By Melissa Lauber
“There’s a war going on for the souls of our young people,” said Brendon Scott, Baltimore City Council president. It’s uncertain whether “the side of evil or of righteousness” will prevail. But the new Agape Center at John Wesley UMC will make a difference.
The Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach intends for that difference to be a significant one.
“Our children are under attack,” she said. “I’m tired of reading the obituaries of those who birthdays start with 2000 and end with 2019. People ask me why our church started this youth center. I say, ‘why not?’ We want to provide a safe space where children can come and be loved, a space to provide them an alternative to the streets.”
As the church celebrates its 150th anniversary, members are very aware that the drugs, poverty and violence in the surrounding community are theirs to address. They are undaunted about being harbingers of hope. But they also know it takes much more than good intentions.
On July 20, members filled the pews for worship, celebrated, and then cut the ribbon on a youth center that fills the second floor of the large city church.
This was the official opening. Earlier in the summer, 43 children began coming to the Agape Center on Tuesdays and Fridays.
According to Patrick Nemons, a consultant who helped create the youth center, “it’s a place where children and youth can come during the summer, after school and on Saturdays to receive tutoring, help with homework, learn and develop skills in the computer lab, have a snack or meal in the center’s Cornerstone Café, play board games such as chess, work puzzles, or Legos in the Quiet Room, read books in the Library Space, watch movies in the Theater Room, play video games in the Control Room, and ping-pong, air hockey and pool in the Got Game Room.”
“I want our children to live, to grow, and to be a blessing to their families, community and city,” Carter-Rimbach said. “Agape,” in Greek, means love. “Let’s make our love official and open our doors to the future.”
Baltimore Councilman Bill Henry of District 4 applauded the church’s efforts.
“We need to put more resources into taking care of our kids,” he said. “We spend half-a-billion dollars on the police department, catching our kids after they’ve gone wrong. We spend nowhere near what we need to spend to help our kids grow up to be strong, functioning members of society. When government doesn’t do everything it should do, the church and community need to step up.”
Baltimore Comptroller Joan Pratt said the city will attempt to assist thr Agape Center in its efforts and she even made a personal gift to the new program.
As the public went on an inaugural tour of the facility, they saw a video that featured the neighborhood children. “I am love,” was their refrain. Carter-Rimbach smiled, pleased that the message was getting through.
She is counting on outside help from other congregations and community groups to help with a lengthy wish list to make the Center all it might be. But with the ribbon cutting, the first step is complete.
“We’re leaning on God,” Nemons said, “to make it bigger and bigger.”