Nathaniel Lee, TRIBUNE CORESPONDENT – Feb 3, 2020
What if local churches were not places where people congregate but places where people of faith gather to worship, hear the Word of God and strategize ways to reach a lost world?
That is the vision of the Rev. William Brawner, pastor of Haven Peniel United Methodist Church. Brawner is a minister in every sense of the word but, like Jesus, he isn’t a pulpit preacher. He believe in taking it to the streets.
“My goal is not to just do the work inside the church but to be more like Jesus and do the work outside the church,” Brawner said. “I am not a sanctuary pastor, I’m more of a street pastor; I’m not a congregation pastor, I’m more of a community pastor.
“So, my goal is not to just preach on Sunday but to live, act and breathe the Word of God throughout the rest of the week. I believe that this church is just our huddle where we come together and make our plans for the team and then execute our game plan on the street, not in the sanctuary. So that is our goal.”
Brawner, who is a community organizer and advocate, is no stranger to community engagement.
“My journey here has started in community organizing and then I realized that, as a community organizer there’s only but so much you are able to say about the Lord because of our 501 ( C ) (3) status, but I couldn’t be honest about my testimony and couldn’t do the work of God if I couldn’t talk about God,” he said.
The 501 (C) (3) is federal statute recognizing nonprofit and charitable organizations tax-exempt status. Those granted this status are required to meet certain guidelines and regulations.
“So, I then decided to dig a little deeper into my spiritual walk going to Lutheran Theological Seminary, which is now United Lutheran Seminary,” he said. At that time, he also interned at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church before answering the call to pastor at Haven Peniel.
“I have been a community leader now for about 20 years and am the executive director of Haven Youth Center, a non-profit organization which serves HIV-AIDS infected and affected kids.”
His experience and training as a community leader and organizer serves him well at Haven Peniel which has an ambitious youth ministry and actively engage the community via its various programs, services and ministries.
“We are a welcoming, affirming and believing church meaning we aren’t checking for what you have on or don’t have on. We are here for the lonely and the lost and not just for those who have the right wig or the right shoes on Sunday’s,” he said.
“There’s a lot of stories beneath those wigs and in those shoes and that is the part that we lift up.”
“Because every time I walk in here the Lord just speaks to me and I speak to Him,” said Mildred E. Lilly when asked what kept her at Haven Peniel. She said she has attended the church her entire life.
“I’m happy every Sunday that I come and every Tuesday, every Wednesday, any day I walk into His house I’m happier than I was the day before, “ she said.
And the congregation?
“A very, very friendly church and when you walk in here you meet the Lord and the Lord meets you,” she said.
Along with numerous ministries and programs offered to its members and the community, Haven Peniel also serves as a place where community can go for help during hard times.
“Anyone that says on Monday that they have nothing to eat on Tuesday can come right here to Haven Peniel and there’s a meal waiting for them. Any Tuesday come right in,” Lilly said.
When people enter Haven Peniel, Lilly says they are warmly greeted by friendly people who are truly happy to see them.
“Once they sit down and hear our sermon, they are no longer a stranger,” she said.
Lilly said Brawler “was surely a gift from God”.
“He’s a young pastor and it took the elders a little time to get used to him because they were used to doing things the way they used to do them, but pastor came in with new ideas and we’re working with him morning, noon and night,” Lilly said.
It didn’t take long for them to warm up to the change and Lillly leaves no doubt how she feels about her pastor and her church.
“This is my church and I love it,” she said. “Anyone that I meet on the street knows that I belong to 2301 W. Oxford Street because I not only speak about the Lord, but they know I’m on my way to meet Him.”
The enthusiasm and love for Haven Peniel is mutually shared by its members such as Arlenia Roberts whose been a member for more than 15 years.
Roberts said that before joining Haven Paniel, she wasn’t pleased with the church she was attending at the time. Once she paid a visit to Haven Peniel, she found what she was looking for.
“This is a family-oriented church, a giving church and we’re family, a big family,” Roberts said.
The Haven Peniel family is a friendly one where “everybody supports and loves on one another,” she said.
Together with other members of the church, Roberts said she joined in the protesting of nearby Stop-n-Go stores long identified as nuisance businesses in the neighborhood and with the distribution of food to those in need.
“I love pastor Brawner,” Roberts said. “He’s an amazing pastor.”