Caldwell Presbyterian Church — Charlotte, North Carolina

Roger Rizk, a soon-to-be Union Presbyterian Seminary grad, shares his experience as an intern at Caldwell Presbyterian Church.

An unused church building at Caldwell Presbyterian in Charlotte, North Carolina, will be converted into affordable apartment units over the next two years. Church leaders say it's part of their mission to give shelter to those who need it. Photo by Nick De La Canal for WFAE.

Very soon I’ll walk across the graduation stage and receive a Master of Divinity degree. After a career in law, I give thanks for Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Charlotte campus as a pathway to ministry.

It wasn’t until my last credit, however, before the tumblers clicked into place in my understanding of what ministry in the church today can be — my supervised ministry internship at Caldwell Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

More than 30 interns, seminary and otherwise, have served and learned at Caldwell since it almost closed in 2006. Instead, it came back to life as a 350-member urban, missional, diverse, social justice-oriented community of faith. Among its many interests, the congregation believes in serving as a teaching campus for seminarians and college students studying faith and social justice. As a person who might be called a “traditional” Presbyterian, it was for me quite a classroom.

The experience begins when you arrive for a Sunday service. Joyous singing and unabashed clapping accompany the opening processional of the gospel choir and worship leaders. The rich liturgy reflects the intention to create a space of invitation and inclusivity. The congregation takes extended time to pass the peace, a cheery, weekly celebration of community.

Week to week, a diverse set of ministers, seminary interns and guest preachers share the joy of proclaiming the Word and interpreting Scripture through a range of theological perspectives, from traditional to intersectional to womanist and beyond. The straight White minister who is head of staff makes it a point to preach only about half the time in order to offer a platform to diverse voices.

For the past seven months, I’ve pitched in everywhere I could as Caldwell’s committees and members work for justice for Black and Brown people, the LGBTQIA community, the differently abled and the marginalized. The church leads by example in striving to understand the forces behind the nation’s affordable housing crisis and, in particular, those experiencing homelessness.

Within the year, Caldwell Presbyterian plans to complete the conversion of its former Christian education building into 21 units of affordable housing for the chronically homeless. The church is already praying for the 21 people soon to call the Caldwell campus home.

What a joy to be embraced by this “teaching church.” What a gift to experience the re-birth of the Spirit in a place that was about to close.