by Elaine Carr Crawford, ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellow

In the midst of the pandemic, my congregation, St. Matthew Catholic Church, has also experienced a transition in leadership. While the congregation has gone through the process of grieving the loss of a beloved leader, his legacy of welcoming and reaching out to communities not considered “mainstream” has remained. As a congregation we are committed to engaging in interreligious and intercultural relationships, hence our participation in the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship.

The evolution of St. Matthew in becoming a place where “all are welcome” and feel a sense of belonging was gradual. St Matthew parish was formed in 1949 in northeast Baltimore—down the hill from what is now Good Samaritan Hospital—surrounded by rowhouse neighborhoods. The first building constructed was the parish school.

When I moved to Baltimore in 1969 the parish was large and predominantly white. During the next decade or so the neighborhood demographics changed as the white residents moved out and African American families moved in. The size of the parish diminished and we joined Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) to address the challenges Baltimore was facing.

During the 80s and 90s, immigrants from Africa, the Philippines, and the Caribbean islands joined St. Matthew. As we prepared for our 50th anniversary we conducted house/listening meetings to look at who we were and who we see ourselves becoming as a parish. The Immigration Outreach Service Center (IOSC) was established out of that process to address the needs of our congregation and the surrounding community. The IOSC is now a 501(c)3 nonprofit. In recent years we have established an LGBTQ ministry and developed relationships with the Islamic Society of Baltimore and the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. We are also participating in Black Lives Matter rallies and racial justice activities.

I, personally, and St. Matthew, as a congregation, have grown spiritually as a result of this evolution. We are so much richer than we were before. The participation in the ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship is one more step in that growth. I have come to see that there is no one religious tradition with “all the Truth;” rather, we are on this journey together and are enriched by sharing our experiences, our traditions, and our faith.

The ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship is a year long fellowship designed to connect local congregations from within the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith communities and expand their capacity for interreligious engagement and leadership. Throughout the year cohort members will offer reflections on interreligious leadership. Each contributor represents their own views and opinions. We welcome this diversity of perspectives and seek to foster dialogue around the topics presented.

Elaine Carr Crawford is a member of St. Matthew Catholic Church in Baltimore and a member of the 2021 ICJS Congregational Leaders Fellowship. Learn more about our Congregational Leaders programs…