‘Where you stand is where you serve’
By Kenya Vaughn
“It is God. It has nothing to do with me,” said the Rev. Dr. Freddy James Clark, pastor of Shalom Church (City of Peace). “And I think the moment I try to make it about me things, will probably go in another direction.”
Asked to discuss his ministry, Rev. Clark remembered received blessings that have gracefully carried him from the 14-year-old boy who was called to serve God during his early days at Sumner High School to one of the most revered men of faith in the St. Louis area.
His pastor Moses Javis at Westside Missionary Baptist Church set an early tone.
“My pastor told me, ‘You don’t have a call to preach son, you have a call to prepare,’” Rev. Clark said. “I accepted the call and didn’t know what to do with it.”
At the time, he went about his business of being a popular high school student.
“When I got to Sumner, I didn’t know one person,” Rev. Clark said. “But after a semester – maybe a year – I knew everybody at that school, from the scholars to the scum.”
The fact that he even made it to Sumner was early evidence of grace and divine favor, years before his ministry was conceived. It showed up in the form of his seventh and eighth grade teacher Kaytrude Palmer.
“This woman took me under her wing,” Rev. Clark said. “She would keep me after school and ask me to come in on Saturday to catch me up with everything because I was behind. I was about to become a statistic, and she prevented all of that. I will talk about her until I get to heaven.”
He didn’t understand why she was putting forth the extra effort on him at the time – though she admitted it was through faith, and subsequence obedience, of her own.
“She says to me, ‘One of these days, Freddy, greatness is going to be yours because I’ve been able to see it’,” Rev. Clark said. “I said, ‘What is this woman talking about? This woman is crazy! She has lost her mind.’”
By the time he saw her again, decades had passed. He was heading up the Call to Oneness effort to raise awareness about the senseless violence on the St. Louis streets, especially in North St. Louis. Unbeknownst to Rev. Clark, Palmer – a member of Centennial Baptist Church – had taken it upon herself to march with him and the 20,000 or so others who showed up that Sunday afternoon.
“I hadn’t seen her, and she was at the Call to Oneness,” Clark said. “All she did was pointed at me, and I couldn’t take it.”
Birth of a ministry
He went on to Bishop College in Texas then returned to St. Louis to attend Eden Theological Seminary, eventually found Shalom in 1993.
“A group of people got together and decided they wanted to do something that would compliment my gifts,” Clark said of the people who walked alongside him when he left the church he led previously, Morning Star. “I think they saw more in me than I was able to see for myself.”
In just under 20 years, Shalom has grown prodigiously, with many thousands of members. It now has two campuses, one in Berkeley and the other in unincorporated North St. Louis County. Shalom offers three Sunday morning services and various ministries ranging from health care to daycare. Rev. Clark eagerly acknowledges his wife Cheryl and children Terrence, Anthony and Michelle, who serve the church in various ways.
And while they’ve grown from a handful of Morning Star exiles meeting in a banquet room at the Airport Holiday Inn, to 200 parishioners worshipping at another church’s gymnasium to developing their own multi-faceted, two-campus facilities, Rev. Clark doesn’t see the church’s growth as anything to brag about.
“I just keep thinking that there is more to be done, more people to service – another song to be sang, another sermon to be preached,” Rev. Clark said.
“When you look at what we’ve been able to do – all praises to God – and you line that up against everything that remains undone, it’s really not time to celebrate. There is so much more that we can be doing.”
‘This is what it is’
That is not to say Shalom, its ministries and members have not been busy. They helped to lead the Call to Oneness movement, hold financial literacy seminars, raise funds for college students, facilitate health fairs and do so much more.
On Tuesday, they hosted a mini-health fair, mindful of the recent deaths of members due to prostate cancer. The week before they hosted more than 500 male members so that Rev. Clark could get personal with the brothers and discuss everything from their health to their being fully informed about the upcoming elections in August and November.
“Jesus said if you want to be great, you have to be a servant,” Rev. Clark said. “One’s level of greatness is not where you sit, but where you stand – and where you stand is where you serve. And if it’s not about the people, then it’s not about anything.”
The personal connection is central to his ministry.
“Shalom is a place that offers a holistic approach to God,” Rev. Clark said. “Not only do you get a glimpse of God, but you get a glimpse of yourself. And that interaction between seeing God and seeing yourself in turn motivates you to be the person God has called you to be.”
This attention to the individual person starts with the facts, however challenging.
“Faith has never been denying the facts,” Rev. Clark said. “Faith develops when you can look at something for what it is and say, ‘Okay, God, I see this, give me some wisdom or whatever it is you are going to do to overcome that – to say, ‘This is what it is, now help me change my narrative.’”
With the meteoric rise of his ministry, it’s interesting to imagine what the future holds for Shalom. But Rev. Clark is too active to spend much time imagining.
“The future is for me to keep going and whatever else happens because of that is just what happens because of that,” Rev. Clark said.
If more growth happens, Shalom has the space to accommodate it.
“We have about 60 more acres out here. If I get to them, that’s fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too,” Rev. Clark said.
“There is so much preaching that I have left to do. But I hope that we are developing a group of people, the next generation, who can take this ministry and run with it. I don’t know if it’s on me to do any more than that. I’m not brick and mortar. I am a people builder. I’m called to get people ready.”
Everything Rev. Clark is doing at Shalom starts at the top – and the pastor is not at the top.
“As we talk about success in ministry, the air has been that we make it about a person,” Clark said.
“And the only person it should be about is the Lord Jesus. Without Him, this is nothing. I’ve been blessed to have sent to me by God so many wonderful people who just needed a place where they blossom without the restrictions of traditional institutional religion.”
For more information on Shalom Church (City of Peace) and its ministries, visit http://www.shalomccop.org/ or call (314) 653-2300.