jonese-austin-headshot.jpgWhat do you think of when you hear Ebenezer Baptist Church? You may think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. You may think about history and the Civil Rights Movement. You may visualize the blue Ebenezer Baptist Church sign on Auburn Avenue. You may think of a tourist attraction or site to visit when you take a trip to Atlanta.

Many are familiar with Ebenezer and its work, but to truly get to know Ebenezer, one must join in and participate in the continued work Ebenezer is doing on Jackson Street. Ebenezer is alive and well, continuing to build upon the King family legacy but also charting a new course, making new memories, and cultivating new areas of ministry on Jackson Street.

This summer, I have been working full-time as a Candler Advantage intern at Ebenezer, continuing at the site where I served for my Contextual Education II courses. I came to Candler and Atlanta intent on serving at Ebenezer because of the King legacy and importantly, Ebenezer’s continued commitment to doing justice work in the church and throughout the community. In some ways, I knew that Ebenezer could serve as a model for my own ministry, one in which I hope to lean into the Black prophetic tradition and Black liberation theology, like Ebenezer, as well as womanist theology. I knew Ebenezer would be a space where I could grow in my understanding of ministry as well as the role of the church in the community.

jonese-3.jpgMy time at Ebenezer has allowed me to do just that. I have seen the ways in which Ebenezer promotes “individual growth and social transformation” as is mentioned in our church mission statement that we recite every Sunday. As it relates to individual growth, Ebenezer provides many opportunities for growth and spiritual engagement for its members. One way Ebenezer does this is through the Navigating Our World (N.O.W.) Wednesday night service. I have been on the planning team for N.O.W. as we have reimagined our Wednesday night service amid the pandemic and as we continue to discuss and imagine what it can be, leaning into a goal of “teaching and learning.” This month, we had New Testament scholar (and Candler alumna) Dr. Shively Smith share in a session entitled “Witnessing Jesus Hang: Reading the Gospel Accounts of Jesus’ Crucifixion through African American Biblical Histories.” Our most recent series was on Black Sacred Music and was led by music scholar Dr. Raymond Wise in conversation with Ebenezer’s Director of Worship and the Arts, Dr. Patrice E. Turner. I offer these two examples to highlight the ways in which Ebenezer works to expose members to topics of interest and relevance to the members within this Black Church context as well as topics that promote the foundation of justice within the members that echoes through the culture and language of the church.

jonese-2.jpgThere are also many ways that Ebenezer engages in the work of social transformation as well as works to serve those in our community. For much of my internship, I have been working directly with Rev. Bronson Elliott Woods, the assistant pastor of outreach and young adult ministries. This summer, we’ve offered COVID-19 vaccinations (Vice President Kamala Harris, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky—pictured above—and others visited one of our clinics on a trip to Atlanta encouraging people to get vaccinated); provided free showers for the homeless and houseless community and provided opportunities to get connected with organizations that could help them find housing, jobs, and other resources; partnered on an HIV testing event; served as the Atlanta stop for the Black Voters Matter Freedom Ride bus tour; and so much more. Ebenezer is a church that puts its faith into action, working to meet the needs of those in the community and advocate for change in our city and our nation. Ebenezer has been a model for how churches can be active and engaged.

As my time interning at Ebenezer comes to a close, I am grateful for all that I have learned and for the many ways I have been able to serve at Ebenezer. I am especially thankful for my Ebenezer Baptist Church family. It is knowing the members that one truly gets to know the church. It is the oral histories of the members that continue the story of Ebenezer and the King family. It is also the members who continue the work of the church in their own lives, serving the community in varying ways. It is the stories of the members that I will carry with me, even after my time at Ebenezer has ended. For all the opportunities I have had, for all the memories I’ve made, and for all the support and love that I’ve felt, I am forever grateful. I am grateful to be a part of the ways Ebenezer is continuing to create history and live into a deep and rich legacy.