Archives for posts with tag: East St Louis

Gail calls this the fancy pants gate.

This entrance leads to a gated community within the Lafayette Park neighborhood here in St Louis.  This gate is located where else but on Park Avenue.

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about to cross the Mississippi into Illinois.  on our way to our Sunday-going-to-church with the East St Louis Corps.

With construction closures we had to take alternate routes this morning on our way to the not-so-fancy pants East St Louis IL Corps neighborhood.

Twice this past year a car has smashed through the gate and the fence to the East St Louis Salvation Army playground creating extra work for its Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  Smashed first as part of a police chase.  No one knows exactly what happened the second time.

I guess gates are subject to varying treatment depending on locale.

Some are fancy-pants.  Some aren’t.

Travis June 2016

Travis, reading scripture this morning for the East St Louis Corps.


April 22 2015 021Gail and I attend Sunday morning worship at The Salvation Army on 26th Street in East St Louis IL those Sundays we are home in St Louis.  Actually Kirkwood, as we await moving to what will be our home in St Louis city.  That’s another story.  Here’s my story about two Bibles of East St Louis.

A few weeks ago we crossed the Mississippi and joined a very small group for worship.  Several were children.  We got talking about the Bible, looking up passages for our lesson, a free unstructured sort of Bible study.  One girl mentioned that she didn’t have a Bible.  Her name is Maya.  I remembered this.

The next morning I went to the table in my office and took the new Bible I had just received for joining a year-long Salvation Army reading plan.  I picked it up and put it back in its protective sleeve.  A few days later I handed it to my Corps Officer, Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  He delivered it to Maya.

Last week Gail and I were back at East St Louis Corps.  We met with a group of children to prepare them to become Junior Soldiers, entry level for young people into Salvation Army life and service.  That evening Maya was there learning along with the others.

I was standing in the chapel.  Maya walked over and stood in front of me, looking off to the side.  She seemed to be thinking.  ‘Are you the one who gave me a Bible?’  Yes, that was me.  Maya was silent for a few seconds, looking like she was pondering this.

‘Thank you.’  And then she walked off to join the others who were busy being children.  Playing, chattering, teasing each other, asking us all kinds of questions.April 22 2015 032

That’s the first Bible of East St Louis.  Here’s the second.

The day after Maya thanked me I attended an early morning committee meeting of the St Louis Advisory Board.  Advisory Boards, well, advise The Salvation Army. St Louis has an exceptional Board.

Someone on the committee shared a story about a man they know, a friend, who told them that as a young person living in East St Louis he was given a Bible by a Salvation Army Officer, name now forgotten.   That was in 1957.  He still has that Bible.  That simple act of being given a Bible made an impact in his life.  The Bible.

I want to connect these two stories.  In them I believe there is some kind of meaning.

The Tuft of Flowers is a poem by Robert Frost.  He describes one morning coming to a freshly mown field to work.  He discovers that the mower, now gone, left “a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook”:

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,                                                                                                       By leaving them to flourish, not for us,                                                                                                                Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him,                                                                                                     But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

Alone in the field, he no longer feels alone.  The flowers left by the mower has created a bond.

“Men work together,” I told him from the heart,                                                                                      “Whether they work together or apart.”

Many of us who work in urban places with very hard conditions, where life is cut down too early, too often … the Bible has meaning, impact.  It especially has impact when it is used as a message, a gift, that someone notices me.

From Psalm 103:

As for mortals, their days are like grass;                                                                                                           they flourish like a flower of the field;                                                                                                                   for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,                                                                                                          and its place knows it no more.

But the steadfast love of the Lord                                                                                                                             is from everlasting to everlasting                                                                                                                            on those who fear him,                                                                                                                                          and his righteousness to children’s children,                                                                                                         to those who keep his covenant                                                                                                                            and remember to do his commandments.


We are liking our Sunday mornings when in town. We drive from suburban West County, east on I-64 (US 40 if you are that way about it), cross the Mississippi into Illinois, stick with 64 as it veers east, taking us to the St Clair exit into East St Louis.

We are Soldiers of the Salvation Army corps in East St Louis.

Our corps officer is Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  He is the Sunday morning preacher for a small gathering of mostly young people who have found church at Salvation Army.

We meet in a Salvation Army building built in 1960 –  East St Louis corps building plaque

Back then they called it a citadel.  War, yes, but more of a quick-get-in-here place of safety.  The way things are these days in East St Louis …

A few of our colleagues and peers understand our choosing this small corps in a rough place as our place.  To worship.  But most everyone else, they don’t.

For us such places have a gritty charm.   Next door to the corps building –

Way Bigga Burger


Way Bigga Burger 2



Way Bigga Burger 4Sometime in the next few weeks we will begin having a shorter commute.  Instead of driving from somewhere close to the Missouri River in west St Louis County, our trip to church will originate from the city of St Louis.  Our new living quarters will mean a 5 minute trip to work instead of 30, 45 or more.  It will mean that we once again become city dwellers instead of suburbanites.  Living in a place of density and diversity.  Where we will move from is not.

Some understand why.  Others don’t.

We were in town today.  We attended Sunday meetings on both sides of the river.

This morning we were with our home corps in East St Louis IL.  Next door to the Salvation Army building on 16th Street is the Home of the Way-Bigga Burger.   next door to the corps bldg  November 2013

Lieutenant AJ Zachery leads our Sunday school.  The Lieutenant is holding a photo of a zebra.  Is it essentially black or white?  The lesson was on difficult questions and specifically on the question posed Jesus in Luke 20:29-39.  Our class is cross-generational meaning children and adults meet together.  It can be a challenge but we enjoy the class.  In the lower left corner you can see my bowl.  Frosted Flakes and fruit were offered today.  I had two bowls.

Tonight, I came with Gail to her meeting in St Louis with the Temple House young adults.  Gail leads this weekly Sunday evening group which is reading and discussing Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  It’s part of establishing community life as these young men and women prepare for the urban mission center in the Benton Park West neighborhood.  Tonight’s discussion about community dealt with the contrast between the ideal and the divine reality.

So, that was our day.

AJ Zachery leading S school  November 2013


I was the preacher this morning in St Louis, at the Salvation Army’s Temple Corps on Arsenal Street, a place I’ve come to know over the past few years.  It’s the place of egg-producing hens, a missional community living incarnationally, Temple Gardens, multicultural worship, a Salvation Army brass band, a recent spate of stolen vehicles.  This morning as on every Sunday morning, men, women and young people kneeling, standing in prayer at the chapel altar; ‘help us, O Lord’.  It’s life in the city.IMG_1040

In my sermon I shared a story that really belongs to Lieutenant Antoine “AJ” Zachery, the new corps officer over the river in East St Louis IL.  Gail and I have chosen the East St Louis Corps as our church home.  We aren’t there often, maybe once a month due to ministerial responsibilities we have as part of our DHQ assignment.

Lieutenant AJ just arrived in East St Louis the beginning of July to take up his responsibilities of leading SA work in that woebegon city.  East St Louis reminds me of Gary, Benton Harbor, Detroit.  Lieutenant AJ is a Detroiter, sent to officer training from Detroit’s west side Grandale Corps, he was introduced to the SA at the Brightmoor Corps.  The Lieutenant understands something about urban life.

We visited with AJ a couple weeks ago over lunch and he told us this little story.

AJ worked one Saturday til he realized that it was dark outside.  He knew it wasn’t a good idea to be alone as he left the corps building.  But he had no choice.

Sure enough.  There was a good-sized group of young men in the front yard.  Not the kind of scenario you really want to walk into on a dark street.  What to do?  Just walk past, minding his own business, get into the vehicle, leave?  The Lieutenant decided otherwise.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe went over, and introduced himself.  It would have been so easy and understandable for AJ to be prudent, safe.  Would it be safe to go over to this group of young guys?

What he discovered was that several of the guys had come to the Army when they were kids.  What were they doing there tonight?  They were taking a break from basketball on the court next to the building.  But there are no lights.  Solution?  While some played, others stood with portable lights (cell phones too?!) so those playing could see a little something.

Just a bit of light.

AJ finished his little story and grinned.

Sometimes it’s just one person present in a very rough place.  Taking a little bit of risk.  Sometimes it’s a group of young guys in that rough place, just wanting to play basketball.  Holding their cell phones, lights to make it possible.  It’s a sweet scene, both.

I suspect that Lieutenant Zachery has established some presence in that northwest neighborhood of East St Louis.


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

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