Just 50 feet beyond Milton Avenue is the stark white building of the Prayer Tower Apostolic Church, which sits so close to the street that it touches the sidewalk at 141 Norfolk St. Although the church has a barren front, its side door welcomes those who are seeking God through an apostolic community.
The predominant theme of each service at the Prayer Tower church is the establishing of a dependence on God as a help in life. Pastor Antoine M. Montgomery Sr. says the mission is “to reach the souls outside – those who don’t have God.”
In the upcoming months, the will be launching a project to build a laundromat, an office, and a full pantry and soup kitchen accessible to members of the Dorchester community.
“We want to turn this into a function hall,” signifying communal outreach and support, says Montgomery.
When asked about the strength of the religious culture along Norfolk Street, Montgomery says: “We have a lot of churches, so it has to be strong.” In that vein, he says, Prayer Tower Apostolic Church communicates with other houses of worship in the area and church members often attend each other’s services.
Just a few-minutes walk up the street, at 40 Norfolk, sits the vibrant turquoise building that houses True Vine Church, 40 Norfolk St. It barely holds many more than 50 people, but is filled with members who “bear fruit for the Kingdom of God,” according to its mission statement. “We’re branches with one great purpose – to bear fruit for the communal vow,” says Senior Pastor Ronald D. Odom, describing the nature of the Pentecostal church. “Salvation is the main key; something for the whole man, mind, body, soul, spirit; the wholeness of man.”
Since 2007, when his son was shot and killed just outside his home because of gang violence, Odom and his congregation have recognized the significance of being community-oriented. “We have vowed on our block that this should never happen again ... You have to make [religion] more relevant to what’s going on in the world today,” he says.
True Vine has developed a program called ROC, or Redefining Our Community, as a platform for encouraging neighborhood kinship and unity. Church leaders bring in keynote speakers, a recent guest being U.S. Marshal John Gibbons, who has been involved in public service and community leadership as a Massachusetts State Police officer.
By redefining the community, True Vine hopes to foster more communication among neighboring churches, Odom says. “I know that it’s one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” he said. “I’m so anti-division. I just want one nation ... If we can come together on that, that’ll erase all this division. And I’m hoping and praying that’s the mission along this strip.”
Codman Square looms at the northern end of Norfolk Street, set apart by a busy five-way intersection and distinguished by an open, park-like area where the towering Second Church of Dorchester dominates the scene. The 200-year-old church embraces a variety of populations, including Wesleyan, Cape Verdean, and Liturgical, all under the sponsoring denomination of the Church of the Nazarene.
For now, the church is holding services in a building hidden behind the main structure until its renovation is completed within the next year.
“We want an active community restoration of one of the most beautiful spots in Dorchester, where the community can find themselves connected,” Senior Pastor Victor Price says. “Our main concern is to have this become a center where community life is restored, revitalized, and impacted.”
Second Church maintains collaborative efforts with faith-based urban renewal organizations in Dorchester, including The Boston Project and Christian schools in Boston such as Boston Trinity Academy, both of which are working to restore he nearby Codman Burial Ground. It is also partnering with a company that will install an energy-efficient heating system because it wants “this 200-year-old church to be on the cutting edge of going green,” Price said.
The church cherishes its rich history, and many of the streets in Dorchester were named after past congregants. The square itself is a tribute to John Codman, the Second Church’s first pastor, whose original chair and pulpit remain in the church to this day.
Through the years, the church has encompassed more than 20 different ethnicities and hopes to exemplify the unity of this diversity. “Dorchester is, and has been, the most diverse neighborhood in Boston. We want to intentionally make Second Church an example of the harmony of the diversity,” Price says.
The length of Norfolk Street offers testimony to a broad diversity with so many non-traditional houses and businesses being transformed into churches. Although the architecture of Second Church suggests to most the very model of a church, the majority of the religious houses along the road to Mattapan are characterized by a different, more contemporary style. “Particularly if you look at the growth of Christianity in Boston over the last decade, the real growth has been in small, storefront churches that have sprung up,” says Liturgical Pastor Cliff Hersey. “There’s real, vibrant Christianity happening, but we don’t see it because it’s below the radar screen.”