Pentecost, Year B.
We named our organization Project ACTS: We were an Ecumenical Organization of about fifteen Churches in Roslindale and Hyde Park, two Boston neighborhoods. It was 1981 and we’d been working to draw together the congregations in an inaugural convention. There was a Greek Orthodox Church, Two Large Roman Catholic congregations and a salad bowl of our Protestant denominations. At the Founding Convention came various bishops and heads of judicatories. Each congregation and religious organization put aside their differences in a common effort to make the communities more responsive to the needs of our youth, to affordable housing and to quality of life issues. Each church arrived with delegations of various sizes to St Nectarios Church, a young community of many Greek speakers. Almost as if we were returning to that initial Pentecost when all the boundaries and the confusions of languages and customs were removed, we stood together in the power of the love of God and the Spirit and a common purpose.
Our small Episcopal congregation rented space in the Lutheran Church, yet our “little old ladies” were a force with which to contend. Jean Dubois, our organizer, worked with issues of conflict between members that had been in the making for generations. She held us accountable to talk with the congregation and the neighbors. Out of the meetings grew a summer camp program for the children and a meeting with the neighbors about the drunken and noisy parties on weekend nights in the Lutheran Church parking lot. When the police conducted a “raid” on the parking lot, one of our own youth had been picked up by the police. That night I had to go to the police lock-up to get him out.
We had to think more broadly: What do our youth want, what are their needs, where are the programs and facilities in our communities to offer alternatives? Facilities and programs had fled to the wealthier neighborhoods and suburbs. The Municipal building that occupied a large corner of the neighborhood center had closed its gym, operated by the Boys Club and the Registry of Motor Vehicles was threatened for closure and to be moved to the nearby suburbs. Also a swimming pool had been closed after a youth drove a VW through the fence and into the swimming pool. The local city councilor, biased to the core, said that pool would never be restored. He insinuated that the poor people in that area of the town didn’t deserve it. Our little parish was doing Bible Study with the residents of low-income housing development in that neighborhood. We knew better.
The Pentecost moments were many. One of them was the day Governor Dukakis came to cut the ribbon for the re-opening of the Municipal Building. Our “little old ladies” were all arranged in the front row. Their hair all permed that morning, they smiled at the Governor who was flanked by two enormous and armed State Troopers. The State had invested considerable resources to renovate the old Registry of Motor Vehicles. The Boys Club had received grants to refurbish the old gym and track in the building with a new floor and locker rooms. And the Boys club agreed to add “and Girls” to the name. Also the Health Center had succeeded in getting a grant to refurbish the other third of the building. There was such joy in that room that day and a sense of accomplishment. All of our churches crowded the room and our small vagabond church helped to lead the way.
When I visited the registry the next day, I found I had become a local celebrity. They called me over to the window and gave me an honorary registration card. Not bad for a kid who was arrested for driving unregistered and uninsured ten years before.
The organization also had success in re-opening the community pool. The city gave 5.7 million dollars for its reconstruction. Oversight of the operation fell to an inter-racial community board which included many people from that lower income part of the neighborhood.
That initial work helped transform those neighborhoods and it became the model of a way of thinking about neighborhoods in the city that helped elect the next mayor, Tom Menino. Tom died in 2014, after serving well and kindly for twenty years.