Skip to Content

Churches massively mobilize in Ferguson

NYC faith leaders asked A Journey about what are the churches doing in Ferguson, Missouri. Exclusive footage from morning church services.

By Print Preview


Ferguson, Missouri

Ferguson, Missouri. Photo from Instagram

By  Kathleen Caulderwood

It’s hard to go far in Ferguson without encountering a church or three. Near the now famous Ferguson market, there are 10 churches less than a 10-minute drive away. And as demonstrators take to the streets demanding police investigate the death of Michael Brown, it’s hard not to hear how religion is fast becoming a part of the main narrative. Faith communities have long spearheaded social activism and the civil rights movement throughout the united states, and Ferguson is no different.

There are more than 25 listed churches in the small suburb with a population of roughly 21,000 people. Census data show 57 percent of people in St. Louis identify themselves with a religious congregation, a rate 7 percent above the national average.

Another important and widely-publicized statistic is that 69 percent of the population is black.

“The African-American community historically has been very faith-based,” said Judy Ferguson Shaw, 64, who has lived in Ferguson for the past 54 years. She emphasized that, especially in Ferguson, church congregations are very tight-knit and are are highly influential.

“The church has a history of spurring social change,”  said the Rev. Lynn Mims, who has served as a pastor at Barak Christian Church in Ferguson for the past 15 years. He also walked along the march, and joined the crowd to hear Rev. Jesse Jackson’s remarks afterward. Mims said since Brown was killed, he and other pastors have provided counseling and advice to members of their congregation, and some important introductions to the youth leading the protest movement.

“We have a lot of connections and experience,” he said, adding they work with many secular groups to ensure things run smoothly. But Mims added faith-based groups can offer something a little different this time around, explaining he and other religious leaders were happy to help, but hope the Brown protest movement will be led by the city’s youth.

“We don’t need to be the leaders, but we need to be the fire,” he said.

For more of the story in the International Business Times


"Cast down, not destroyed!" -- Trinity Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Florissant/Ferguson, Missouri, Sunday morning service, August 18, 2014


Laying on Hands on Captain Ron Johnson in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo from Instagram

Laying on Hands on Captain Ron Johnson in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo from Instagram

By Alan Blinder & Tanzina Vega:   

As Sunday drew on, pastors, the police and civil rights figures joined parishioners in churches, all trying to tamp down the anger that has followed the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old unarmed black man.

In a packed sanctuary at Greater Grace Church, not far from the site of evening demonstrations, Captain Ronald S. Johnson, the Missouri State Highway Patrol captain brought in by the governor to take over security here, spoke with the cadence of a preacher as he apologized to the family of the teenager, Michael Brown. “My heart goes out to you, and I say that I’m sorry,” Captain Johnson said. “I wear this uniform, and I should stand up here and say that I’m sorry.”

Before a mostly black audience, Captain Johnson, who is African-American, spoke of his own “black son, who wears his pants saggy, wears his hat cocked to the side and has tattoos on his arms.” He added, “That’s my baby.”

“Michael’s going to make it better for our sons so they can be better black men,” he said, predicting that the treatment of black youths here would somehow change. “We need to pray. We need to thank Michael for his life. And we need to thank him for the change that he is going to make”

Time and again, he won applause. …

Signup for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

In churches here, the calls for calm continued.

At the Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson, the state attorney general, Chris Koster, said he came to pray and grieve with the mostly African American parishioners. “You have lost a member of your community at the hands of a member of my community,” he said. “Not just the Caucasian community, but the law enforcement community. And that is painful to every good-hearted person in this city.”

He said he feared that the armored vehicle the police used on West Florissant Avenue, the scene of daily demonstrations since Mr. Brown was killed, was a symbol of the armor that had grown between the black community and law enforcement.

“This week is a 50-year flood of anger that has broken loose in this city the likes of which we have not seen since Dr. King was killed,” he said, referring to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “And I am sorry that I have not done more from the law enforcement community to break down that wall of anger, that wall of armor.”

At the Sunday morning service at New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church here, about 40 people gathered. On a screen hanging above the pulpit, Jaquan Vassel, 24, the church deacon, played a video that he had seen the night before on his Facebook news feed. In it, two black men were reading from the book of Psalms during a protest on West Florissant Avenue. “I commend them for trying to look to God,” Mr. Vassel told the congregants, “but you hear the anger in their voices.”

“They are angry at the police officers,” he added. “We have to show them how to forgive, just like God forgave us.”

Forgiveness was also emphasized by Alonso Adams Jr., the assistant pastor of the church, who spoke after Mr. Vassel. “How many of us have killed people with our lips?” he asked. “How many brothers and sisters, white or black, have we defamed with our words?” Mr. Adams acknowledged the anger toward the police, in particular toward Officer Wilson. But, the pastor added, “If he came into this church this morning and asked Jerusalem to forgive him, how many of you would offer up your arms?” And later at Greater Grace Church, where cars were lined up for at least a mile, the Rev. Al Sharpton called the killing of Mr. Brown “a defining moment on how this country deals with policing and the rights of its citizens to address how police behave in this country.”

Mr. Sharpton recalled Marlene Pinnock, a black woman who was assaulted by an officer in Los Angeles this summer; Eric Garner, a black man in Staten Island who was put in a chokehold by an officer and who later died; and the death of Mr. Brown, saying: “We have had enough.”

Mr. Sharpton admonished the crowd not to loot in Mr. Brown’s name. “We are not looters,” he said. “We are liberators.”

For more of the story in The New York Times



Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Scott Olsen

Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Scott Olsen

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and DeNeen Brown:

They came in numbers that surprised even the reverend, arriving in a muggy drizzle to a church parking lot so full that they had to park in front of the empty home of the man they came to pray for: embattled white police officer Darren Wilson.

They were scared, they said. Fearful they would be attacked by rioters in their church since Southminster Presbyterian sits right behind the suburban home of Wilson, the patrolman identified in the Aug. 9 shooting of the black unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The Rev. Dr. Kurt J. Calkins wanted to be a part of that conversation. He wanted to help people feel safe. He had even readied the church’s gym and multi-purpose room — The Christian Life Center — in case there needed to be evacuations.

“Everyone is worried. It’s best to be vigilant,” he said. “But we also have to have faith, we have to be good Christians and pray that things will be okay.” …

Nearly 20 miles north in Ferguson, the site of the shooting and civil unrest that’s followed, the congregation at Greater St. Mark Family Church didn’t speak of fear, but of mourning and their prayers for Brown’s family.

“I feel for the family,” said Linell Green, 44, a business analyst who lives in Bellefontaine. “It’s a shame they’ve not been able to funeralize their son. The family hasn’t had access to the body because of different autopsies.” The church had been the first to open its doors to the family. ..

The Rev. Al Sharpton arrived to cheering and told the congregation that the country, the state and the city were at a defining moment in terms of how it handles policing.

Three gospel “praise dancers” in white danced as the church prayed fervently for Ferguson.

“God, we ask you to dispatch your prayer angels all over Ferguson,” said Topaz Bryant, 17, a volunteer with Sharpton’s national action network. She had traveled from Atlanta to join peaceful protests. “Even though we don’t understand, God, we thank you for dispatching peace right now.” …

At Greater St. Mark, state Attorney General Chris Koster had come to talk about the future, and to pray and grieve with the congregation.

“You have lost a member of your community, but it is much more than that,” Koster said from the pulpit. “I come not just as a member of the Caucasian community but as a member of the law-enforcement community. What happened is painful for every goodhearted person in this city.”

Koster told the congregation that the community is not a stranger to violence.

“More than 100 African Americans lose their lives every year,” he said. “That is one every three days.”

He said he feared that the divide in Ferguson would only grow as a result of the shooting.

“This week, a 50-year flood of anger has broken loose in this city, the likes of which we have not seen since Dr. [Martin Luther] King was killed. All of us are searching our souls to break down this wall of armor.”

For more of the story from the Washington Post



Churches clean-up in Ferguson. Photo: Laurie Skrivan/St Louis Post-Dispatch

Churches clean-up in Ferguson. Photo: Laurie Skrivan/St Louis Post-Dispatch

By Lily Folwer

On the fourth morning after Michael Brown’s death, residents from different parts of the region came together in Ferguson, trying to pick up the pieces.

Some were young, some old. The majority arrived as part of the faithful. Others trickled in after spotting volunteers marching up and down West Florissant under the hot sun. Carrying brooms and large garbage bags, they collected whatever they could find: rubber bullets, broken glass, liquor bottles, tear gas grenades.

“I needed to come out today just to get some stability,” said Gary Park, 34, an auto mechanic who lives near the area in Ferguson where Brown was shot and protests erupted. Close by is the looted and burned QuikTrip that sits as a symbol of the severity of the unrest that has resulted from an unnamed cop fatally shooting an unarmed 18-year-old.

Park is a member of Passage Community Church in Florissant, which together with a few other local congregations, organized the Wednesday morning cleanup. Pastor Joe Costephens said that although the trash-collecting effort was a last-minute plan, more than 100 people joined the endeavor.

Elise Park, 31, a stay-at-home mom, arrived with her two young children who were excited by the novelty of using garbage pickers.

“I was very encouraged coming out here today, seeing all the groups helping,” Park said. “It’s an opportunity for me to invest and really become part of the community.”

Another volunteer, Derrick Spencer of St. Louis, said in an attempt to inspire compassion, he planned to return a sign to his truck’s windshield that recites a line from the New Testament: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

“We can’t take justice into our own hands,” Spencer said. Those who loot businesses are doing so at the expense of Michael Brown, he said.

After working for two hours, nearly 20 people gathered in the parking lot of First Baptist Church in Ferguson and held hands in prayer. They prayed for the family of Michael Brown and for businesses in the area that have been damaged by the riots.

Michael Williams of St. Louis, who described himself as a troubled individual who had managed to reset his life, was among those in the crowd. He said he wanted to show that “everybody is not about the rioting. Everybody is not about the destruction.” …

For more of the story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch



Governor Jay Nixon in Ferguson, Missouri Church. Photo: Instagram

Governor Jay Nixon in Ferguson, Missouri Church. Photo: Instagram

By Kelsey Dallas

In its summary of the unfolding violence, Episcopal Café reported on a meeting and prayer service held Tuesday night by an interfaith clergy coalition. Church leaders and local officials gathered to address the protest and to reflect on how to offer comfort to the parents of young black men.

The Rev. Mike Angell wrote a blog for the Episcopal Young Adult and Campus Ministries website, reporting on his experience at the event. He noted that law enforcement and political leaders shared facts and figures about Ferguson's results on racial profiling surveys.

But Angell wrote that the most powerful part of the gathering was black families sharing their fear for their children. He asked his readers to imagine a brighter future for Ferguson and for America, to envision a country where racial tensions no longer erupt into violence.

"Christians believe that all of our stories are caught up in The Story. We believe in a Gospel of love and redemption that is the final story for all people. We can't afford to write out any characters. How can we be a part of writing a new story for our country, a story that sees the death of Michael Brown as a turning point for hope and trust?" Angell wrote. …

For more of the story read Deseret News



Praying with our Feet. Photo: Michael Angell

Praying with our Feet. Photo: Michael Angell

By Episcopal News Service

The Rev. Teresa Mithen-Danieley gambled “there probably wouldn’t be tear gas” and took her two-year-old daughter Ruby Frances with her to the Aug. 14 march in Ferguson, Missouri, to begin to rebuild community trust after the Aug. 9 fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager and its violent aftermath.

Along with Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith, she and other Episcopalians joined at least 1,000 other clergy, public officials, residents and supporters in the nearly two-mile march in Ferguson with clergy positioned on the perimeters and ends, according to Mithen-Danieley.

While traveling to Ferguson from Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis for the Aug. 14 march Smith said: “I passed by Calvary Cemetery, where Dred Scott is buried, and I thought of that long and painful history that we’ve had with race relations here in St. Louis city and county.”

A slave, Dred Scott sued to gain his freedom in a landmark case that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1857, the court ruled that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue.

Smith said that he joined the march at the invitation of the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition “a predominantly African American organization. We sent out email notification to clergy and laity and I really was heartened by the strong support,” he said.

“That’s been the biggest shock, the biggest surprise, the police response,” said Lawler, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church ( in Ferguson. “It’s really been intense, and it seems like it’s accelerated rather than decelerated the figuring out how to get folks back to working together.”


The Jesus Lady. Ferguson American Methodist Episcopal pastor Renita Lamkin stands between police and angry demonstrators saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." Photo: Rapper Darren Jackson/Instagram

The Jesus Lady. Ferguson American Methodist Episcopal pastor Renita Lamkin stands between police and angry demonstrators saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus." Photo: Rapper Darren Jackson/Instagram




Sign up for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Upcoming Features