A Good Friday church walk opened my eyes to hope

For years, Broadway Christian Parish United Methodist Church on South Bend’s near southeast side has led a “Way of the Cross Walk” on Good Friday. The walk proceeds around the church’s neighborhood, making stops at locations of significance to the pulse of the people who live there. At each stop, walkers pause for the reading of a portion of Jesus Christ’s Passion story from the New Testament, as well as for a bit of information about each location and a prayer.

 I have volunteered at Broadway for many years, but because of my job, I have never participated in the Good Friday walk. That changed yesterday — April 7, 2023.

I have lived on the South side of South Bend for most of my life. I graduated from Riley High School. I know these neighborhoods well; at least I thought I did.

If you drive around the residential neighborhoods in the Riley district between Ewing Street on the south, Miami Street on the East, Michigan Street on the west, and Broadway Street on the north, you will see a lot of homes in disrepair. There are also many vacant lots where houses used to stand.

 For 40 years, Broadway Christian Parish served Sunday dinners for their congregation and for anyone who could use a warm meal. Those dinners fed thousands of people, many of them from the immediate area. Despair is not hard to imagine here and I was ready to see it on the walk.

The walk began at 10 a.m. at the church. Pairs of walkers took turns carrying a large and heavy wooden cross. The sun was out, but the temperature was in the 30s. The walkers present represented a handful of local congregations. 

The Storey Family Farm, where fresh produce is harvested, was a stop on the “Way of the Cross Walk.”

The first stop was the intersection of Rush Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Our handout indicated that this was the site of the October 2022 killing of a 16-year-old Riley student named Noelle Riggins. I had not heard of Noelle. I guess I didn’t know this neighborhood very well. But looking around me at the less-than-tidy houses, I guess the echo of violence didn’t surprise me. In fact, I expected more anguish at the upcoming stations. I was wrong.

Our next station was at the Foundry Field in Southeast Park at Wenger and High Streets. It is a new baseball park for kids. There we celebrated a new community asset and those who built and maintain it, as well as the children and youth who will enjoy playing there. On this chilly spring day, I could imagine hearing the sounds of bats hitting balls and people enjoying the outdoors.

Our fifth station was at the intersection of Broadway and Lebanon Street. Tucked away on this small plot of land south of a large Northern Indiana Public Service Company facility is a small tree nursery. On what had been dilapidated houses and then vacant lots, now sits an irrigated plot for trees that are purchased and used by the City of South Bend. 

Our seventh station, in the shadow of Riley High School, was the Storey Family Farm (https://www.storeyfamilyfarm.com/) at Dubail and Marietta Streets. Directly in the middle of a residential neighborhood, harvested from the wreckage of homes that served their purpose and then were demolished, lies a one-acre field of fertile soil, ready to produce a harvest. We were told this urban farm delivers fresh produce for $25 a week. 

At our eighth station was the sparkling new 1Roof United Way Center at Fellows and Dubail Streets. The caulk was still drying in the cracks on the sidewalk of this multipurpose building housing Head Start, a pharmacy, Family and Children’s Center, a counseling center and more. While we were there, free children’s immunizations were being administered. This facility is a great resource for the community and definitely a beacon of hope. 

The cross walk included the 1Roof United Way Center, another resource for South Bend residents.

On we moved to Michigan Street, where the former Pizza Hut, bank, and Bonnie Doon’s buildings have been repurposed partly by Saylor’s Pizza and a fish and chicken restaurant. We stopped at these places to acknowledge the importance of places of businesses that serve the local community and employ its residents. 

A former regal looking home at 1602 S. Michigan Street served as our eleventh station. We prayed for this new transitional residence named Homes 4 Tracy. It will be a safe place for homeless women to live while they work to find permanent housing. 

Our fourteenth and final station was at Rick’s Garden located at Broadway Christian Parish. The garden is named for Rick Lechtanski, who was murdered in 1995. It’s easy to miss the patch of green between the parking lot and the church building. The metal entryway leading into the garden has the word “Hope” at its peak. And on this Good Friday walk, I saw more hope than hopelessness. 

It’s easy to zip by this southeast neighborhood, or for that matter any neighborhood that has seen better days, and see only the hardship, sadness, and despair. The affordable housing crisis in the United States is an epidemic that has caught hundreds of thousands in its wake. Addiction and mental illness have broken so many lives. We seem as a country unable to solve these problems. 

And yet, Broadway Christian Church, through its The Way of the Cross Good Friday walk, opened my eyes to the important work happening around our community.

Do we have eyes to see it? It is an Easter message I am happy to share.