Upon This Rock: Miracles of a Black Church, The
In the heart of an American city, in a neighborhood of such poverty, crime, and despair that a visiting mayor once called it "the beginning of the end of our civilization, a remarkable community has come together - a community that has daringly refused to accept a decline that seemed inevitable, a community that has taken command of its own destiny, a community that has come to experience miracles as everyday occasions. In little over a decade, Saint Paul Community Baptist Church has transformed one of New York City's most depressed areas into one that is vital, committed, and thriving. Under the leadership of its dynamic and controversial pastor, Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, Saint Paul has successfully shouldered the responsibilities for not only its members' spiritual well-being but also their daily lives. It has built affordable housing, created a school, replaced brothels and numbers joints with family stores. And, through a series of innovative programs, it has rescued even those who have traditionally eluded the black church, from drug abusers to the neighborhood's youth and men. Here is a church that has found the divine in the pulpit and the streets, that has tested and tempered its spirituality in activism. In Upon This Rock, Samuel Freedman, author of the National Book Award finalist Small Victories, chronicles a year in the life of Saint Paul, a year of risks and rewards for the entire congregation. At the center of the narrative is Reverend Youngblood himself, an unconventional minister who confronts his public and private crises with a wisdom informed by worldliness, and who leads the five thousand souls in his care with equal measures of humor and passion. Among thosesouls we meet a sturdy grandmother who has taken on the care of many of the neighborhood's children; a former addict who uses his own near death as a foundation for guiding others through recovery; two women seeking justice for a senseless slaying; and the church's sole white member, a former Wall Street trader who at Saint Paul found the faith he had lost for years and tested it in an unforgettable first sermon to his fellow congregants. Through these men and women we share the vital struggle to preserve and enrich the integrity of both the individual and the group in the face of what often seem insurmountable odds. The members of Saint Paul offer a message of hope for the present and future, for the extraordinary vision of Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood offers a viable, encouraging, and inspiring model of how our nation's greatest ills can be addressed.