By Carlton Kooce
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
Stop a local at the corner of Angier Avenue and South Driver Street in Northeast Central Durham and ask about the large three story brick church on the corner. What you’ll find out is that it’s a“ mostly white” church that has been in the neighborhood “forever.” You’ll also find out that its pastor is a “good man.”
The church is led by Pastor Clarence Parrish, 53, who has been at its helm for six years. Parrish grew up in southern Durham County and drives a school bus for Durham County Public Schools.
Parrish, who is white, said the church’s “missionary calling is in Northeast Central Durham.” He described the neighborhood as “our Jerusalem.”
“This neighborhood needs Jesus as much as anywhere,” he said. “We want to see people get a better chance … Make a difference in one little life and who knows what will happen.”
Angier Avenue Baptist has an interesting tale to tell. The predominately white church has been in the neighborhood for over 100 years.
In the 1880s the founding members of Angier Avenue Baptist held Sunday school classes out of a “small wooden structure known as the Oak Grove School,” according to a publication celebrating the church’s 75th anniversary. The publication explains that in those days, East Durham was not a part of the city of Durham. It was a separate town with its own officials. There was no electricity, running water or paved streets.
After a meeting one Sunday, the founders prayed “that God might direct them” and they set out walking down what is now Driver Street.
“A part of the group went straight ahead, a part went right, while still another part of the group went left,” reports the anniversary publication. When the groups met again, they debated and then decided that the intersection of Angier Avenue and Driver Street would be location for their new church. It was completed in 1889 and was lit with kerosene lamps and heated with coal-burning stoves.
Parrish has deep ties to the neighborhood. His grandmother lived in the neighborhood and he delivered groceries as a teen-ager at the Model Food Store, a neighborhood store once located across the street from the church.
“The neighborhood was predominately white back then,” said Parrish. “Now it’s a mix, but low income. There is a lot of drugs and prostitution. But we have had no break-in problems.”
Parrish said the church has remained through changing times because of its history.
“This was the people’s home church,” said Parrish. “They built it with their own hands. It was their blood, sweat, and tears.”
“The church is a mix of people, too,” he said. “When I first got here it was predominately old but now we have a mix of young and old people. I’ve buried some and married some.”
One of these members is Belle Bailey, the church minister of music for the past 17 years. Belle, a white Durham native, is also the church’s pianist and organist.
“This is where God has put me,” she said. “I was meant to be here.”
Bailey plans programs such as the senior group that travels around Durham singing hymns to brighten up people’s days.
Bailey said the services use a blend of traditional and contemporary music for the range of people and ages in the church.
“You must reach everyone,” said Bailey. “We have a mixed congregation with different ages.”
Sundays see the attendance of about 100 members in service. The church also participates in many community outreach programs. They give away donated clothing to the needy — anyone who stops in and requests them.
The church holds a food pantry on Thursday evenings serving up to 35 families. Church members sit down with the families, share the gospel with them and pray with them for God’s blessing.
“There are so many families in need today,” said Parrish.“If we got it, you need it, you can have it.” Parrish said that needing food should call on Tuesdays between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Driving buses for school children has created a soft spot in the pastor’s life for Durham youth. Parrish and other neighborhood leaders like Samuel Jenkins, the neighboring barber, do many things for local kids including a recent safe Halloween in which local businesses chip in candy.
On the third Saturday of each month, the church holds a “feed the neighborhood” day which features hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, cakes and other goodies for the community as a way of connecting and giving back.
“Kids are confined to computers and TVs,” said Parrish. “Communities aren’t communities any more like they used to be.” Parrish said that as a society we have made progress but we have also “went backwards.”“People don’t strive to serve. ‘What can you do for me?’ they ask.”
Pastor Parrish has been an advisor to the city concerning the revitalization of NECD and said his “prayer is to see a change.”“You don’t want to drive from Alice in Wonderland and 100 yards down the road you’re back in the ghetto,” he said. “You can’t fix the corner. You have to fix the lives.”
“People must say ‘This is my neighborhood, this reps me,’” he said.