ENGLEWOOD — It’s a sticky summer day in Englewood, the kind of day that some residents dread.
But inside a meeting room of the Chicago Police Department’s Englewood District station, 1438 W. 63rd St., 30 clergy members of different denominations gather, heads bowed in prayer, asking for guidance as they prepare to face the challenge ahead.
It’s the second meeting of the Faith-Based Coalition, a group of church leaders, residents, activists and other community stakeholders, all of whom are strategizing with the South Side district to curb the violence. While this isn’t the first time a collaboration like this has been attempted, there is hope that this iteration will bring fresh enthusiasm and even fresher ideas.
In neighborhoods like Englewood, churches are plentiful. Or, at least, they used to be. In 2016, there were 317 churches; according to Clarence Brown, newly-installed chairman of the faith-based subcommittee and pastor of Abundant Blessings Church on West 63rd Street. But that number has since dropped to 139. He believes the decrease is partly due to leaders refusing to accept help, or collaborate with other clergy in the area.
Even when numbers were higher, there was still a struggle to get church leaders to work with each other on public safety initiatives. Xperience Church Chicago Pastor Dwayne Grant told Block Club last month that he put out several calls to other Englewood clergy in hopes of teaming up, but barely received a call back.
“Out of the dozens I reached out to, I might have gotten three or four pastors to respond,” said Grant, who has been hosting “Feed The Block” across the street from Moran Park since 2017. “It feels like everyone wants to do their own thing.”
According to Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), clergy participation in community meetings had been historically low until last month’s meeting.
“It was the highest turnout in years,” Lopez said.
Brown and others hope to keep that momentum going, with prayer walks in Englewood’s “hot zones” and a calendar full of family-friendly, faith-centered events. In addition to the annual National Night Out event in Hamilton Park on August 6, plans are in the works for a church basketball league, an expansion of the “Rock the Block” vacant lot beautification initiative and more.
“We have to keep in mind that when we do these events, the aftereffect is important,” Brown said. “We have to be present, and not just to hand out flyers to invite folks on the block to our churches. We have to do our part to connect with the community.”
The National Night Out event in Hamilton Park runs from 3 to 7 p.m. at 513 W. 72nd St. on August 6.
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