Church Beyond the Walls

Our vision for Church Beyond the Walls is to bring congregations in central North Carolina who hunger for community together with currently and formerly incarcerated women and men who’ve tasted beloved community and carry with them some wisdom about how to build it. 

For the past decade we’ve worked with scores of churches around the country to re-imagine mission work that seeks community and relationships beyond traditional church spaces. At the same time, we’ve taken hundreds of pastors-in-training behind the walls of prison to meet sisters and brothers who’ve led them into a new experience of beloved community there. Our vision for Church Beyond the Walls is to bring congregations in central North Carolina who hunger for community together with currently and formerly incarcerated women and men who’ve tasted beloved community and carry with them some wisdom about how to build it.

If you know of a church that may be interested in learning more, please contact us here.

To help make Church Beyond the Walls into a reality, you can support our work here.

21st Century Freedom Ride

Each year, we lead a group of modern freedom riders to explore important sites in the history of the civil rights movement. We hear from movement leaders from the past and today, and learn about how last century's freedom movement can inform our efforts today to work for racial equality, justice, and peace.

50 years ago, after the brutality of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, AL, Dr. Martin Luther King called on people of good will—black and white—to come to Alabama and support the local struggle for voter registration. Thousands came, forcing a crisis that eventually led to the Voting Rights Act. But before the Selma to Montgomery March, there were years of NAACP work, Citizenship Schools, and SNCC organizing that laid the group work for SCLC’s dramatic campaign. As young people and faith communities across America work to imagine an effective campaign against racial injustice in our criminal justice system, the 21st-Century Freedom Ride examines the little known and behind-the scenes work that build and sustained the Southern Freedom Movement prior to Selma. The trip is guided by Bob Zellner, field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), original Freedom Rider, and organizer in today’s Forward Together Moral Movement.

What past 21st Century Freedom Riders had to say about their experience... 

"I talk and think about race every day. The 21st Century Freedom Ride was a great way to connect with others, learn new perspectives, and build from the leaders and events of the Civil Rights Movement. It has challenge me to think about my role in this movement in radically different ways. I'm so thankful for this experience!"

"There is a river of faith-rooted resistance that has flowed through this country since it was built by slaves. The 21st-Century Freedom Ride is a way to plunge into that river and follow its current where it leads us today."

We have a 21st Century Freedom Ride in March 2017 with limited spaces. Contact us if you are interested in participating. 

Vincent Harding Community Builders Cohort

The Vincent Harding Community Builders Cohort is an intensive 2-year program of School for Conversion, with support from the Lilly Endowment, to engage the wisdom streams of community in American culture and discern in them the practices necessary for those who will practice the art of shaping community in the 21st century. The cohort is made up of five pastors and five professionals who work to build community through their work in healthcare, business, education, local politics, and art.

Twice a year the cohort retreats at representative sites of particular wisdom streams, having engaged in intensive study of the writings of master community builders in a particular stream. Between retreats cohort members meet monthly to discuss readings and discern with one another how each stream’s wisdom might inform their own community building efforts.

In 2015 and 2016, the cohort will participate in the following retreats:

  • Koinonia Farm (Americus, GA): Clarence Jordan & the Intentional Christian Community Stream
  • John Perkins & the Asset-Based Community Development Stream (Durham, NC)
  • Saul Alinsky and the Community Organizing Stream (Chicago, IL)
  • Ella Baker, Septima Clark and the Beloved Community Stream (Highlander Retreat Center, East TN)


Why community builders? 

Across the professions in America, specialists increasingly recognize that the breakdown of community is hurting human beings. While a psychologist may work with an individual on behavior modification, the individual needs community to sustain better habits. While a doctor may bind up the wounded, neighborhoods need community to build the peace that sustains public health. While a teacher may put in overtime to instruct children who’ve been left behind, the formation of citizens who can pursue the common good requires community. While a nonprofit organization may help put people coming home from prison back to work, a deeper sense of community is needed to overcome the “us” and “them” divisions which make recidivism so likely.

In this context of a wide-spread felt need for community, the church in American society is one institution where some sense we might turn for help. Though the image is admittedly nostalgic, many hearken back to a day when the church at the center of town was not only a place of worship but also a town hall. Might the church offer some direction to a society starving for community?

Unfortunately, most churches in the 20th century re-made themselves to cater to the needs of mobile individuals and families, leaving behind traditions that shaped and sustained community.

But these traditions are never entirely forgotten in the human community. Vincent Harding, a great student of the Freedom Movement in America, observed that the greatest contributions of both religion and democracy to true community in America were both rooted in and extending beyond the church. “We are building up a new world,” he sang to the tune of “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” This is the art of shaping community that must go on, informed by the wisdom of those who’ve gone before us.