By Jennifer Harris
Word&Way News Writer
ST. LOUIS — Third Baptist Church in St. Louis strives to be a good neighbor in its downtown, urban setting. The church, located at the corner of Grand and Washington in the heart of Grand Center, views service as a top priority.
According to Leslie Limbaugh, minister of students and communication, that service can be as simple as opening up the church building and providing snacks during community events or allowing dance teams to use parts of the church as dressing rooms.
“We keep an ear out on whatever is needed at the moment,” Limbaugh said. “We feel that being welcoming, whether or not those people come to the church, is a good thing.”
The church has a particularly strong connection with students.
During the school year, students and volunteers gather in the church’s Rose Holman Learning Center for tutoring. Last year, nearly 30 children came to the program on Tuesdays and Thursdays to receive one-on-one homework assistance and help in reading, math and other skills.
The tutoring program receives assistance from the Rockwood school district. The school district pays for a tutoring coordinator. But while the church works with the school district, any child — regardless of the school district he or she is in — is able to attend and receive tutoring.
Vicki Swyers, minister to children and youth, said the tutoring program will grow to four days a week this year.
Students also have the opportunity to learn in the center’s computer lab, equipped with educational software and Internet access.
Allyn Dault, the church’s choir director, is especially excited about the fine arts school the church plans to start in the fall. The program will begin with lessons in voice, piano or organ, but Dault said members plan to expand the school to include more instruments, visual arts, dance and drama.
The school will utilize volunteers from the church and, Dault hopes, volunteers from organizations like the St. Louis Symphony.
The program is designed for children whose families may not have the financial means to pay for lessons or extra activities. “My parents took me to soccer and band, but a lot of families around here don’t have parental stability,” Dault said.
The church wants to make sure finances are not a hindrance. “When kids come, they are always able to participate in what we are doing, whether or not they can pay to go,” Swyers said.
On June 20, children and their parents were able to attend Circus Flora, a one-ring circus that was set up across the street from the church. The circus donated approximately 90 tickets to the church. “They may have thought ‘Third Baptist is a good neighbor, let’s be a good neighbor to them,’” Limbaugh said.
In addition to serving children, the church gives children an opportunity to serve. According to Swyers, the children who participate raised $500 for children in Nicaragua through the “Say no to worms” campaign. Through the project, children learned about the health risks children in other countries face on a daily basis and how they can help.
The children held bake sales with baked goods donated by the Women’s Missionary Society and put on a play to earn money.
The church works to help families by giving out books of bus tickets, providing rent, utility relief and groceries from the food pantry.
Limbaugh said she hopes local schools and universities will begin to see Third Baptist as a place to serve. Schools have already utilized the church’s programs on “Make a Difference Day,” a national day of helping others.
Even if volunteers aren’t Christians, their service in the church can have positive effects. “Tutors get to see the church love on kids and care about them,” Limbaugh said. “They are watching the church model Christianity.”