a
shalom community rather than experts from other areas of experience. The idea
that "what we need is what we have" is central to the philosophy.

The shalom program has four principles: asset-based community development, a
collaborative approach, systemic change and mission evangelism, she said. The
program works to strengthen multicultural relations and encourages spiritual
development or growth. 

"God has given us what we need. Let's use what God has given us," said Bishop
Max Whitfield, chairman of the National Shalom Committee, at the beginning of
the summit.

"Christ is in you," said Bishop Felton Edwin May, the banquet speaker and the
committee's first chairman. "You are the shalom of God. Tell the story of
Jesus Christ and no other."

# # #

*Purdue is United Methodist News Service's Washington news director.

United Methodist News Service
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