Thursday in West Salem, NC

The Shalom Project, Inc.—a community development initiative of Green Street United Methodist Church in West Salem—was the site I visited today. Eileen Ayuso is the Executive Director of the non-profit, and Rev. Kelly Carpenter is the Pastor of the host church and leader of the shalom team. Together, they gave me a tour of the neighborhood and explained their plans for shalom.

Located in West Salem and focused on making improvements in the Peters Creek Parkway area for local residents and businesses, the project started with 30 volunteers cleaning-up of the cluttered creek and roadside, which earned considerable community goodwill. Now the community partnership is focused on beautifying the corridor, ensuring a healthy stream water flow, assisting local businesses and residents with economic development, providing resources to transient and resident populations, and participating in community planning and improvements for the benefit of all.

The West Salem Shalom team completed their training in October, 2008, along with teams from High Point and Greensboro. Once a site submits their Shalom Plan to the National Shalom Resource Center at Drew University, we affirm it and offer a $2,000 seed grant to encourage each new site in their shalom work. It was my pleasure to present the Executive Director of the Shalom Project, Inc. with a $2,000 check for their Peters Creek Parkway Shalom Plan for community development work which is well underway.

Stations of the Cross

I was particularly pleased to learn how the Shalom Project integrates spiritual growth with community development. Rev. Carpenter explained that “Salem” is German for shalom or peace, and that the name ‘Shalom Project’ fits with the identity of the partnership in West Salem that wants to seek peace and welfare for their community.

I also was glad to hear of Pastor Carpenter’s plans for Good Friday—which is tomorrow. Kelly, a skilled community organizer and prophetic leader, organized a walking meditation through West Salem to visit the ‘stations of the cross’. Based on the tradition of meditating upon Jesus’ final journey through the city of Jerusalem carrying the Cross, this contemporary and contextual version calls for a purposeful walk through the neighborhood where people continue to struggle, pausing at certain ‘stations’ along the way to reflect on the various connections to suffering and persecution present in our time and place; and the promises of help and hope.

For example, Pastor Kelly explains, “on the corner of Green and West Streets is the crossroad of hope/despair for those struggling with additions: drug-sting operations, conducted by the Police are commonplace. Active drug addiction is a slow sentence of death that affects our entire community, not just the addict.” As the people of God walk and pray tomorrow—on Good Friday– at this street corner and at other local stations of suffering and despair, they will pray ‘that people will choose to seek help and spiritual wisdom from people in recovery; that police will be proactive in keeping our community safe from all effects of drug abuse; that our lawmakers craft sensible and effective ways for people to break the cycles of addiction; for the addicts who must surrender to a higher power for health and hope.”

The ‘stations of cross’ in West Salem include: crime scenes, strip joints, abandoned houses and homes threatened with foreclosure, as well as places of help and service in the neighborhood such as churches, schools, parks, programs, and the new community garden which is a green sign of hope.

Green Street United Methodist Church, host of the Shalom Project, is a multicultural United Methodist Congregation practicing compassion and seeking justice in their immediate community. In so doing, they are witnessing to ‘the kingdom of God breaking through’ in their midst this Easter. Check out what the prophetic congregation of Green Street Church is up to: