The United Methodist Church has announced plans to extend to eight other cities the initiative against drugs and violence it introduced in the District this year.
"To Be Our Neighbor's Neighbor" will be taken to Detroit; Boston; New York; Wilmington, Del.; Cleveland; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Harrisburg, Pa.
Last year, the Methodist Church relieved Bishop Felton E. May from his episcopal duties in Harrisburg and brought him to the District to lead an anti-drug campaign. May's assignment marked the first time the church had shifted a minister from his appointed duties to address a specific social concern.
The District was chosen for the initiative because church leaders thought that "if they were going to do something so symbolic, it made sense to do it in Washington," said Tom McAnally, a church spokesman.
One night last year, at Southeast's A.P. Shaw United Methodist Church, members had locked themselves in the church during a midweek prayer service while drug wars raged outside. They heard cries for help; the pastor opened the doors to find two dead teenagers on the church's doorstep. Both had been shot.
The church's Council of Bishops, which oversees the actions of United Methodist bishops worldwide, then decided it was time to address the mounting drug problem.
May, who is president of the church's General Council on Ministries, was dispatched because, according to McAnally, church leaders believed the matter was so significant that they "should assign one of their own number to it."
Working with 14 churches in the District and neighboring Prince George's County, May established outside tents known as saving stations. The stations were the sites of drug education and referral programs, health fairs, career counseling, tutoring, recreation and nutri-
tion programs and worship services.
"The tents stood out in the community and served as a central place where people could find help, a sense of hope, talk to someone; they served as a safe place for children to be during the day, and they fostered a sense of community, where neighbors cared for each other," said Stephen Drachler, administrative assistant to the bishop.
"People often have difficulty walking into the doors of a church; the tents are sort of churches without walls," he said.
Drachler remembers a night last summer when a young man wandered into a service at one of the tents.
"He was obviously troubled and began talking with a recent seminary graduate who was helping out," Drachler said. "Turns out he was carrying a loaded pistol in his pocket and was headed to his sister's home prepared to shoot and kill his brother-in-law. The graduate convinced him to give her his gun, and he returned to the tent every night following and is now an active member of the parish."
The church's activity in the eight additional cities will be tailored to the local situations. When the initiative began, among the key elements were that decision-making remained on the local level and that the churches retained control of the programs there, Drachler explained. Currently, 50 to 60 churches in New York and Detroit have banned together to develop strategies for their locales.
Although May will return to Harrisburg to resume his episcopal duties, he will continue to lead the national initiative, working as a resource person for the council and other agencies on how to attack the drug problem. He said he hopes the ministry and outreach programs begun this year will continue in 1991.
The Washington initiative will continue under the auspices of the Baltimore Annual Conference. According to Tom Starnes, Baltimore's conference council director, the hope is that churches near each other with similar anti-drug outlooks will link together or continue efforts begun under May.