ST. LOUIS - In the Gate District, churches are becoming proactive and going beyond the walls to connect with the community to fight crime.
The Joshua Transformation Project includes four churches so far working together to educate themselves on ways they can make a mark on the streets with kindness.
Police sirens blare on the streets in the city nearly every night and violence is now common throughout communities.
“I think it’s a part of the mandate of the church to be community peacemakers,” said Richard Dalton, consulting pastor of Beloved Community United Methodist Church.
The thought led to the birth of the project. Churches are joining forces to leave the pews and reach the people to protect their neighborhoods.
“We have to be at the table…we can’t wait until somebody gets killed,” Dalton said.
On a chart in the church, there were pictures of newspaper headlines reminding members of the deadly summer St. Louis saw.
After a board meeting, Mayor Lyda Krewson said, in part, “Recruiting for the police department continues to be a challenge due to pay, residency requirements, and challenged community and police relations.”
As violence heightens, churches are stepping up.
“I don’t think the church has had to face this kind of violence traditionally, so to answer your question it’s very difficult,” Dalton said.
“I think that’s a good idea, and I think churches should be involved,” said Barbara Houston, who grew up in the Gate District. “First of all, they have to be taught.”
Teaching is what the project intends to do.
The training includes uniting against violence, writing faith-based grants to go toward violence prevention, and creating jobs to bring youth off the streets.
“We recruit and tell pastors to send us members so we can train them,” Dalton said. “They can be the training component of your church to offset some of the violence in the community.”
The project will also use kindness as a weapon against violence.
“I don’t think the public realizes the impact of kindness,” Dalton said.
From street to street to street, the churches will create neighborhood kindness groups, engaging with the community to get them on board to create a shift in the culture.
“Anybody who sees how the violence in our country is rolling out…kids are being killed we’re losing a generation,” Dalton said.
Dalton said the program will also partner with schools to create a curriculum for conflict resolution.
People in the area said it’s a positive project, but it requires communities to be receptive to the outreach.
“It’s up to them with what they do with it, but we do need the word spread with kindness and with love,” Houston said.