For more than 90 years, Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church has had a tangible impact on the lives of its members and the community by empowering them through education or uplifting them in acts of charity.
Now, under the leadership of a social justice-oriented pastor, who has served for three years, Camphor is working to engage more youth and make a deeper impact in the community.
“Our objective now is to really teach people about who Jesus really was, in terms of what Jesus really did. Most folk want to talk about Jesus as a spiritual creature. [But] he wasn’t. He dealt with bare bold politics,” said Senior Pastor Frank N. Moore. “Most people separate religion from politics. That’s why we fail to understand what Jesus really did because we separate them. Most of our churches miss a lot of that. They miss this ... revolutionary Jesus was.”
A 1990 graduate of United Theological Seminary’s doctoral program, Moore studied under Samuel Dewitt Proctor, an associate of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and was classmates with prominent civil rights activists Jeremiah Wright and Otis Moss Jr.
Naturally, the gospel he preaches emphasizes Jesus as a radical that challenged corruption, racism and classism. On Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Tribune’s visit, Moore preached on these themes.
“Jesus never was a king and never wanted to be a king. We want a king but Jesus said, ‘I came to suffer,’” preached Moore. “Ya’ll thought this Jesus was a nice fellow. But don’t you see he’s a revolutionary? If we are Christians ... then we suffer for the cause of justice, righteousness and goodness. God is not about money ... God is not about military might. But God is about brotherhood.”
The congregation seemed to think about Moore’s words as they were mostly quiet and reacted on his most vivid statements with murmuring and humming.
“We have a pastor that preaches from the Bible and makes it clear,” said Gloria Johnson, a member for 42 years. “You can always get a good message.”
Ethel Hendricks, a member who was born into Camphor, agreed. “It’s so in-depth,” she said. “I’ve learned so much more that makes me understand, even though I’m in my late 80s.”
Reese Brown Jr., a member for 77 years, calls Moore a “learned pastor that gives us good information on how to live.”
In addition to the Sunday sermon, members get their fill of information through Bible studies and a supplemental class that Moore said studies “scriptures in light of political and social issues. “
One of the most recent topics focused on how the Bible addresses the current presidential administration.
“We don’t ignore anything,” said Moore. “Like this stuff about Trump, now what we are putting in place is a class dealing with Trumpism. I’m dealing with a particular book and looking at how do the prophets speak to Trump.”
Moore added that if younger generations were exposed to the revolutionary aspects of the Bible and Jesus, “they would’ve participated because they want to be part of something.”
Camphor is primarily supported by families that have been at the church for decades but it is working to attract younger members. At least one Sunday a month, it has a contemporary service, for which its “contemporary ensemble” provides the music; and on second Sundays, they host a café after service, at which a light lunch is served.
“We need to do more evangelism. It waxes and wanes,” said Ruth Harding Harmon, lay leader and a member for 59 years. “We need to be more intense and intentional. That’s what I see as my mission and others going forward.”
Harmon added that this, and other Camphor efforts she’s involved in, is her way of giving back to the church. She knows Camphor as a place that’s always been a rock. When she was a college student working three jobs, the church helped her with $10, $20 allowances she said helped her to move along. Two years after Harmon graduated, Camphor started a scholarship fund that continues to this day.
Years later, when Harmon started a family, Camphor supported her through the illness and passing of her son, who, by the age of 12, had undergone several brain surgeries and extended hospital stays.
“My family and church were there with us, in terms of praying, helping to hold us up,” said Harmon. My church was there all the way — the people, individually and collectively were wonderful.”
Carol Black has four generations of her family represented at Camphor and her late husband, with whom she served as Camphor’s attorney, was a son of the founding family. She said Camphor has always been active in the community with adult literacy; a gym with an excellent athletic league; a huge Boy Scout troop; a Girl Scout troop; summer school; and a host of other youth activities.
“I raised my family here,” she said. “[Camphor] is a daily part of my living. It gives me a center. It helps me with my decisions, in terms of ethics. Without this weekly Word, who knows where I would be?”
Outreach ministries include a free GED program that’s offered two semesters a year; a Tuesday community food cupboard that’s accompanied by a worship service; and an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the community, twice on the holiday. Moore said for two months during the winter, Camphor also provides its gym as a shelter for the homeless.
“The vision is to be a church that spreads the real word of Jesus Christ, for the overall salvation of humanity,” said Moore. “[And] salvation is not about going to heaven. We do have eternal life but salvation is a comprehensive term — salvation means liberating people from any kind of oppression or any kind of evil. Salvation is about what’s gong on in everyday life — liberating people from pain, misery and oppression. That’s what Jesus did.”