Conference to Focus on How Faith Groups and Communities Can Improve Lives

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TUSCALOOSA — Members of area churches and other faith-based groups will gather Sunday through Tuesday, July 26–28, to listen to inspiring messages and singing and to learn ways to improve lives and communities through collaboration.

Beginning with preaching and a mass choir performance on Sunday at 6 p.m. at historic Brown Memorial Presbyterian church on the Stillman College campus, the conference will move to the Bryant Conference Center on the University of Alabama campus for Monday’s and Tuesday’s sessions. The preacher at Brown Memorial will be Dr. A.B. Sutton, pastor of Living Stones Temple in Birmingham. Directing combined choirs will be Levert Hedgemon Jr., choral music instructor at Westlawn Middle and Central High schools in Tuscaloosa.

The title of the conference is “Achieving Excellence Through Communal Empowerment and Creative Collaboration: A Conference on Faith and the Community.”

Speakers on Monday’s schedule include Dr. Tim Lovett, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church; Dr. Arloa Sutter, Breakthrough Ministries, Chicago; and Marcus Lundy, Birmingham city councilman and Regions Bank executive.

Monday will wrap up with a panel moderated by Dr. Joseph Scrivner, pastor of Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church focusing on how congregations and communities can assist the faith community in improving the lives of people, families and communities. “Churches are counted on to address many quality of life issues within families and entire communities,” he said, “but while we in faith leadership roles may embrace this role, that is not enough: We need to broaden these efforts to reach groups outside the church as well.”

Rev. Lou Anne Sellers, associate pastor for Congregational Care and Mission at First Presbyterian, is a panelist for that session and her church is also a sponsoring partner of the conference. “We look forward to the discussions with other faith leaders and community members about how we can do better together,” Sellers said. Rev. Kevin Thomas of Forest Lake United Methodist Church, Rev. Jessie White of Trinity Baptist Church, and Brooks Mouchette of Unity Tuscaloosa are also on the panel.

Tuesday’s speakers include Rev. Dennis R. Taylor, president of the Tuscaloosa Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance; Dr. Abraham Smith, professor of New Testament at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University; Judge Agnes Chappell, Birmingham Municipal Court; and Ben Sciacca, executive director, Restoration Academy in Birmingham.

A variety of faith and society issues will be covered during the conference, including the role of the faith community in health and spirituality, education and the arts, the courts and law enforcement, community improvement, employment, poverty and hunger.

The conference was planned by Rev. Tyshawn Gardner, pastor of Plum Grove Baptist Church, and Scrivner in collaboration with UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships. Its overall purpose is to “share and discuss, in this inaugural conference, the many effective and creative ways in which the faith community is working with other organizations to improve lives and communities all around us,” Gardner said. “We are fortunate to have been able to attract such an outstanding group of speakers and panelists.”

Sutter, the leader and founder of Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago, began her ministry by the simple act of opening an unused church meeting room to serve hot coffee and lunch to the homeless. That small start led to a campaign that raised $6 million to renovate the Breakthrough Ministry Center. A second building in East Garfield Park will house the shelter and service programs for homeless men and will be the new headquarters for the ministry.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and City Council President Harrison Taylor are scheduled to provide welcome remarks to open the conference.

Sponsors of the conference are the Calvary Baptist Church, S.D. Allen Ministry and Missions, Citizens Impacting Community Association, Habitat For Humanity, Love, INC, The Hope Initiative, Project Bethel, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Plum Grove Baptist Church, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, The Healing Communities Foundation, First Presbyterian Church, the UA Council on Community-Based Partnerships.

There is an admission fee for the Monday and Tuesday events and admission is limited. Those wishing to attend should visit or contact LeNa’ Powe at 205-348-4480 or