ST. LOUIS – Unity is an important focus for St. Louis pastors and their congregations. Two pastors, Bill Friese, senior pastor, Oak Hill Fishers of Men in Ferguson, and Jim Walker, lead pastor, Hazelwood Baptist, were recognized for their leadership in the community.
Friese is also Second Vice Chair on the Missouri Baptist Foundation board of trustees.
Dr. Sam Page, St. Louis County Executive, presented the Betty L. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award to the pastors. The award is named for Betty Thompson, a former Missouri State Representative and a civil rights activist. Thompson joined Page in the presentation and announced that the award was to recognize “Unsung Heroes.”
“After the riots in Ferguson,” Friese said, “pastors gathered to pray. We also began to realize that we needed to learn culture from each other. I know 75% of my congregation is African-American, and I need to learn to better minister to them.”
Jim Walker agreed that learning was a large part of their group. “North County is full of neighborhoods in transition with special challenges for well established churches,” he said. “We must deal with changing socio-economic issues and ethnicities.”
In addition to presenting the certificates, Page was invited to share with the group and to answer questions. “Diversity and equity are important to me,” he said. “We must get it out on the table and move forward together.”
Moving forward, to Page, includes “how we treat people and relate to each other.”
“The faith community is the moral backbone to the race issue,” he said. “Faith holds the key because it controls what we think about each other. Diversity is what we count, inclusion is what we feel.”
The diverse pastors’ group is a leading step. “We’ve come together to pray, study Scripture and look to the Lord,” Walker said. “We have a sweet, unified group sharing love. We are a bright light in societal darkness.”
Walker said they have pulpit exchanges as well as unity services. “We switch pulpits with the other ethnic group,” he said.
“This group provides an open and diversified safe forum,” Friese said, “on misunderstandings and misconceptions of cultural differences in our church.”
Friese outlined some of the new ministries at his church. “We’re working with the community on mentoring young people,” he said. “We have about 90-120 kids all year long. We would also love to interest some business leaders and skilled trades to start some free training to qualify for better jobs. The church is located next to the bi-state transportation hub, so it would be convenient from anywhere in the city. The young people would have Christian morals as they step into the work community.”
“We’ve tried to address the huge problem of economic stress in our neighborhood,” Walker said. “Each week, we host a free community dinner on Wednesday. We have about 100 from the community and 100 members of the church, and we eat together. They are invited to stay for the regular programming, but we just want to share.”