THE McDonald Lane New Testament Church stands tall in the community of Kingston 13 — a living testament to the healing and transformational effect which the church can have on a community.
According to Reverend Dennis Walton, who has pastored the church for the past 10 years, the church's evangelistic ministry, along with a social outreach programme, has managed to quell the frequent upsurges in violence that once affected the community.
"Since we have been here, particularly in McDonald Lane, the murder rate has dropped drastically. Previously, sometimes we would have up to three persons being killed per year and there were persons at the bottom of the lane who may have had challenges going up to the top. But all that has changed over the past four years," Rev Walton said.
Further to that, Rev Walton said that the church has also found a way to unite the members of the Kingston 13 communities and to erase the invisible lines of demarcation that had existed.
One of the primary ways that the church has done so is through its annual gospel peace concert in the community, which features most of the island's top gospel acts.
"What we seek to do is really get rid of those invisible border lines that separate communities. We tend to bring communities together and reach out to neighbouring communities," said Rev Walton, who spoke to the Jamaica Observer last Sunday, following the official launch of the new church year.
"There are persons from communities who have had difficulties crossing just a street, just a lane, but because of the gospel concert, everybody can gather together," Rev Walton added.
But the minister said that he concerts had not only benefited the community members but had also helped the church to forge and foster a closer relationship with the community members.
"We are currently able to go to various communities, have outreach extension services that are held on the roads Sunday mornings, Sunday night and during the week," he said. "We have an excellent relationship with persons in the community. We can go into any home at any time and talk to anybody.
"We attribute it all to our work, the social work that we do, our prayer and fasting. In fact, one year when we went out on the road we baptised 68 persons and married over 23 people," Rev Walton said.
The Sunday School ministry, which is held in the Eden community and in two different sections of the McDonald Lane community, is also a part of the church's outreach activities.
Other outreach programmes include disaster relief, which is offered to community members in times of disaster, educational items, grants given to students in partnership with corporate sponsors, and distribution of food packages in partnership with Food for the Poor.
Rev Walton, who is the director of Family Life ministries in the New Testament Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, said that the church also assists couples to get married, and not only those from within the communities.
"We offer our building free of cost to do marriages, and we do decorating, and as a marriage officer and family life director, these weddings are done for free, along with counselling, he said.
"I got married at a young age. My wife and I, over the years, have seen the struggle that persons wanting to get married faced because of expenses. This is one of the ways we can give back to our community and Jamaica at large," he said.
At the same time, Reverend Walton said that the church remains very passionate about its ministry, and is very grateful for all that the Lord has been doing for the church and the community.
"I have been part of this congregation for 10 years. In fact, today is our anniversary, and God has really been with us as a congregation. We really give God thanks. Over the past 10 years we have seen tremendous growth and the board is very supportive in taking on new ways of ministry," he stated.
Rev Walton explained that the church has incorporated the use of technology into its service, which is done in a more organised and timely manner in order to facilitate members who have to travel far distances.
In addition, he said, each month within the church year will be set aside for a designated focus on women, men, children, youth, stewardship, prayer and fasting, and family and personal development.
Outside of ministry, Rev Walton said that the church believes strongly in the development of its members and officers, and as a result has provided the necessary resources and training to assist them.
Some of them, he said, had got help with acquiring their food handler's permits and establishing their own businesses.
"We can't do much, but the little that we do goes a far way and our motto really is to become a church where everybody is a 'somebody' in spite of where you're from, and your educational background," he remarked.
According to Rev Walton, his vision for the church is for it to become one of prayer, where everyone not only prays for themselves but also for each other.
Additionally, he said, "We want to build loving and caring relationships with family members and the community and we want to cultivate an atmosphere of compassion. I must never be too big or too important to extend a helping hand to my brothers and sisters."
Meanwhile, Rev Walton revealed that the church will be undertaking a major expansion programme, which will see the church adding a new storey to the one-storey church building.
"At the moment, we are having an overflow and our Sunday School building, which hosts 80-100 children, is too small," he noted.
The project is expected to begin within a month and should be completed within a year-and-a-half.