December 4, 2013

Slices of Life: Bishop seeks life for his church despite bleakness of neighborhood

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BishopLockett

Darrell Hoemann

By Robert Holly — Bishop Morris Paul Lockett sits patiently in the former crack house at 205 E. Garwood St., C, waiting for his congregation to arrive. It’s a cold, gray winter afternoon. But inside, The New House of Prayer Church is warm and bright, as soft light filters through colorful, thin drapes.

Lockett waits with his suit coat unbuttoned and his clerical collar stretched tight around his thick neck. He reads his Bible from the front row of wooden pews, rehearsing the day’s sermon with his sister and wife. Today, he will preach from Ezekiel 37: “The valley of dry bones.” His goal is to tell his parishioners that, no matter how bleak a situation appears, there is always hope as long as you maintain faith. He quickly goes over the story one more time, though he knows it well:

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

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This story was written by a University of Illinois journalism student in Professor Walt Harrington’s Literary Feature Writing class taught in collaboration with The News-Gazette. Funding for the class, which was taught at the newspaper’s headquarters in downtown Champaign, came from the Marajen Stevick Foundation. The story was part of an occasional series titled “Slices of Life” that ran in the newspaper’s Sunday Living section. All the stories in the series are also collected in the book “Slices of Life.”