St. Andrew AME Church is part of the 199-year-old African Methodist Episcopal (AME) tradition, a church tradition historically involved in civil rights. This year marks the 149th anniversary of this Tennessee flagship church. When Dr. Kenneth and Marilynn Robinson were appointed pastors of the congregation, it was a dying church. They brought a social theology to a neighborhood that needed to be revitalized.
Recognizing the need for housing development in the community, in 1998 St. Andrew started a Community Development Corporation (CDC), The Works, in order to receive federal funding for their housing efforts. After ten years of housing development work, they started asking, what do we need to accomplish in the neighborhood besides housing? The leadership of St Andrew AME and The Works developed a grassroots planning process, inviting the neighborhood to determine the priority for their community development efforts. Together, they put together a strategic plan to address food insecurity and hunger, seeking to holistically address the needs of the community. The Works is in the 6th season of holding an outdoor farmer’s market.
Today, the St. Andrew Enterprise is comprised of the church, the CDC, and a K-5 charter school sponsored by The Works CDC. Each of these entities are inter-connected. Roshun Austin serves as both COO of the church and executive director of The Works CDC. She says The Works has shifted from a primary focus on housing development to focusing more on economic development. “Our work has shifted to more comprehensive and holistic in scope,” Roshun shared, “Transportation, green space food security, the restoration of a street median…”
When asked about the impact of The Works’ ministry on the greater community–the city of Memphis–Roshun said there are other communities wanting to tap into The Works for strategic planning, as an example of grassroots work. They sit at several tables outside of the community, in a near advisory role for similar efforts in holistic transformation. But, the ultimate goal Roshun comes back to is reinvesting in the neighborhood where the church sits. St. Andrew is in a unique position with only ? of its attendants living within a 10 mile radius of the church. Roshun emphasized the importance of the church, CDC and neighborhood working together.
Roshun says CCDA’s presence in Memphis has the potential to foster partnerships between others doing valuable work in Memphis. “We tend to work in silos in Memphis,” she confessed, “But that doesn’t benefit the end user. We need to be wondering, ‘How can we partner?’ “ She says she hopes that with the National Conference in Memphis this November, the good work will be replicated. “I think of CCDA as the convener. Scripture says, ‘Feed my sheep’––physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. With CCDA in Memphis, I hope we can make a more concerted effort together to feed God’s sheep.”