After you wash your clothes at Dios Mery (Mother of God) Laundromat and pick up a sandwich at Edna’s Soul Food, you are ready to progress to spiritual refreshment at United Baptist Church at 435 Ralph Avenue. It is the only ecclesiastical establishment on the block that stays open every day of the week. “My pastor believes that a church is supposed to stay open seven days a week because you never know who needs prayer,” said deacon Jerome Somerville. “They come in just so they can get their cares and burdens off.”
“He is the shepherd,” said another deacon, Roberto Mercado, about Pastor Eddie Karim, Jr.. “You can always count on him at all times.” He has made a large impact on many people’s lives. “He knows how to relate to [people] not only in the good occasions, but the bad occasions,” said the deacon. Karim is particularly focused on the 5,800 teenagers that the American Community Survey reports were living in the neighborhood in 2013. There is also a large state-run psychiatric center for children in the next block.
The Young People’s Church
Up and down Ralph Avenue, the churches like United Baptist talk about how they are working to snatch young people out of drugs, crime and do-nothing lives. Under Pastor Karim, United Baptist Church has been one of the most successful congregations to do just that.
Karim described their “dynamic of young people” as the thing that is most unique about the church. He is fast to move both young and older people new to the Christian faith into positions of responsibility. Consequently, the kids are very active in putting on church events like a youth revival in the Kingsborough housing projects across the street. Having never been involved in a church prior to this one, Mercado became a deacon at United Baptist, a testament to Karim’s desire to promote people quickly into church roles no matter what lays in their past.
The pastor also invests in his kids by having a school supplies drive each Fall and a toy drive at Christmas.
Before our reporters left United Church, Pastor Karim grabbed them as they were walking out the door. He wanted to show off his teenage nephew, Malachi Townsend. He had just been to Europe with the People to People Ambassador Program. He came back with a greater perspective of the world than most kids his age. Pastor Karim stood nearby beaming as Townsend commented to the reporters on faith and world affairs. Undoubtedly, the pastor was reflecting on a throwback comparison: his own travels as a teenager centered on traversing drug fiefdoms in the neighborhood.
Dedicated to the dreams of Deacon Jerome Somerville, who passed away after this story was reported.
Article done as part of a Journey Workshop with Bethel University.