Answering an invite to head east, the Rev. Dr. Kerry Allison is leaving Church of the Redeemer in South Los Angeles to serve as senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, Missouri. He will be the first African American spiritual leader of the 150-year-old congregation.
How does one leave L.A. for the St. Louis greater metropolitan area? Not easily, admitted Allison, who has served various churches in Southern California for the past 30 years, including the last 12 years at Redeemer.
“I have connections in L.A. and if I want to do something, I know who to call. So to go into a place where I am not familiar with anyone is a challenge,” Allison said. “But my decision came through a lot of prayers, tears and evaluation. I know it is God-led and that’s my assurance. Also, the way things are working out lets me know that it is God’s will for us to move.”
Accompanying the pastor will be his wife, First Lady Oona Allison, who is an elementary school teacher and has already received a few job offers from educational institutions in the area. Also, Dr. Allison will take along many of the lessons learned during his tenure in Los Angeles.
Under his leadership, Redeemer embraced new and different methods of ministry to spread the Gospel and maintain its three-acre campus. Worship space was rented to other ministries – a Nigerian, Ghanaian and two Salvadorian churches – as well as a day care center.
He also collaborated with the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services to allow Redeemer members to develop a region-wide program for foster children and united with the Martin Luther King Community Medical Group to increase healthcare awareness in the South L.A. and Compton areas. Later this year, the church will begin construction of a Green Dot school in its property.
“All of those partnerships developed into ministries that addressed a particular need among youth or families [such as] developing ESL programs at Redeemer for parents who needed to learn English as a second language,” said Allison. “I plan to use my organizing and collaboration skills to make a difference and to help more people. I will take that spirit of making things better to Ferguson.”
The Ferguson community gained national notoriety following the killing of Michael Brown, a Black young man, by a White police officer. Prior to that tragic incident, the St. Louis suburb was already beset by a number of negative impacts.
“Ferguson is a predominately Black city of 20,000 people and it has all of the challenges of urban America – issues related to poverty, education and racism,” explained Allison. “The majority White congregation of First Presbyterian desired to reach out to the community.”
After the turmoil arising from the fatal shooting of Brown, Allison said, “The congregation wanted to be more involved in providing solutions and healing for the community. They knew that their leadership should reflect that. So they set out looking for a Black or a person of color having skills in urban ministry and community ministry.” And Allison fit the bill.
He added that First Presbyterian also wants a multicultural membership and Allison noted, “One of my tasks is to increase their participation locally and to help the church look like the community. They (the members) are interested in attracting people of color, particularly African Americans.”
Acknowledging the big responsibility that lies before him, the pastor is nevertheless, optimistic about his future in Ferguson and impressed by the efforts of the membership. “One thing I really admire about the congregation is that they see the need and are being intentional to address it,” said Allison. “It does not mean there won’t be challenges in doing it. But they know that they need to change and do something different to help the community. That is really impressive to me.”
Allison’s last day at Redeemer was June 27 and the members gave him and his wife as gala, though slightly tearful, send-off. On Sunday, July 18, he’ll preach his first sermon and be installed as the new pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson.
To other ministers considering a change of location, Allison advised clergy to be willing to explore other opportunities. “I definitely encourage pastors to take that leap of faith in order to do what God calls us to do,” he said.
“We must get out of our comfort zone and places are used to. God wants to use us in creative and unique ways!”