Headshot of the Rev. Alika Galloway

The Rev. Alika Galloway. Photos by Duane Sweep

The Rev. Alika Galloway always has the words “bequeath” and “legacy” on her mind.

The two words recall the beginning of Kwanzaa Community Church, the church she serves with her husband, the Rev. Ralph Galloway, in Minneapolis.

Kwanzaa Community Church, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation, is in the church building that once housed the now-dissolved Highland Park Presbyterian congregation.

It's a story of bequeath and legacy — a bequeath that allowed one congregation to grow out of another and a legacy of community service.

It's also the story Alika Galloway and Elder John Ivers shared here earlier this month in the workshop, "The Revitalization of an Older Congregation: The Kwanzaa Story," at the 2010 convention of the Association of Retired Ministers, their Survivors or Spouses (ARMSS).

Ivers had been a member of Highland Park, the aging Minneapolis church with declining membership that created a Ministry Alternative Committee to determine how the church could "stay on the corner and continue to work."

Ivers asked, "How many of you have a will? Does your will have some specific directions or expectations of what will happen?" He added, “Let me tell you how privileged I and many of my church friends were able to go through this complete process even to the witnessing of the outcomes.”

Ivers recounted that Highland Park, which had existed for more than 125 years into the 1990s, had done well but "as the conditions around us changed faster than we realized, we realized that our individual cultural backgrounds limited our ability to serve the area in as meaningful."

Highland Park had become a more inner city neighborhood. The predominantly white congregation was now in a predominantly African American community.

The congregation made attempts to adapt, participating in picnics and choir concerts with neighboring churches. It used its educational wing for a drop-in center. It even joined a four-church parish to share staff and office space, which, Ivers said, "didn't expand ministry as much as simply conserve resources.”

When the Ministry Alternative Committee met at Ivers work place, a Catepillar factory, he showed members a "new machine we were developing." The machine was "designed to grind up an old road surface, inject some new asphalt cement, place the material back down on the foundation bed and compact it so that the roadway could continue to be utilized for another 20 to 30 years."

According to Ivers, one committee member said, "That's what we're about." And then the work started.

Headshot of Elder John Ivers

Elder John Ivers

Ivers said, "We later referred to this period of our idea evolution as the Catepillar stage." But he remembered, too, that "the time from vision to actuality is a long period of time."

It involved a period of study, including a survey of the neighborhood that "verified what we were seeing." It showed, he said, residents were seeking ways to make the area a better place to raise children and that families were focused on security.

Highland Park ultimately received a new church development grant and received funds from both the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and the General Assembly. Ivers said the request for the grant was "carefully crafted to have the dual purpose of forming a new congregation and also strengthening community outreach efforts."

During this time Highland Park continued its community ministry, expanding it by housing a non-profit agency that ran an after-school tutoring program and other family-support activities. "We also kept the building in good repair to the extent that our resources would allow," he said.

With the approval of the new church development grant, the call went out to the Galloways.

Ivers recalled that the last worship service of the Highland Park congregation took place Pentecost Sunday in May 1999. It hadn't been a swift turnaround, Ivers said. "The elapsed time from the vision proclamation stage to the start of service of the new congregation was approximately eight years."

For Alika Galloway, the move to what is now Kwanzaa Community Church wasn’t swift either.

Growing up as what she calls a "Navy brat" and following her family from one duty station to another, she didn't worship in a Presbyterian congregation until she was 14. She had been attending a church with a lively worship service and good food. Recalling her first worship service with a Presbyterian congregation, she said, "The music wasn’t so great and we had donuts."

But she was inspired by something she learned about the Presbyterian church — the six great ends of the church, including the promotion of social righteousness. It was that end that really caught her attention. Later, after she met and married Ralph, she decided to attend seminary. When Ralph was called to Minnesota, she said, "I told him, 'If you go, I will go with you.'"

When she came to Minnesota and attended her first meeting of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, she recalled looking around and seeing that she was the only African American woman in the room.

Yet she saw Kwanzaa as a "great opportunity for community engagement." She thought about the bequeath and legacy.

And she remembered a Presbyterian minister where she worshiped as a teen who offered to give her a ride home from school She accepted the ride but asked the minister to park several blocks from the school so other teens in the turbulent '60s wouldn't see her getting a ride from someone in "the establishment."

She was convicted by the minister, one who would walk those extra blocks in the heat, who would do that and then listen to her.

From that, Galloway said she learned to listen and in her first days at Kwanzaa she "walked the community" so she could listen.

"We had to be gang neutral," Galloway said, because of the high proportion of gang membership in the community surrounding the church. Kwanzaa's neighborhood also posts high proportions of prostitution, single parents and teen pregnancies.

 "I learned how to embrace the non-profit community and write grants," Galloway said. She also learned how to develop partnerships in service.

Today Kwanzaa has about 275 members and it has partnerships with 10 congregations.

When PC(USA)'s 219th General Assembly took place in Minneapolis this summer, Presbyterian Voices for Justice honored the congregation with its Whole Gospel Congregation Award for "commitment to living out the radical, liberating good news in our society and the wider world."

Kwanzaa works in innovative ways. Galloway cited Kwanzaa's "Freedom School," a multi-week intergenerational summer program that provides an educational experience for young children through those in their teens. She also spoke of Kwanzaa's "recording studio in a closet," a reference to the Kwanzaa studio that allows neighborhood youth to put their creative power to work developing contemporary positive messages.

She spoke with pride when she talked about Kwanzaa's newest project, the Northside Women's Space, which she described as a "drop in center for women who trade sex." She added, "We already have 75 women who have said they will come in when we open."

It's a product of Galloway's community involvement. She learned of the work of Lauren Martin, a University of Minnesota researcher who was studying prostitution in north Minneapolis. The average age for entering prostitution, Galloway learned, was 13.7. She learned, too, that many women engaged in prostitution "want to be in the church, but don’t know how to be a part of it."

Rather than waiting for women to come into the church, Galloway took the active approach, reaching out to the women trapped in prostitution. "We are to support social righteousness to usher in the kingdom of God," she said.

And it speaks to the early efforts of the now-dissolved Highland Park congregation to be involved in the community. "We always have that obligation to honor the bequest and legacy," Galloway said. "We always keep that in mind."

Galloway will continue to walk in her community. It's her way of remembering what she learned from a pastor when she was in her teens. "Sometimes you have to park the car, walk in the desert and just sit – and mostly listen," she said.

Duane Sweep, associate for communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, is a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.