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Essay

Fourth Presbyterian Church, South Boston

By August 13, 2012 3 Comments
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I am missing many things about my life in Boston, but the church I attended, Fourth Presbyterian, is one of the highest on the list. Adjectives fail me; it’s just such a great place and great community. It’s in the heart of South Boston, “Southie,” and comprised of people from so many different backgrounds, racial-ethnic identities, age groups, educational levels, family structures, economic situations, etc. It’s a small and incredibly welcoming place. It’s deeply committed to its neighborhood, to people in recovery, to the hungry, to English-language learners, to children, to deeply sincere prayer, and to interfaith work (the pastor is currently the president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization). It’s a congregation where the joy of being together and of worshiping together is palpable. As a new visitor, you don’t need to worry about having to introduce yourself–Fourth is a place that has cultivated hospitality in such a way that someone will surely greet you and introduce you to the congregation. You’ll even get a flower the first time you come. It’s a place that doesn’t need to advertise how welcoming and inclusive it is; that spirit just abounds from its people. And the music, oh, the lively and soulful music.

 

I am grateful to Fourth–to the many friends I made, to the pastor, Burns Stanfield, for his 20+ years of service there and his dedication to the emerging ministries of so many divinity school students and to ministers like me serving in chaplaincy or other non-congregational settings. There are always seminary interns, and many of them stay on and worship at Fourth long after their internships are over. The number of young adults, and the way they are involved in the life of the church, is amazing. The clerk of session is currently a woman my age, one of the many MDiv or PhD students from Harvard, MIT and BU who call Fourth their church home.


For me, it was particularly nourishing, after spending my weekdays in the midst of such heavy situations with children and families, to worship in a place where children participate so fully in the life of the church, are embraced for who they are, and are given so many opportunities that many of them wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Through a lot of creativity, passion, and grant funding, the church offers after-school programs, music lessons, theater productions, and a summer meals program. One grant funds training a handful of youth to become community organizers. Several kids come to worship on Sundays unaccompanied by any adults. I will never forget the moving Pentecost service this year, in which seven elementary and middle school aged girls were baptized. And just before that, the children’s sermon in which the M.Div student used bits of the kids’ native languages–English, Spanish, Korean, and Cape Verdean creole–to illustrate the Pentecost miracle.

Here are the church and neighborhood kids performing “Godspell” this spring (the adults performed “Jesus Christ Superstar”):


One of the many annual traditions at Fourth involves opening its doors on whichever Sunday the big Southie St. Patrick’s Day parade falls. Baked goods are sold and Celtics tickets are raffled off, and the community is reminded that Fourth is an integrated and active part of the neighborhood (and hey, if it’s good enough for the local Irish Catholic families to send their kids to its programs, those Protestants must be alright). Here’s a glimpse of what Dorchester Street looks like by the time you exit from worship on that March Sunday:






Fourth church, I will keep you in my prayers, and I hope you’ll keep me in yours. The sights and sounds of your sending blessing two weeks ago are still lifting me up.

I ask you, where and when might I find another church where I, and they, don’t think twice about me showing up for my church directory photo shoot like this?



 

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