Living

Church a historic leader in the Gospel, social justice

The Rev. Jason McClendon believes the Community Church of God can be a vital presence in its neighborhood.
The Rev. Jason McClendon believes the Community Church of God can be a vital presence in its neighborhood. Michael W. Pannell

For years, the Community Church of God has been at the forefront of both social justice and Gospel proclamation.

In fact, it has been for 120 years.

“We just celebrated 120 years,” said the Rev. Jason McClendon, who has led the congregation for four years and been in ministry for 18 years.

“Our church was started by four women — four freed slaves — who were not allowed to take communion at a Methodist church or be ministers,” he said. “They felt a call and believed in holiness as did John Wesley and finally associated with the Church of God, headquarters in Anderson, Indiana. They started this church at our former 283 Grant Ave. location.”

McClendon said names come easily to mind of those who have been part of the church and are known for their service in the community as crusaders for civil rights and other social causes.

For instance, he said, in the 1950s and decades following, William “Daddy” Randall was a deacon at the church and Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief lieutenant in Macon. He said Randall was instrumental in the integration of public schools and fair treatment regarding public transportation.

McClendon said Randall was a county commissioner as well.

“Our church was involved in the ‘50s when the Freedom Riders came through Macon,” said Willie May, who serves as senior deacon at Community.

May has also been a community leader in the cause of social justice. McClendon said he was the first African-American deputy chief in the Macon Police Department. He is retired now.

“The Freedom Riders stayed at our church, and we’ve always taken the ministry of social justice and community involvement seriously,” May said. “We’ve always stood on a platform of change and equal rights and social justice for all. And we’re still on that trail.”

In recent years while still at its Grant Avenue-Pleasant Hill neighborhood location, McClendon said the church and the parallel nonprofit organization, the Pleasant Hill Community Development Center, were involved in providing and helping provide access to health and human services, educational services, computer labs, tutoring, after-school programs, GED and job skills classes, a food kitchen and clothes ministry and much more for young and old.

“We were really responsible for the Upward Bound program that was originated to help African-Americans be readied and trained to go to Mercer,” McClendon said. “We felt a responsibility for the area and were part of a close family there.”

But in 2014, Community Church of God moved from its historic site to a new facility and new neighborhood at the corner of Rocky Creek Road and Bethesda Avenue.

“I-75 broke up the strong community that was in Pleasant Hill,” McClendon said. “The proof is that where once there was a stable community of neighbors there’s now 82 percent transiency, 82 percent rentals. There are many, many vacant lots and people don’t want the houses. People stay six or so months and move on. It zapped the life out of the Pleasant Hill community.”

McClendon said while the church still remains connected to Pleasant Hill, he and members felt there was no community to impact. He said the move to what he calls the larger Bloomfield community area was an opportune one for the church to again roll up its sleeves and serve.

“There’s a 56 percent poverty rate but there’s a greater number of young people and families here,” he said. “There is plenty of need but it’s a place where we get a fresh start as a young church beginning a new life cycle. We feel we have a way to minister to this community. The community has not fallen though some people automatically think the worst because of the reputation of the Village Green area. But that’s not all of Bloomfield. We can really have a strong ministry here, it’s ripe for the influence of the Gospel to change the scenery. I believe we’re in on the beginning stage of seeing Bloomfield turn around, but it will take faith and it will take work. There’s a strong mix of people here. And a third are children. There is a future here.”

McClendon said the church didn’t move to Bloomfield blindly. From a variety of sources he quoted statistics of the area’s many needs — or rather of the opportunities for good to be done.

For instance, he said:

▪ It has the city’s highest rate of teen pregnancy, 31 percent.

▪ Of 16- to 24-year-olds having sex for the first time, 51 percent result in pregnancy.

▪ It has experienced significant disinvestment and stands as one of the city’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods.

▪ In recent years three schools have closed, reducing educational options to a minimum.

▪ There are high rates of psychological distress and a sense of meaninglessness among young African-Americans ages 21-25.

▪ It has one of the highest levels of physical and social neighborhood disorder.

▪ Despite the large number of churches in the area, 21 percent of residents are unchurched and a larger number are nominally churched.

And McClendon’s list goes on, citing poor access to health and other services and lack of local job opportunities, much less training in job skills.

“The result is our children and neighborhood are caught in cycle of neglect, low educational attainment and poverty,” he said.

But that is also the opportunity.

The congregation has big plans and is making steady strides in helping meet needs. They and the Community Development Center plan to repeat similar services that were available at Pleasant Hill — and more.

“We envision educational services and opportunities at many levels, computer labs, a health clinic, job training, work toward economic development and job creation and a lot more,” McClendon said.

He said there will be a charter school by the 2018-2019 school year.

May agreed and said the church is not being idle as such plans come about. He said the congregation has doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals and volunteers that are helping now. For example, he said each Sunday the church has a health segment from medical professionals who are available after the service for further discussion.

Both May and McClendon said the church also offers occasional health screenings and other services that one day will be expanded and permanent.

But McClendon said all this is not without the Gospel.

“We preach we were dead in sin but God can save us,” he said. “Someone came across our path and helped us know Christ and we have to pay that forward. Jesus found others and sent them out to change their world. He changes people and can change neighborhoods and communities. The Gospel and social involvement are hand in hand. I’m a preacher and theologian and I love to teach, but I think Jesus was the greatest theologian and teacher, and to reach people he went where they were. He met needs. We have to be salt and we have to be light. For me to get a paycheck and be satisfied without doing something about the need I see around me — that’s unthinkable. I hope the rest of Macon will see it that way, too.”

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

Community Church of God

Address: 5555 Bethesda Ave., Macon, GA 31206

Phone: 478-742-4043

Leadership: Rev. Jason McClendon, senior pastor

Worship: Sunday worship 11 a.m., Wednesday Bible study 7 p.m.

Website: www.maconcommunity.church

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