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Former bar patrons belly up to new community center

COVINGTON, Ky. (BP)–When Amy Cummins was six years old, she sat in her mother’s chair at a Girls In Action meeting and said, “Mom, I’m day I’m going to go to seminary and be an inner-city missionary like you.”

However, while a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Tex., Amy reasoned she shouldn’t return home: “I just don’t think it would work out.”

That is, until Helen Cummins called her one night and said, “There’s nobody in the United States who needs help more than the kids in Covington.”

So, two months after her May graduation, 27-year-old Amy came back to South Side Baptist Church to become director of the El Ji Moore Activity Center.

“This center was exactly what I was trained to do, finding unique ways of reaching people,” she said. “I see this is going to reach a lot of people that aren’t being reached.”

That includes the prospect of former bar customers. Even though the church took over the old Salty Dog Saloon last April, some people still wander in to ask if they can buy a drink.

Instead, they often encounter an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and the offer of a free cup of coffee.

The three AA meetings [two more were recently approved] gathering at the center are the beginning of what Amy hopes will be a long list of activities.

Her father, Herbert, is managing a Saturday morning drop-in time, when the church serves up coffee and doughnuts. The building was also used for a back-to-school day last August, when 13 children lined up for free haircuts.

The director envisions a time when students will be able to stop in regularly for tutoring, game nights, exercise and a soda shop.

Her wish also list includes:

— A coffee house, parenting workshops, job skills training and job placement for adults.

— A day center and monthly meals for seniors.

— A wide range of other attractions, such as classes in computers, cooking and English; crafts groups, movie nights and a mentoring program.

“It’s exciting to see how many people are excited about it, even though we haven’t really started,” Amy said. “Lots of people are calling asking when computer training is going to start, or when exercise classes will start.”

“The great thing about the center is those who wouldn’t come in to the church off the street will come there,” added Mrs. Cummins, a staff member since 1975. “To me, it will be a great building on a foundation we’ve laid over the years.”

Like many inner-city churches, South Side has dwindled over the years. A.B. Colvin — later state missions director for 27 years — said Sunday attendance averaged 400 when he served as pastor from 1947-52. That compares to 175 today.

However, pastor Harold Pike points out that through its weekday ministries, the church has boosted its spiritual influence.

“Attendance is lower on Sunday than when I started but we teach the Bible to more people than when the church was in its heyday,” he said.

While the activity center will increase its outreach to the unchurched, the church still faces some hurdles to make it a reality.

Thanks to Pike’s negotiating skills, it already crossed the first two.

It involved the building’s unsightly exterior, a blend of three types of brick and block. The pastor wanted to cover it with Parex, a specialized, insulated finish.

However, the costs of hiring a crew were prohibitive. In addition, the company insisted only qualified workers could apply the sand-like coating.

He resolved the problem by convincing the firm to send a manager from New York to train four church members in its application.

The next was gaining approval for a zoning variance from the city’s board of adjustments. Although residential, the bar was approved as a non-conforming use under zoning laws enacted in 1984, according to Ed Jody, chief building inspector.

State law requires a hearing when the use of such a property is changed, he said. After two meetings, on Oct. 11 the board approved the use of the property for a community center by a 6-0 vote.

That leaves what may be the largest roadblock, money. Although Amy Cummins’ salary is modest, Pike said the church is scraping to come up with the funds to pay her and renovate the center.

“We called for prayer at a staff meeting (recently),” he said. “The devil has thrown up some roadblocks. But we’re going to get through this because the Lord’s in it.”
(Editor’s Note: The preceding story is a sidebar to “Church buys bar, serves up different kind of spirit,” that appeared in Baptist Press on Dec. 20, 2000.)

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  • Ken Walker