By Woody Woodrick
CRYSTAL SPRINGS – Better housing. Education. Improved health. Socialization.
Each is a component of community development, and each is a planned project for the five new Communities of Shalom in Mississippi. A graduation service was held for the five communities Aug. 8 at New Zion United Methodist Church. With the new graduates, Mississippi now has six Communities of Shalom.
“These new groups are important because they will develop their communities, and we have churches to train and help within the community,” said the Rev. Fitzgerald Lovett of the Mississippi Conference staff who coordinates the program for the conference. “They are going to be a big boost to getting community development started under the United Methodist umbrella.”
Although created by the United Methodist Church, one of the requirements is that Communities of Shalom be ecumenical and involve a cross-section of the community it is intended to serve.
The Communities of Shalom initiative began as a response to the conditions that impelled, and the aftermath of the Los Angeles rioting in 1992. An original Community of Shalom was created in Los Angeles.
The creating mandate, adopted by General Conference of the United Methodist Church, on May 6, 1992 reads: “That in solidarity and consultation with the indigenous persons and local churches in a selected neighborhood, The United Methodist Church, commits itself to the creation in Los Angeles of a Shalom Zone... with the hope that the Shalom Zone concept becomes a prototype for proactive ministry in other places.”
The model has been replicated throughout the United States and around the world. Training for Communities of Shalom has taken place in more than 40 annual conferences, as well as Central Conferences and autonomous church locations in Southern and West Africa.
Communities of Shalom are committed to:
• Renewing the spirit of God in communities and congregations
• Developing the prosperity and economies of communities
• Strengthening relationships among neighbors
• Improving community health care and coordination of services
Groups apply to become part of the program, and then must go through five training sessions where participants learn about organizing, setting reachable goals, setting specific goals, funds development, public relations and other skills.
The new Communities of Shalom locations and their overall projects include:
• Greenville – The group plans to work with children to improve education and establish GED programs.
• Greenwood – Plans call for repairing run-down homes with a goal of helping those in the community become homeowners.
• Crystal Springs – The Freetown group has joined some 11 churches to improve health orientation and community development partnering with local schools and the city.
• Jackson Central – The group plans to join in the development of Farish Street by offering socialization skills for children in the neighborhood. About 50 children have already been reached.
• Town and Country – The Holmes County group owns a tract of land where it has built one home and hopes to build 10 more to enable more people to become home owners.
Those groups join the DeLisle Community of Shalom in Pass Christian, which has been active for several years. That group has worked with various civic organizations to provide a playground and swimming pool to its community. Homes have been built near DeLisle UMC and another 10 acres of land has been targeted for more housing.
Although designed for areas covering a few square blocks or so, Lovett said conference leaders hope to make the Mississippi Delta one giant Shalom zone in order to pull together more resources to help provide a spark for community and economic development in of the nation’s poorest regions.
For information about Communities of Shalom, visit www.communitiesofshalom.org.