Hope for Lenox Street: Pastors' Breakfast with the Melnea Cass Network

Hope for Lenox Street: Pastors' Breakfast with the Melnea Cass Network

by Megan Lietz and Jess Mason, Research Associates

The Lenox Street neighborhood in Lower Roxbury is home to many creative and resilient people, but also has a reputation for drug activity and violence. On November 8th, 2016, leaders serving youth in this community met for a simple breakfast with a not-so-simple  purpose — to share insights about how they could together help change Lenox Street’s reputation.

Pastors and community leaders serving in the Lenox Street area  consider the appeal of the Melnea Cass Network.

Pastors and community leaders serving in the Lenox Street area  consider the appeal of the Melnea Cass Network.

Pastor Rolland Cooper warmly welcomes the MCN to his congregation, Shawmut Community Church.

Pastor Rolland Cooper warmly welcomes the MCN to his congregation, Shawmut Community Church.

Nika Elugardo, Director of Applied Research and Consulting at Emmanuel Gospel Center, introduces the work of the Melnea Cass Network to area pastors and community pillars.

Nika Elugardo, Director of Applied Research and Consulting at Emmanuel Gospel Center, introduces the work of the Melnea Cass Network to area pastors and community pillars.

Brent Henry of Vibrant Boston shares his passion for youth and tells moving stories about the need and hope in the Lenox Street community.

Brent Henry of Vibrant Boston shares his passion for youth and tells moving stories about the need and hope in the Lenox Street community.

Sarah Gautier shares her journey of connecting with the Lower Roxbury community through her ministry to youth at Congregation Lion of Judah.

Sarah Gautier shares her journey of connecting with the Lower Roxbury community through her ministry to youth at Congregation Lion of Judah.

Lauren Thompson of Crosstown Church describes the hopes of a developing church plant to impact the neighborhood youth for Jesus. 

Lauren Thompson of Crosstown Church describes the hopes of a developing church plant to impact the neighborhood youth for Jesus. 

Not uncommon in the world of urban ministry and action, this was a gathering during a short window of opportunity in a space that was available. The cozy basement of the Shawmut Community Church, with its well-worn furniture and faithful kitchen, provided a warm environment for this multiracial gathering of 25 leaders ranging in age from their 20’s to their 80’s. Each of these neighborhood youth workers, Christian youth pastors, community leaders and academics had answered an invitation from the Melnea Cass Network (MCN) — a developing network “committed to ending poverty and violence one neighborhood at a time”.

MCN cast the net wide. Whether leaders simply wanted to hear about opportunities to connect or were ready to co-lead the initiative, all would have a place at the table — for egg casseroles and coffee cake that morning, and for shared learning and action in the coming months.  

This was a room full of people who, compelled by the need and opportunity of Lenox Street, wanted to respond. Leaders listened as representatives of CrossTown Church, Congregation Lion of Judah, Vibrant Boston, and host Shawmut Community Church shared their journeys of challenge and hope in reaching out to area youth. The tone of the gathering was casual, but sincere.

Brent Henry, who works with over 150 youth per year in Lower Roxbury, told the story of “Licita”. A straight-A student, her mother worked so many jobs that Licita had to take primary responsibility for raising her brothers and sisters. Henry shared how MCN has connected him to church leaders to support his work.

Lauren Thompson of the CrossTown Church plant recalled her faith family's experience with area youth. She shared their sense of calling as a church to further engage young people in the Lenox community.

In response, bold voices spoke up first to suggest the need to bring the youth into the churches. These leaders implied that if youth could enter a relationship with Jesus and participate in Christian activities, their lives could be transformed. Other voices seemed to prefer going into the community and showing God’s love by serving the tangible needs of youth and families on their own turf. Others, struck by the weight and complexity of the need, asked for an immediate pause. They led the whole room in prayer for “Licita” and youth like her in that moment.

As insights built upon insights throughout the morning, a shared desire emerged. Leaders agreed they wanted to build a resilient social network that can support young people in the Lenox Street community. The question of what such support would look like remained unresolved.

Some leaders left the breakfast enthusiastic and ready to connect further. Others wanted to learn more before committing. Most agreed on the wisdom of further intentional dialogue and collaborative visioning.

MCN has now connected Brent Henry to leaders from 6 of 12 area churches, so that pastors and churches can offer practical support and advocacy for Licita and families like hers.

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