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A Church You Should Know: Hughson Street Baptist
“Sound doctrine produces good works!” God has called Hughson to an often forgotten community, and it’s well-known for its service.

"We’re glad you empty our detention rooms on Thursdays,” quips the local school principal, commenting on the number of kids who cross the street to attend a church-run program called Kids Club. The church is Hughson Street Baptist. The neighbourhood in north Hamilton, Ontario, is one of the poorest in Canada.

Summer soccer in the local park reaches over 400 kids, parents and grandparents. Neighbours sometimes help coach soccer even before attending a church service!
Photo courtesy Matt Misener

But the school, which ranked in the lower 100 of 3,000 Ontario schools in 2004, now refers kids to the program. And the neighbourhood is gradually improving, thanks in part to parishioners becoming involved in tutoring and serving on the community advisory board.

What do the neighbours say?

“The neighbours know us well,” says Pastor Dwayne Cline. “Schools and the local bar contribute canned goods to our food drive.” Everyone also knows the church distributes Bibles with the food hampers, he says.

The mayor and local member of the Ontario legistature know the church through its various activities. And community leaders, city hall, local schools, the recreation centre and the health centre partner with and support the ministries of the church.

Cline knows of neighbours who happily inform others “Hughson Street is my church” even before they attend on Sunday.

For example, such neighbours may have volunteered in the assembly of food hampers or coached church-related soccer before attending their first service. The church encourages this kind of inclusion.

“In the New Testament, first generation believers served. We are called to serve as Christ served,” says Cline. That being said, Hughson nonetheless requires doctrinal agreement before allowing someone to serve in a teaching or leadership role.

Summer soccer in the local park reaches more than 400 kids, parents and grandparents with a “Friends of Jesus” study.

The Drop Your Mops program brings preschool children and moms together weekly for games, snacks, a Bible story and lots of fun.

The Christmas Toy Shop invites community families to spend “points” to purchase stocking stuffers or larger toys for their children. One parent commented: “I usually have to buy my kids presents from the dollar store. This year I feel as if I am shopping at Sears.”

The church-sponsored local basketball league meets across the street in the Bennetto School gym. Among the young adults 18 and older who play, 60 percent did not finish high school, 40 percent have been incarcerated and several deal drugs for a living. Many were raised in homes with absentee fathers. In response the church aims to “connect and care” for these young adults in a way they have been craving all their lives, says Cline.

Worship, serve, disciple

Only 18 years ago the denomination was ready to shut down the church – until Pete Wright arrived. The congregation grew to 35 or 40 at a Sunday service. Because of Wright’s heart for evangelism through sports, the neighbourhood received a touch from God. Cline began to learn and serve with Wright in 1994, led at first by curiosity to explore a different mode of worship from the information-based ministry he had known. At that time the community was rated the third poorest in Canada.

“God has planted this church in this neighbourhood to bless this community,” says Cline, who was invited to lead the congregation soon after he arrived. “God is calling Hughson Street Baptist Church to impact this neighbourhood with the Gospel – to be a blessing.” Parishioners may have been worshipping in this historic building since 1887, but the vision Cline describes today has not always been so clear.

Today, their website indicates “three teachings at the heart of Hughson’s mission: to worship God, serve each other and make disciples.” And the church is unapologetically Baptist in its discipleship ministry. “Sound doctrine produces good works,” Cline says simply.

God has called Hughson to an often forgotten community – surrounded by water on the north and west, industry on the east, a railway and escarpment on the south. But within this inner-city parish, friendship evangelism alongside needs-related programs and activities are making a difference. And, Cline reminds us, “Nothing is accomplished without prayer.”

Professionals and street people

Hughson’s congregation is a colourful mix of professionals and street people. With 180 now attending services, the demographic is clearly youthful. Sunday services celebrate who God is. Almost 90 per cent are involved in growth groups for accountability; 90 percent also serve in the church and community, selecting one major (weekly) role and one minor role.

Some people help with Coffee’s On, providing emergency clothes or a food hamper every Friday morning. Relationships between neighbours and the congregation are built over a continental breakfast, table games and a devotional. The church hosts an annual barbecue and Christmas dinner, continuing to develop relationships.

This relational ministry is reflected in the budget, with at least half funding neighbourhood ministries. And job descriptions for Cline, his associate and a youth pastor designate one day a week for shepherding the community.

Stronger together

Hughson Street Baptist partners with several neighbourhood agencies. With True City, a network of churches bringing good to Hamilton, they distributed 2,300 backpacks to school students.

The kids’ breakfast club is a co-operative effort between the church, recreation centre and local school. Hughson is happy to support the City of Hamilton’s poverty roundtable, “making Hamilton the best place to raise a child.”

Incarnational living heightens risk

Cline encourages those interested in joining the ministry to reside in the neighbourhood, a decision that is not without its challenges. Cline mentions one professional couple who faced difficulty obtaining a mortgage from the bank because of the area’s reputation. Parents are sometimes concerned for the safety of their children: the board chair’s daughter was invited to the birthday party of a drug dealer’s five-year-old daughter. How does a parent respond?

The challenge to commit to living “incarnationally” means there is a risk…

Cline helps congregants new to the neighbourhood face reality. The challenge to commit to living “incarnationally” means there is a risk that kids and teens will receive invitations to participate in sex and drugs, accentuating teachable moments.

“In a poor neighbourhood there are always financial struggles,” says Cline. The 2006 census revealed the average household in Hamilton’s north end earned 42 per cent less than the average family income in the rest of the city.

“Doing Christian education well is a challenge,” says Cline. “Finding the balance between feeding and serving, and growing and serving” will continue until Christ comes again.

Three generations have come and gone through Hughson Street Baptist Church. Fifteen years ago, none of the people Hughson is currently reaching knew Jesus. How will the world be changed because of Hughson’s influence on this generation?

Charlene de Haan is a freelance writer in Toronto. She also co-ordinates the EFC’s Missional Church Project. Read all the profiles in this ongoing series at www.faithtoday.ca.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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