By Angela Abbamonte
The church meets in downtown Jackson at the corner of Cumberland and Lafayette streets. Members gather from all parts of the city, encouraged to come as they are. Some dress in their Sunday best, but many do not.
After a time for food and fellowship, the pastor begins the service by asking for prayer requests. Most respond with praises to God for his protection throughout the week. A prayer is lifted up and a message follows, encouraging the congregation to praise the Lord and rejoice even in hard times. The group sings songs such as “At the Cross” and “When We All Get To Heaven” and then ends the service by praying for a fruitful week and singing “Jesus Loves Me.”
The service is dismissed, but most members do not get in their cars to head home. Most of them do not have a car or a home. The downtown church serves the homeless men and women of Jackson.
Church Without Walls started six years ago when pastor Pat Parham and his wife Vickie went to Ridley Alexander Park at the same corner where their church meets now with their Bibles, a cassette player and a thermos of coffee.
“We sat here eight Sundays in a row before the first individual accepted our invitation to have church with us,” Parham said. “He came, then he became three, and three became eight, and eight became 12. It has grown to an enormous number. Today, we had 50. Last year, we had 100 twice during the summer.”
Other churches from Jackson provide breakfast each Sunday for the people of Church Without Walls. A simple meal of biscuits, sausage and orange juice helps meet the physical needs of the congregation.
“To me, this is an outreach ministry to meet the needs of the people,” said Sadie Gregory, a regular volunteer at Church Without Walls. “It is a commitment to God, to serve and not to be served.”
Shirley Gantt, a volunteer from First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, said, “It is one way of serving the Lord. We can give back. We have so much, and this is one way we can share it.”
Members soak in the message and the fellowship, offering praises to God for all he has provided. One member said, “This is the real church,” and added he is encouraged to find a place where he could come and not be ashamed of how he looked, and how his life had turned out to this point.
The goal of Church Without Walls is clear: To bring the message that “Jesus loves you” to anyone who comes.
“Jackson has people in it who might not necessarily have homes or jobs or the best of things, who have really had some real challenges in their lives,” Parham said. “But that does not squelch their desire for the Scriptures and to be with other Christians and want to hear God’s word and experience the love of those who serve him. That’s what happens down here.”