By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer
With deadly shootings taking place almost daily, widespread homelessness, economic woes, the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and new threats to our health and well-being, some are wondering if we are indeed in “the last days.”
In looking for answers, ways to cope and a little hope, many are calling on the Lord and area faith-based leaders to help see them through. The OBSERVER spoke to several clergy members about their hopes for the region going into the new year and putting prayers to action to meet the changing needs of the community. They all say taking “church” beyond the four walls of their sanctuaries is a key part of their call to serve.
This is the second of a three-part series.
Rev. Brenda Sharp, Century Chapel CME
At Christmas, Rev. Brenda Sharp helped make spirits bright, playing Secret Santa of sorts.
Rev. Sharp, senior pastor of Century Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), partners with Prison Fellowship Ministries’ Angel Tree program to provide assistance to families caring for children whose parents are behind bars. Rev. Sharp said many grandparents and surrogate parents are struggling, trying to keep youth out of the foster care system. Church parishioners pick names off the tree to buy gifts for. They tell the children the presents are from their parents, “so these children will feel like they have a relationship with their parents.”
She calls it “standing in the gaps.”
“We’re like their secret family,” Rev. Sharp said.
She wants to stay in touch and provide opportunities for the children to attend summer camp and vacation Bible study. “We’re not going to let go of these children that have been assigned to us,” Rev. Sharp said. “We’ve got to hold onto these children and see what else [they need] and of course encourage them about the Word of God, but we’re not pushing that. I want people to know that you can come, get help and food or whatever.”
The church helped 25 families this past holiday. Rev. Sharp has been an Angel Tree angel for more than 20 years.
“I’ve set it up at every church I’ve ever pastored because I want to be obedient to God’s word. We are to help those and never forget those in prison,” she said. “And because of the pandemic, you have to think differently. We used to be able to go into prisons; now, you can’t do all that. So how do we help? This is why I love Angel Tree. We can provide a ministry to these prisoners, to help them with their children and also keep them encouraged through cards and letters. We do that all year round, it’s not just Christmas.”
Rev. Sharp has been at the Century Chapel CME since late July. Before coming to Sacramento, she led Taylor Chapel CME Church in Vallejo, Riley Chapel in Oakland and First CME in Modesto. She also served at Phillips Temple CME in Berkeley and Amos Temple AME in Oakland.
“I’ve been ministering for a long time,” she said.
In an effort to serve better, Rev. Sharp has made it a point to study Century Chapel’s surrounding community.
“I’ve spoken with the police department and they said that there’s such a large increase of shootings around our church and violence, and also we’re getting the backlash of the disparities in families,” she said.
Since the pandemic, she said, she has seen more incidents of domestic violence and child abuse. There also has been increased methamphetamine and heroin use, she added, and individuals taking their own lives.
“I’ve seen a lot of suicides,” Rev. Sharp shared. “That’s on the rise and I’m not just talking about just kids. Sacramento has a big elephant to deal with. The underserved are still greatly underserved. I don’t believe there’s one solution or resources to make a dent in a problem — let’s say homelessness. I think that you’ve got to bring in the kitchen sink.”
Rev. Sharp wants to see more collaborations with other churches and small groups with a genuine desire to help and more funding for their efforts.
Increased homelessness in the community also has Rev. Sharp concerned. It breaks her heart, she said, to see so many people living in tents and pushing carts through the neighborhood. She has heard talk of city officials building tiny homes for the unhoused and plans to explore the possibility of turning a large lot behind the church into similar housing. Many already look to the church for food and clothing.
Homelessness, not knowing where your next meal is coming from, seeing people you know from school or church being killed in mass shootings can shake one’s spirit. Some call on a higher power. Others are “angry at God” and wonder if one even exists.
“Faith is always enough,” Rev. Sharp said. “It’s about implementing, activating faith.”
Rev. Sharp has been offering up a lot of prayers and scriptures of comfort recently. Sometimes, she needs solace.
“If I feel like I’m kind of down or discouraged sometimes, it becomes overwhelming and I quote myself Proverbs 17:22: ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, stay cheerful. A [broken spirit] dries up the bone.’ I think about that just to keep myself focused on what my call is.”
Many pastors are feeling overwhelmed, she said. The pandemic and gun violence epidemic have resulted in more funerals to officiate. “We really want to preach the good news of the gospel, but what I’ve seen is these pastors have gotten tired. Some people are doing two, three funerals a week.”
After the topsy-turvy past few years, Rev. Sharp said many are fearful of the unknown at the outset of 2023.
“I know what I tell my church, I see it and so I pulled out a lot of Isaiah, Isaiah 41. That’s one of my favorites. I say, ‘Fear not, don’t be not dismayed for I am your God. I am going to strengthen you.’ … I tell them to look back on what God has done for you. Look how he rescued you, look at the woes of which you went through last year, yet here you stand, by the grace of God.”
After recently playing Santa for area children, Rev. Sharp had a few things on her own wish list. “My number-one hope is that people will seek the Lord while He can be found, and that the light of the world will come into some of this darkness,” she said. I hope that what we can do is love more genuinely and reach out our hand regardless. Each one, teach one; each one, help one. There’s power in one and I want to see people encouraged in that.”