Tuscaloosa-area churches focus on keeping children safe

July 27, 2022;  Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Representatives of several Tuscaloosa area churches are photographed at the altar in Christ Episcopal Church.  Twelve Tuscaloosa area churches are cooperating on a child safety program August 10. From left on the front are Peggy Kelly, Pam Pierson and Rev.  Lou Ann Sellers.  On the back row from left are Rev.  Paul Pradat, Pastor Antonio Thomas and Pastor Michael Foster.  Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

July 27, 2022; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Representatives of several Tuscaloosa area churches are photographed at the altar in Christ Episcopal Church. Twelve Tuscaloosa area churches are cooperating on a child safety program August 10. From left on the front are Peggy Kelly, Pam Pierson and Rev. Lou Ann Sellers. On the back row from left are Rev. Paul Pradat, Pastor Antonio Thomas and Pastor Michael Foster. Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

Pam Pierson and Jenna Johnson were having lunch one day and a thought occurred to them while discussing some problems their adult children had experienced.

They had turned to everyone but their local churches for help.

That idea was the genesis leading to the creation of a coalition of churches across denominational and racial boundaries in the Tuscaloosa area. The coalition’s goal is to help people when things go wrong.

The program they developed, “Where is God When Life Happens,” is designed to help people directly when things are not going well. The program also includes a proactive focus designed to intervene in hopes of preventing some of the bad things from happening.

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“Part of the problem Jenna and I saw was our fault and part was because churches don’t let people know that they are there for real-world problems. They are resources for real-world problems. It is OK for people to talk about real problems at church,” Pierson said.

They formed a small group in 2017, which quickly grew to encompass 12 churches. The group will host a “keep children safe” event from 5:30 pm to 7:30 Aug. 10 at St. Francis of Assisi University Parish, 404 Ninth St,.

“We were trying to find some safe ways to address the interaction between law enforcement and our youth to help keep them safe. I’m trying to refer to those incidents when police stopped up in fatalities. It was around that time when I suggested this,” said the Rev. Peggy Kelly, who is affiliated with Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Tuscaloosa.

Since the group consisted of churches that were in both the Black and white communities, the effort blossomed into other programs such as the one the Aug. 10 events.

“We have more in common than we have differences. We come together, we can show that example, that we can tackle these problems, these ills of society, as one, as a unit. People try to divide and that’s a trick of the enemy, to divide and conquer, but we can come together and we can solve some of these problems we’ve been having,” said the Rev. Antonio Thomas, pastor of St. Mark AME Church.

The community appeal has driven the group since its formation in 2017. They began presenting community programs designed to address the real-world problems faced by church members and unchurched people alike.

“When we first started, we thought we would just present some information,” said Rev. Lou Ann Sellers, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church. “We had no idea the sense of community that would form. We have been meeting together for years, and we all have become friends.

“Our kickoff was at First African Baptist and everybody was so welcome and it set the tone. We are not coming to our churches and just visiting with friends. We are going to each other’s churches and get to visit with all of our new friends . It has been a very wonderful community building thing that we have ended up with,” Sellers said.

The Rev. Paul Pradat, a native of Tuscaloosa who has returned to lead the Christ Episcopal Church after serving a church in Huntsville, said he found the cross-denominational work and the multi-racial focus very effective and appealing. He said this focus helps the churches break down walls that have separated them.

Pradat said churches can get caught in denominational or racial silos, so any initiative that removes barriers within the community would be “wonderful.”

The Rev. Michael Foster, pastor of First African Baptist church, said, “When we do things like this I think it helps the community be aware and help makes children safe. I think it has always been good and we have seen the results of some of things we have done.”

The program at St. Francis of Assisi will feature live music, age-appropriate activities for children between 5 and 10 years old and specific activities designed to help keep teens and other young people safe.

Pierson, the moving force behind organizing and running the coalition, said Tuscaloosa City Councilman Matthew Wilson along with two of the women who have mentored him, Lacrissa Prince and Beatrice Robinson, will spend some time working with teens. At the same time, Randall Huffaker, a University of Alabama cyber specialist will work with adults to help them understand how to keep teens safe in the online environment.

The program will wrap up with former Alabama wide receiver Donnie Lee Jr.and best-selling author Liz Huntley talking to the entire group.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Teen and child safety the focus of upcoming events

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