Rev. J. C. Pritchett, senior pastor of Faith Church
BY HOLLY KESTENIS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – “This building is a gift from our elders for our community,” said Rev. J. C. Pritchett, senior pastor of Faith Church. “What we want to do is to bring it back to life.”
In the blazing Florida sun, a small group gathered last Saturday to witness the rededication of the empty building that stands along the 29th block of First Avenue South.
With some reimaging, the building will soon be used as a collaborative workspace for different organizations in the community.
Collaborative workspaces have been popular around the county for more than a decade. They offer space in prime locations that are usually out of range for small organizations and businesses.
Thirty years ago, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of St. Petersburg (IMA) was able to purchase the building for $1 with a grant made possible by former Mayor David Fisher.
Over the last 30 years, the 3,000 square-foot building has been a place for tutoring, a food pantry and a space where people in need could get clothes. However, over the past five years the two-story building has sat empty.
With Pritchett coming on board as president of the IMA eight months ago, the group decided once again to make the building an institution that people can look to for change in the community.
He hopes that when all races and religious denominations drive down First Avenue South they will catch a glimpse of the interfaith ministry, both what they have accomplished in the past and where they plan to go in the future.
Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers has a lifetime of history in the area. An advocate for the African-American community, Flowers tirelessly works to not only educate other races about the plight of black people who worked to make the city what it is today but the children and young adults living on the south side who may not know the history.
“Our students need to know where they come from and they need to know that there is pride in this community,” said Flowers. “They need to know that you can make a mistake, but you can get back up again.”
Each year before the start of school, Flowers and her team take first-time teachers working in south St. Pete schools and those with a bad impression of the area, on a tour where they stop at and converse about the historic buildings, the accomplishments made and the people who lived there. She plans to make the IMA building a stop on the tour.
The IMA is famous for its ability to put the differences in their religions aside to support and positively contribute to making the community great.
“While we may worship in different ways, we are all committed to making our community a place where every single person is valued, honored, treated with dignity and given their basic human rights,” said Rev. Kim Wells, senior pastor at Lakewood United Church of Christ.
Wells was recently added to the IMA board and hopes that their movement to promote social justice in St. Petersburg will raise self-determination and encourage all to enjoy the goodness in life.
Inspired by the collaborative efforts of many, Wells and the other members of the board hope to create awareness of what can be accomplished when people of faith join with those who express their faith in alternate ways.
“We feel it is important for the community to see faith is not something monolithic when it comes to our beliefs and our expression, but is monolithic when it comes to justice and compassion,” said Wells.
Rev. Clarence Williams of Greater Mt. Zion A.M.E. believes community and ministry are an enterprise that carries with it meaningful and difficult tasks that require tedious and sometimes painful sweat equity. He sees the rededication of the IMA building as a communion with faith-based stakeholders that should stimulate growth and produce resources regardless of whether there are funds to make it happen.
“It’s going to require a unified mindset to understand the purpose and help make the purpose become a realization,” he said. “With all of the obstacles and challenges that you have, if you have to beg…borrow, don’t steal, but get whatever you need and God will do the rest.”
Senator Darryl Rouson knows of the IMA’s history of involvement that moves beyond the private pew of prayer to the public arena of action. He challenges the community of today to follow suit.
“If we’ve ever needed prayer before or the involvement of faith communities in social justice we need it now,” said Rouson, who advocates for acting with equality, fairness and dignity to all human beings.
The IMA building will undergo renovations, replacing doors, floors, paint, plumbing and other areas that need attention. Various organizations have already signed up to operate out of the building such as the African American Heritage Trail and the Legacy Center for Social Justice. Their doors are open to all organizations that work to affect change in the community.
Yearly membership for the clergy is $50, and all donations are accepted from the community.
For more information, visit Facebook.com/IMAStPete.