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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

A century of praise and worship
The Park Church celebrates centennial
 
Published Thursday, November 14, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

clientuploads/v38n13photos/THE PARK CROSS_640.jpgThe importance of going to church every Sunday is a lesson Adden Leonard learned at an early age.

“When I was 12 years old, my daddy whooped me for not going to church,” said Leonard, 89. “And that’s still in me. I go to church every Sunday, unless something’s hurting me.”

Leonard is a deacon and longtime member at The Park Church, one of Charlotte’s oldest and largest congregations.

The Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this weekend and marking the occasion Saturday night with a sold-out Centennial Gala at the Westin Hotel Uptown. The church is also celebrating with Homecoming Sunday Worship during all three services at its two Charlotte locations.

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PHOTO/DANIEL COSTON FOR THE CHARLOTTE POST
Adden Leonard (left) and Briana Thompson are longtime members of The Park Church.

Leonard has been a faithful member of The Park for 62 years.

“When I first started [attending], I didn’t even know what it meant,” he said. “But now it means everything to me.”

Leonard said his fondest memory of the church was the day he joined the deacon board.

“It makes you feel good to be a part of something that’s worth something,” he said. “They saw more in me than I saw in myself.”

The Park Church, now located on Beatties Ford Road in Northwest Charlotte, began as a band of prayer warriors in First Ward, where it was first incorporated as Gilfield Missionary Baptist Church in 1913.

When the church’s current pastor, Bishop Claude Alexander, was installed in 1990, The Park had fewer than 600 members. Today, nearly 9,000 worshipers call The Park home.

Alexander attributes the growth to the church’s ability to give its members options that suit their spiritual lifestyles, in terms of worship times and service opportunities.

“I think we have grown as Charlotte has grown,” he said. “Also, our outreach ministries, whether it has been personal or technological by way of the Internet… all of those things have played a part.”

With over 80 ministries, The Park provides feeding programs, housing, school supplies, career assistance and financial resources for families in need. The congregation also participates in the iXtend Initiative, in which members commit to “extending themselves beyond themselves” by volunteering at various nonprofit organizations throughout the community.

“Historically, the African-American church has always been at the center of community life,” said Alexander. “So The Park Church has operated in that vein. Whether it’s been providing emergency assistance to individuals, partnering with organizations like Crisis Assistance, The Men’s Shelter, Salvation Army, the Urban League or partnering with RAIN to serve those with HIV and AIDS, we realize that there are things that we can do singularly as church, but we can have a much greater impact by leveraging relationships. And that’s what we’ve sought to do.”

The Park has fulltime and short-term missions in Kenya, South Africa and Jamaica. Alexander said they hope to expand to more countries, including India.

“We want to be relevant in the city and throughout the world,” he said. “We want to continue to do our global work.”

As for the church’s legacy, Alexander said it is one of acting on faith and taking risks. He said The Park has taken risks in crossing cultural and racial barriers at times when doing so was unpopular. He adds that in the early 1990s, the church was one of the first black congregations to systematically address the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Alexander said the church also took a risk on him when he was installed as pastor even though he was 26 years old and unmarried.

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Bishop Claude Alexander

“They were very patient,” he said. “They gave me room to grow into the role.”

Alexander said being able to grow with his congregation has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his 23-year tenure.

Briana Thompson, 25, has been a member of The Park since birth. She said watching the church grow under Alexander’s leadership has been mind-blowing.

“I think about all of the changes that we can see in our lives and in society over 23 years,” she said. “A lot of different things have happened. It’s so amazing.”

Even though much has changed, Thompson said one thing has remained constant.

“Even with all of the growth the church has experienced, Bishop still knows everything and everyone,” she said. “Bishop may not know everybody by name, but he still knows every single face. He’s more than just a preacher. He’s a shepherd, and he looks after his flock. I can appreciate that.”

Thompson recently returned from a missionary trip to Haiti, where The Park partnered with Samaritan’s Feet to deliver shoes.

“This church has poured into me for years,” she said. “It has been a huge blessing to me. So now to be on the other end of that, and to be able to serve my church and give back… It’s overwhelming. It’s exciting. God has blessed me through The Park Church to be a blessing to others.”

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