South Central, Los Angeles, was the neighborhood in the city where Communities of Shalom began in 1992. I met Marx Gutierrez from El Salvador who was there attending High School at the time. He remembers what happened at the corner of Florence and Normandy Streets in South Central, LA, when Reginald Denny was pulled out of his truck and beaten while the crowd looked on and the police did nothing; and how the Rodney King beating resulted in a not-guilty verdict for the police and resulted in a major, 3-day uprising in the neighborhood, until the National Guard came in and finally imposed law and order. He can still remember the fires, the bright orange night sky, the mass looting, 45 unsolved killings, the social chaos…And how the United Methodist Churches responded by creating a zone of shalom in 7 neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Today, Marx is a community organizer, and married to Jennifer Gutierrez, Conference Shalom Coordinator in the Calif-Pacific Annual Conference, and Rev. Vilma Cruz now pastors Pico Union Shalom church and community center (and garden).

During California-Pacific Annual Conference session today, I was given a short ‘courtesy’ time to remind the United Methodist churches where and why shalom began. Here are my notes:

Greetings: “Shabbat shalom!” “Aloha!”
Shalom to you, Bishop… and Shalom from my Bishop, Beverly Shamana, and my Dean, Maxine Clarke Beach…

Shalom is not just a Jewish greeting or a special way to say ‘hello.’ Shalom is a biblical word that means health, healing, harmony, wholeness, peace, welfare and community well-being. As used by Jeremiah:

“Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in it’s shalom, you will find your shalom.” –Jeremiah 29:7

What is Communities of Shalom?

Communities of Shalom is
• a grass-roots, faith-inspired, Methodist-initiated, community development network of shalom sites (also known as “shalom zones”) in the USA and Africa
• Coordinated and equipped with ShalomZoneTraining by Drew University Theological School in collaboration with the General Board of Global Ministries
• Supporting local congregations and communities in working together to raise the quality of life in their immediate neighborhoods, villages and towns
• Focused on health, healing and wholeness—so that all God’s people can experience shalom—shalom in all its fullness.

What’s the basic concept?

The basic idea, born in LA, is to create a shalom zone by focusing community organizing and development work in one single block, or 4 square blocks, one square mile, one long country road, or however the community wants to define itself. By taking on small part of the whole, we can transform the world one community at a time.
What are Communities of Shalom doing in the world today?

Nine UMC congregations in the city of Baltimore are working together with local residents, police, civic groups and business folks to help reduce the high murder rate in the city in the name of shalom.
Newark Interfaith Coalition is working together to reduce gang violence
Affordable housing in Richmond
Legal services for illegal immigrants in Dallas
Appalachian poverty in West Virginia
Green Shalom in Scranton
Mobile health clinics (‘Shalom Mobiles’) in Houston and Ghana
Micro enterprises in Zimbabwe

Shalom is on the loose, and it all began in Los Angeles.

History of shalom:

The Shalom initiative began in Los Angeles, in south central LA, in direct response to the social uprising following the Rodney King verdict in 1992.
Pastor Jim Lawson led the LA contingency as they gave a report to the 1992 General Conference about what was happening in their city. The Order of the Day was set aside for over an hour as delegates listened and tried to discern how best to respond.

Pastor Joseph Sprague drafted a proposal to create a ‘shalom zone’ in Los Angeles. When the vote was taken, support for the resolution and the concept behind it was overwhelming. It is remembered as one of the few times that the General Conference was able to make a bold decision with bipartisan support.

Seven shalom zones were created in LA in 1992 by 13 UM congregations. Among instigators of shalom were Rev. Thomas Hill, Bishop Roy Sano, and Rev. Brandon Cho. By 1995, under Rev. Jim Conn’s leadership, twelve 501 c 3’s were started to do community development work, including: Rakestraw Community Center and PICO Union Shalom (the mother shalom).

The shalom concept caught on nationally: shalom teams trained and equipped to take on just four square blocks in city after city, and systemically work together with representatives from all the sectors of the community for the total well-being of that particular neighborhood…thus transforming the world one community at a time.

Soon, other urban areas, and eventually, rural communities around the country, created shalom sites (for example, there are now 30 sites in South Carolina).

I am in fruitful discussions with Jim Conn, Director of New Ministries, and Jennifer Rodriguez, Director of Urban Ministries, about renewing communities of shalom in the Conference. This is very important to me since the city of Los Angeles is home to the mother shalom site where it all began. So I would ask you to think about it, pray about it, and discern whether you and your church are called to shalom ministry.

Support for Shalom:

As National Director of Communities of Shalom, I am delighted to provide leadership and support to this growing network.

The International Shalom Resource Center at Drew University 1) provides on-going training, technical assistance, and relational support to registered communities of shalom (see website); 2) prepares and places student interns in selected shalom sites; 3) facilitates equipping and networking events and summits; and 4) hosts an online social networking and resource site: and a public website:

ShalomZoneTraining is a trademark product is available to equip local ministry teams in how to help bring about systemic, sustainable change, health and wholeness, asset-based community development, love in action, organizing and multicultural collaboration (and that’s how you spell SHALOM).

A Call to Shalom:

Shalom work is not just another church outreach program but a particular model of transformational ministry. Evangelism and social action, relief work and ministries of mercy are important, but it’s not at the heart of shalom.

You’ve heard the conventional wisdom: “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach people to fish, and they will eat for a life time.” But what if the lake is polluted? What if the fish have disappeared from the stream? What if there is a monopoly on the fishing business and the people who live near the water cannot access the local assets? What then?

Then, someone needs to mobilize the people to take back the lake!

Giving people fish is relief work. Teaching people to fish is education. Taking control of the lake is the hard, spiritual work of community organizing and community development. Shalom ministry is faith-based community development work over the long term.

Dom Heller Camera, Archbishop of Brazil, used to say: “When I fed hungry people, they called me a saint. When I started asking ‘why are these people hungry?’ they called me a communist.

Shalom ministry addresses systemic issues for community transformation as well as individual well-being: “Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in it’s shalom, you will find your shalom.” –Jeremiah 29:7

Zaferia Shalom Zone Agency in Los Angeles, operated by Wesley United Methodist Church in Long Beach, Calif., has linked Wednesday morning Bible study with its food ministry. People waiting in line for food are invited to engage in Bible study led by the Rev. Cherrye Cunnigan. The Zaferia agency is one of several “Shalom Zones” in the area. In a Shalom community, churches collaborate with local organizations, businesses, institutions and residents to transform the conditions that affect people’s lives — to change negative forces within the community to positive actions for shalom (peace). A UMNS photo by Larry Hygh. Photo number 02-435, Accompanies UMNS #513, 11/12/02

A 92-foot mural titled “A Beacon of Hope” graces an outside wall at the Rakestraw Community Education Center in South Central Los Angeles, one of several Shalom Zones in the area. A Shalom community is a geographic area where churches collaborate with local organizations, businesses, institutions and residents to transform the conditions that affect people’s lives — to change negative forces within the community to positive actions for shalom (peace). A UMNS photo by Larry Hygh. Photo number 02-438, Accompanies UMNS #513, 11/12/02

For information on how to become a shalom site, or re-activate an historic shalom zone, or to request shalomzone training, visit us at

As my pastor, Cecil Williams, used to say: Shalom/Salaam, Right On/AMEN!