Tuesday, October 7, 2008

FBC-Wilmington: Transforming Lives One Brick At A Time

Editorial: Transforming lives, brick by brick

Published: Friday, October 3, 2008 at 7:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 3, 2008 at 7:40 p.m.
Churches usually stress transformation as part of their mission, and Wilmington's First Baptist Church at Fifth Avenue and Market Street is doing just that. This time, however, the church has saved a building and is hosting community groups that help transform lives.

That bulk of red brick on Princess Street that once housed the New Hanover County jail is now the Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center, an outreach arm of the church run under a separate foundation.

One of the biggest obstacles for outreach agencies is finding a home. Commercial real estate in Wilmington obviously is not cheap, and groups have been crammed into tight spaces not conducive to their work. Sometimes related agencies have been housed miles apart, making it even more difficult to serve a population that may have limited transportation.

A good example is Good Shepherd Ministries. Although it did great work for years out of a small and outdated space at Good Shepherd Church, the ministry did not meet its full potential until it moved into a consolidated space on Martin Street.

While Good Shepherd deals primarily with the homeless, the Harrelson Center will host a variety of groups, among them Phoenix Employment Ministry, Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity and Southeastern Sickle Cell Association.

After being a close neighbor to the jail for years, the good folks at First Baptist saw an opportunity for ministry when the jail moved to its new location, near the airport. A generous gift from the Harrelson family allowed the church to purchase the building from the county - for about a sixth of its listed value. The fruits of the project are beginning to be seen.

The symbolism of this particular building from a place of imprisonment to a place of empowerment is certainly compelling. But it also is a reminder of the many outreach groups that do such good work across the entire region.

Whether they be religious or secular, they all deserve a loud amen.

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