Toward Economic Security: A Harlem church reinvests in itself

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When Joseph Lorde, lay leader of New York City’s MetroNew York City's Metropolitan Community United Methodist Chruchpolitan Community United Methodist Church (Metro), was charged with leading the search for a new pastor, he approached the task as if he were leading a Wall Street firm’s search for a visionary CEO—minus, of course, Wall Street resources. It took him five years, much prayer and persistence to attract Metro’s current senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Luonne Abram Rouse, a lieutenant commander with the U.S. Naval Reserve Chaplains Corps.

Rouse could not have come to Metro at a better time. Harlem’s No. 1 church in its heyday more than 52 years ago, according to Joseph Bacote, chairman of the board of trustees, the church was in transition—some may say “decline”—badly in need of new and more youthful blood to enliven its aging congregation. 

Roughly two and a half years into his stewardship, Rouse speaks of re-engineering, of integrating Metro into a Harlem community in the throes of gentrification. In concert with the laity and in the style of a church-growth consultant, Rouse is about the business of bringing business opportunities to Metro and its membership. Some see his approach as a radical departure from that of current Methodist practice. But Rouse argues he is merely drawing on the teachings and philosophy of the church’s founder, John Wesley, who, he says, filled a void that the established Church of England had not seen fit to address. The early Methodist movement, he contends, addressed the medical, educational and social needs of its parishioners, the very issues facing Metro’s members today. When parishioners do not have to worry about economic security, they are free to be more committed members of the body of Christ, the church, he says.

“It doesn’t take much for me to come in as a Methodist and address, even through our worship and through our experience, that which is necessary for the people to have the full experience of life. Our issues are economics, education, health and a true faith that leads to freedom for people….  In that sense, I am [loyal to the tradition of the Methodist movement] but I’m probably a little radical within the United Methodist Church,” Rouse says. His strategy for ensuring Metro members the full experience of life is multifaceted.

• A partnership with New York Presbyterian Hospital that ensures health insurance for every church member who qualifies.

• To develop a spirit of entrepreneurship and boost individual incomes while promoting a health-conscious lifestyle, to encourage members to participate in the sale and distribution of Aloe Ferox, an herbal product of South Africa. 

• A partnership with the Rainbow Push Coalition’s 1000 Churches Connected to bring financial literacy to Metro members.

• Plans are under way for a housing development that would encourage multiple generations to live together by providing the necessary services to make it a self-sufficient community.   

• A clinical care ministry that would offer at least testing and treatment for such killer diseases as H.I.V./AIDS and hypertension. The clinic also would bring to the community not only needed skills, but also employment opportunities for Metro parishioners.

• A MetroCare ministry to provide career networking for the unemployed, including resume development and a data bank of employment opportunities. 

• Youth members may participate in an “Economic Development Through Babysitting” program. The group that babysits will decide where that money goes.