For Kansas City’s historic Boone Tabernacle Church of God in Christ east of downtown, Sunday wasn’t just a day for worship.
Instead, it was a day for the congregation to spill outside the church at 1317 E. 12th St., filling the open-air tents and grounds and offering hope and service to the surrounding neighborhoods.
“It’s about being a resource for the community and a life partner for the community,” said Chris Howell, who was one of hundreds of church members and visitors participating in the outdoor festival.
Howell said the church has been a vibrant part of the urban core for more than 70 years and has held its Labor Day Sunday celebration for the last seven years. In addition to a feast, the church provided free haircuts, clothes, health screenings, school supplies, and job and social service information. Children had a chance to visit firefighters on a pumper truck, motorcycle cops, and mounted patrol officers and their horses.
Howell and others said this year’s celebration had particular resonance because the historic church has just dedicated a 28,000-square-foot addition that can serve as a community conference center as well as a sanctuary. The new facility will enhance the church’s ministries, which include providing food to about 1,000 families every other Friday.
“We believe we have a great opportunity for outreach and connectivity,” said Bishop L.F. Thuston, who has been the church’s pastor for 14 years. He noted the church is ideally situated between downtown’s affluent businesses and needy neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue and can serve as a bridge between those diverse communities. The church is also making a concerted effort, he said, to work with the Kansas City Police Department to “stop the violence before it starts.”
For Thuston and his church, Labor Day Sunday is one of the high points of the year — the last warm-weather holiday and a time when visitors can meet the congregation outdoors and learn about its ministries.
“It’s a day of hospitality,” Thuston said. “It’s Christmas in September.”
Robin Taylor, who lives near the church, said he heard the music from the worship service and it drew him to the festival.
“They are just real good people,” said Taylor, who is not a member but attends services when he can. “They welcome everyone.”
Taylor was enjoying a meal Sunday afternoon and said he had picked up some books about Christian living for his teenage daughter.
Terence Wynn, who until recently was homeless in Kansas City, Kan., was also enjoying Sunday’s event.
Wynn said he was putting his life back together at Joshua’s Safe Haven, a men’s shelter at 622 Benton Blvd. That shelter and two others are run by Sarita Graham, a member of Boone Tabernacle.
He said he had found some work boots at Sunday’s event and some Christian books to send to his grandchildren in Utah.
And there was one more thing Wynn said he had found: “A lot of love.”