I exited I 64 at 15th Street and turned right.  It felt home.  Could be Gary, Detroit.

This morning I visited East St Louis IL.  It’s the rough counterpart to its larger urban cousin to the west across the Mississippi.  St Louis MO has rough places, especially its north neighborhoods.  But East St Louis is another degree rougher.  Or two, or three.

Burnt houses.  Old houses with roofs slowly crumbling in.  Much empty space, lots once filled with homes now gone.  A solitary figure here and there, slowly ambling, some still on this quiet grey chilly Sunday morning.

I pulled up to the Salvation Army building on 16th Street.  I look at the bronze dedication plaque.  1960.  Now a half century old.  This is where the corps gathers.

Inside, a Sunday school class led by the corps officer, Lieutenant Katie Harris-Smith.  Who earlier picked up families in the Army’s van.  Who cooked the meal for today’s Lunch With the Lieutenant.  Who would lead the worship meeting and preach the sermon and and afterwards kneel at the altar to counsel and pray with three persons who had listened and felt touched by God.  Then, table fellowship with men, women and young people who have found a people and a place to belong.

The corps’ pride has to be its small group of older teens and young adults.  I like them.  They know how to smile.  Quietly friendly.  They like one another.  The corps is family.

In between morning activities Lieutenant Harris-Smith says that the corps building is in between two schools.  Jackson Elementary to the south will close.  Miles D. Davis Elementary to the north will close.  This is a story.  School closings tell a story about a community.  It is a chilly Sunday morning and maybe that’s why I shiver, but maybe not.

1960.  The corps building now half century old appears to stand almost alone in this part of East St Louis.  It is an old building, even tired looking this grey morning.  But it is the only solid structure I can see in this neighborhood of raggedy and abandoned buildings.  And I get the definite feeling that the men, women and young people gathered in it today do so for that solid presence it brings to their part of this city.  A building, a community of believers, a Salvation Army officer sent on mission to this forsaken appearing place. 

Hear my cry, O God;
   listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
   when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
   that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
   a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent for ever,
   find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
   you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

 from Psalm 61