Homeboy

Stephen Fairfield's restless spiritual journey brought him to the Fifth Ward, where he found true deliverance while helping to rebuild the neighborhoods

"It is not merely a commendable thing for man to be kind and bountiful to the poor, but our bounden duty ...."

-- "Duty of Charity to the Poor, Enforced and Explained," from The Works of Jonathan Edwards

Stephen Fairfield's improbable destiny was approaching fulfillment on a rainy spring afternoon when he was flagged down by a soggy pedestrian sauntering along Lyons Street.mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm At the time -- this was 1990 -- the avenue wasn't the ideal place for a walk, rain or shine. A generation earlier, Lyons had been the Fifth Ward's equivalent of center court, vibrating daily with the personality and commerce of Houston's largest African-American community. As time went by, though, the money, jobs and future of the Fifth Ward migrated elsewhere, and fewer and fewer people could remember the glory days, before Lyons became just another battered and neglected inner-city corridor to nowhere.

Fairfield pulled his car up alongside the young African-American woman and cracked his window.

"Need a lift?" he asked.
"Sure," replied the woman, sliding into the passenger seat.
"Where to?"

Before answering, the passenger sized up her ride. She saw a heavyset young man with an almost jolly countenance, dressed preppily in khakis, loafers and a button-down Oxford shirt. The round, boyish face -- white, well-fed and unfazed by the blight around him -- was framed by a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. His brown hair was thin and soft as a child's.

Maybe she figured him for another out-of-town motorist who'd lost his way by exiting I-10 at Waco Street. Or perhaps she took him for a good Samaritan on his way to a shift at the soup kitchen. More than likely, though, she pegged him for another cracker from the far suburbs who'd come to town in pursuit of a forbidden thrill. And times being what they were, the young woman apparently felt compelled to oblige him.

"Anywhere you want to," she replied.
Stephen Fairfield had to drive another block before he understood the proposition before him. The realization left him feeling ignorant, yet he harbored neither anger toward the woman, nor reproach for her profession. He simply gave her a smile, expressed the sincere hope that he would "save" himself for a wife, and drove on, in no particular hurry, until she asked to be dropped off.

In the six years since that afternoon, rarely has the day passed when Steve Fairfield, the 35-year-old executive director of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, hasn't driven down Lyons and the less-traveled side streets of the ward. The naivete that landed a prostitute in his car is gone, of course. But the benevolence that brought her in from the rain has helped spur the revitalization of one of the poorest sections of the city.

To the uninitiated, stretches of Lyons still conjure the utter absence of hope that plagues much of urban America. And, in fact, it may be years before any portion of the street once again resembles a living, breathing promenade. But few doubt the day is coming. Last year, the Community Redevelopment Corporation polled the Fifth Ward's residents before developing a master plan that, if all goes as hoped, will restore a sense of trust between a place and its people.

It's already taken shape along the raw, narrow streets off Lyons, where such prominent sons and daughters as Barbara Jordan, Mickey Leland, George Foreman and Smith College president Ruth Simmons were raised. It's there one finds -- sometimes in neat, almost inconspicuous clusters; sometimes on an otherwise desolate block -- the more than 50 low-cost homes the Fifth Ward CRC has built and sold since 1990, when the United Way funded the group's start-up with a $50,000 grant.

Since then, only private developer Bob Perry, whose pricey multiunit modulars in Montrose are seducing the upwardly mobile away from the suburbs, has built more inner-city, single-family housing than the Fifth Ward CRC. Not to diminish his effort, but Perry's success seems almost guaranteed by comparison with the CRC -- he is, after all, catering to an eager market with flexible buying power. Fairfield, on the other hand, is trying to dam the exodus of the Fifth Ward's young working families, a phenomenon that is sucking the life out of the community.

It's a difficult task. Inner-city rescue missions of the past self-destructed because of an insidious attitude that the poor should take what's given to them and like it. The Republican revolution in Congress is threatening to further absolve the government's responsibility to the poor by decimating federal housing aid.

Nonprofit community development corporations began emerging as a vehicle for urban renewal more than a decade ago, after Ronald Reagan divested the country's interest in building affordable housing. CDCs, as they are known, are starting to pick up the slack in places like Brooklyn, Boston and Atlanta. The success in those cities and elsewhere has housing advocates across the country talking about a "movement."

The core of the CDC is passionately philanthropic, yet the process requires patience. Developers will tell you the hardest part of building a house is the paperwork -- securing land, developing it and finding homebuyers. To actually build the houses, CDCs have had to become politically savvy enough to ensure investment of resources and goodwill from local governments and financial institutions.

Inevitably, however, success or failure hinges on the collective will of residents and community leaders, a kind of grassroots soul that, more often than not, is born of and nurtured in the local church. Particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods, serving the community is a duty unquestioningly linked to the celebration of God. In the Fifth Ward, the indelible tradition of strong religious leadership began 70 years ago, with the founding of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church by the Reverend L.H. Simpson, the first black ever to run for a seat on Houston City Council.

Simpson's legacy of social ministry has been passed down to Pleasant Hill's current pastor, the Reverend Harvey Clemons Jr., the dapper, no-nonsense founder of the Fifth Ward CRC. Almost three-quarters of a century separates the two pastors, but their ministries are like bookends that hold the collected works of the black experience. Simpson sought to expand the boundaries of a black community in the time of Jim Crow. Today, with contempt for the poor running particularly high, Clemons is trying to save that now-diminished community.

"The one institution that we clearly own is the church," says Clemons. "It's the one institution that has shown stability and on which we've always been able to depend. We've always looked to the church to be on the cutting edge of whatever problems the community must face."

Clemons raced up to that edge, and, in the view of a few board members, jumped right over it when he suggested interviewing Steve Fairfield to run the day-to-day operations of the Fifth Ward CRC. A third-generation homebuilder and reluctant heir to a successful custom-home business, Fairfield was a logical choice to deliver much-needed technical leadership. But even he doubted his ability to overcome the odds and make a start-up nonprofit fly -- particularly in a community where his skin color automatically marks him as an outsider.

"I was confused," recalls Fairfield. "I wasn't sure I was who they really needed."

But at Clemons' urging, Fairfield agreed to be interviewed by the board, and in preparation, set out on a rainy afternoon to conduct a windshield tour of the 70-block neighborhood. For days afterward, Fairfield pondered his encounter with the streetwalker and what it said about the distance between himself and the Fifth Ward. He was pretty sure that the CRC's board was wondering, too.

"They put, in the middle of the room, one vacant chair," Fairfield says, recalling the day he interviewed for the executive director's job. "And I just knew the first question was going to be, 'Didn't we see you the other day, down on Lyons ...?' "

It's a hot, muggy dusk, and standing rainwater along the Fifth Ward's gutterless streets has spawned thousands of hungry mosquitoes. They buzz through the frame of Ava's new home in waves, pausing to feed on a moist neck or the back of a hand. Oblivious to the attack, Steve Fairfield is giving Ava a mid-construction tour, describing how the four-bedroom house being constructed by the Fifth Ward CRC will look, once the walls are up and the interior is finished. Each feature he mentions -- the breakfast nook, the laundry room, the downstairs bathroom -- is an affirmation whispered into Ava's ear. About 30, attractive and reserved, Ava is a divorced mother of three whose rent house has a hole in the roof. Her children -- ages eight, nine and 13 -- share a single bedroom. Ava's youngest has been begging her mother for a "dream house," preferably a two-story model. Her 13-year-old son wants the privacy of his own room. Ava herself is tugged in an unpleasant emotional direction each time she visits her siblings, who live in nice homes they own.

"I've done what I could," says Ava, who is a secretarial supervisor for a bank, "but we've not always lived in the nicest places."

Before long, Fairfield is pointing out the kind of design features that only homebuilders can discuss with much enthusiasm. He tells Ava that her house is built "with a lot of wood," a good, solid No. 2 grade. All along the foundation, on the sill where the framing meets the concrete slab, the boards are weatherized to seal against leaks. The flooring is glued and nailed, a method that helps minimize squeaks.

In about 60 days, when construction is completed, Ava's home will resemble in character a half-dozen others built within eyesight of her lot. Nearly every home on the block is new, and the weatherproofed siding on each is painted a light, cheery color. Large porches front many of the homes; others are rimmed by gardens and neatly trimmed lawns. Even the cramped inner-city lots contribute a bit of charm, encouraging the feeling of a bonded, stable community.

The most expensive home on Ava's block costs about $70,000, yet these are not cookie-cutter designs. In essence, they're custom homes. The buyers may be of modest means, but the Fifth Ward CRC offers them amenities they'd otherwise be unable to afford: a selection of models; choice of indoor carpet, kitchen cabinetry and bathroom tile; the option of a one- or two-car garage, the latter available with a second-floor apartment.

"We don't want them to feel like this is some artifice of the real thing, set up just for people in their circumstances," Fairfield explains. "We want people to have the same dignity as someone buying a house in The Woodlands."

Urban redevelopment projects invariably salute the promise of a renewed "dignity," along with a handful of other concepts that color the purchase of property in worshipful terms. But in a CDC's line of work, dignity is a two-way street. Providing it to communities with so little left is its own reward.

No one epitomizes that bargain better than Steve Fairfield. The only son of prominent suburban developer Al Fairfield, Steve has been around the homebuilding business since he could walk. Like his dad, Steve could be profiting nicely from what now pays him a living wage and little more. Like his father has before him, Steve could be developing large tracts of land in The Woodlands and other upper-middle class suburbs. Or, as his father does today, Steve could be building half-million-dollar, custom-built homes around Lake Conroe, where construction costs are lower, cash flows higher and there exists a supply of qualified homebuyers hankering for a mortgage.

Inner-city development, on the other hand, is a slow, frustrating experience that offers a private builder few rewards. The lots are small and routinely need several thousand dollars worth of refinements before construction can begin. Wretched-looking buildings occupy blocks of land that are tied up in foreclosure or were simply abandoned by the owners. A large majority of inner-city residents are elderly, and many of those who could get out have already gone.

All of this is particularly true in the Fifth Ward, where the median income of the roughly 20,000 residents who remain is about $12,000 a year. And as Clemons noted upon forming the Fifth Ward CRC in 1990, the ward's streets hadn't "seen any new wood in more than 50 years."

A modest goal for the Fifth Ward would have been merely to halt the stagnation. And, in fact, 50 homes in six years is a relatively modest output. But success is not always measured by the tangible result. The houses built by Fairfield and the CRC represent much more than shelter; they are the foundation for the Fifth Ward's future. Close to 140 families have applied for mortgage assistance from the CRC, in the hope that, sometime soon, houses will be built for them. More significantly, many Fifth Ward natives, who share a powerful emotional attachment to their community but can't bring themselves to return, are now making lifetime investments.

Patrick McDaniel grew up in the Fifth Ward, and many of his relatives are still there. But when the 31-year-old McDaniel wanted to buy a house for his fiancee and young son, he started looking in places like Sugar Land and even Hempstead. Visiting his mother one day, he noticed some new construction had begun near the Hester House, an important center of community activity in the Fifth Ward. When he checked into it, he found out that a local community development corporation was building new homes in Fifth Ward that would sell for less than a ten-year-old house in the suburbs.

McDaniel, who works for the city of Houston, says affordability was an incentive, but he "fell in love" with the idea of living in the Fifth Ward again when he realized that homes like his -- a 1,500-square-foot, two-story model with three bedrooms and a long front porch -- were popping up all over.

"I'm pretty sure a lot of people are going to want to come back," McDaniel says. "If they take the time to drive through here and see the progress, they'll come back. I'm glad to come back. I got roots here."

Ava doesn't have her roots in the Fifth Ward, but she has been planning for the day when she can plant and nurture new ones for her children. Ava's kids don't know why their mother is working so much overtime, other than that she has promised to get them out of the place they are living.

In a few months, Ava will load her kids into the car and drive to the Fifth Ward. She won't tell them that she has bought a brand-new four-bedroom home until they arrive at the corner of Evella and Wipprecht, where the two-story house is rising.

"I'll have everything moved, all new furniture," she says quietly. "I'll blindfold 'em and drive up .... There won't be anything old in there, except our bodies."

Steve Fairfield's first visit to the Fifth Ward was in 1988, when he joined a Habitat for Humanity project building ranch homes on a nice-sized piece of donated land off Waco Street. Fairfield had only recently left his father's business, and had agreed to plat and subdivide the land for Habitat.

With construction under way, Fairfield took a job with the city's housing and community development department. The official title eludes him, but basically Fairfield was a "lone ranger, throwing things together." Among his responsibilities was an emergency housing-repair program. He also explored the potential for private-public partnerships, even though the city of Houston had just returned several million in federal community development dollars it had failed to spend.

At the time, the Local Initiative Support Corporation, an organization formed by the Ford Foundation to support CDCs with project development, was working with several community-based groups, but had little progress to report. The foundation was threatening to pull the support group out of Houston, and one of the neighborhoods that would lose its help was the Fifth Ward.

With no mechanism available to provide for community housing efforts, Harvey Clemons arranged a meeting with Fairfield, who was still working for the city, and former Habitat for Humanity director Carl Umland. Fairfield explained that the Ford Foundation and the United Way had come up with a pilot program to fund CDCs in five cities. If they put together a proposal that sold Houston's commitment to community-based housing, three inner-city groups would get $150,000 in operating grants over three years.

The proposal was assembled with the help of two other organizations, and in the spring of 1990, the Fifth Ward CRC, the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA), and The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), a coalition of community and church-based groups, were chosen to take part in the pilot program.

But the complexities of urban renewal were apparent immediately. It took two years following the first $50,000 grant for the Fifth Ward CRC to complete its first batch of homes. It might have taken longer if not for the $20,000-per-home federal mortgage subsidy for buyers, which the city agreed to allocate as part of accepting the privately funded pilot project.

Unlike the other two community-based groups in the project, the Fifth Ward CRC had an executive director who also happened to be a homebuilder. Under Fairfield's technical guidance, the CRC acted as construction manager and bid out the work to local contractors. The developer's fees and profits, as well as marketing and overhead costs, were not passed on to the buyer, shaving the selling price of a new home by several thousand dollars. Moreover, the homes are presold to buyers who qualify for mortgage-assistance grants, which are used to fund the down payment and closing cost.

Because of the Fifth Ward CRC's success with the pilot program, the corporation has since been able to develop relationships with a handful of banks. It is now operating pretty much like any other business, according to Fairfield. "Ninety percent of what we do now is debt-driven, private funding," he says.

But the typical experience of a new CDC more closely resembles that of the other two participants in the pilot program. Recently, TMO disassembled its CDC, having never built a house. And only lately has AAMA begun work on its first initiative, an 84-unit apartment complex in Magnolia, the first new housing construction in the east-side neighborhood in 30 years.

It's been a similar story for other CDCs, which, lacking the resources and experience to build their own houses, have had to use private, for-profit companies. That adds as much as $10,000 to the cost of a home, which in many cases is enough to disqualify would-be buyers who can't cover the down payment and closing costs.

The Fifth Ward's newest housing model illustrates the distinct advantage offered by nonprofits who build their own homes. According to Fairfield, the new three-bedroom cottage homes cost about $27,000 each to build. They sell for about $36,000, including tax and insurance. Depending on the down payment, the monthly mortgage could be as low as $230 a month, affordable enough for minimum-wage earners. The CRC expects the cottage homes to be a popular alternative to the other 12 models, which sell for about $50,000 to $85,000.

Despite the promise shown by the Fifth Ward CRC and the growing popularity and success of the nonprofit concept elsewhere, Fairfield notes that there is a "schizophrenia" in Houston, a city that fervently believes that the market will provide for every need. But so far, the market has not found a way to perpetuate the building of affordable housing. Only the CDC's have done that.

"Folks want to own the soil beneath their feet," Fairfield explains. "It's what they dream about. But it's not only about ownership, but self-control. Families that live in a single-family home have a lot better chance of surviving."

The congregation of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church was in an especially appreciative spirit, and Harvey Clemons was leading the thanks.mmmmmmmmm "What are we going to be?" Clemons asked about midway through his sermon, chosen one recent week from a continuing series he calls "The True Church, or a Community of Good?"

"If you want to talk about how many buildings we've built, how many houses, how much money we have in the bank, you want to be a community of good."

Seated to the congregation's left, behind Clemons, was Steve Fairfield, his hands folded in his lap. It was an interesting juxtaposition: Clemons, in an exquisitely tailored chocolate-brown double-breasted suit, reinforcing the power of the everlasting glory, while Fairfield, in too-large dark slacks and a tan blazer, soaked up the light like a true servant. Aside from three visiting worshippers, his was the only white face in the building.

"I want to be the True Church," Clemons threw down. "Because every house we build and every business we start cannot supersede the power of the True Church .... It's better to be hungry and go to Heaven, than to be full and headed straight to Hell."

When Fairfield came onboard at the Fifth Ward CDC, whose offices are about a dozen blocks from Pleasant Hill, Clemons invited him to attend weekly services at his church. Fairfield accepted immediately, but he wasn't so sure, a little while later, when the pastor asked him to assist in the ministry.

"I really didn't think I was ready for that," Fairfield says.
Church had been a part of Fairfield's life growing up, though the doctrine made less of an impression than the social engagement. Then, in the summer of 1974, his parents sent him to a Christian camp while they finalized their divorce. Wounded and primed for enlightenment, the spirit enveloped Steve Fairfield. As it turned out, his faith couldn't have blossomed at a better time. That fall, following the divorce, Steve and his sister, Cindy, moved with their mother to Wichita Falls.

Life in far north Texas was quite a bit less comfortable than it had been in west Houston, where, to the eye, life sails along on an even keel. The Fairfields had lived in a big house, with all the creature comforts. So did everyone they knew. Wichita Falls was another matter. The house Steve shared with his mother and Cindy was small. There was no shower, and just one bathroom. Heat was something that, if you were smart, you waited on before getting out of bed in the morning. The entire arrangement was an assault on the concept of privacy.

At age 14, Fairfield might have been expected to resent the abrupt change in station. Instead, he found comfort in the physical closeness he suddenly had with his mother and sister. In Houston, he had had plenty of space, whether he wanted it or not.

Though Presbyterian, Fairfield became a member of a Baptist congregation in Wichita Falls, in whose undertow he discovered the joys of Christian charity. He joined the high school Key Club and visited with disadvantaged children, coached Special Olympics and delivered food to the poor. Wichita Falls appealed to him as well. He liked the rough-around-the-edges atmosphere; he found the young people warmer and more honest.

"It really was a saving experience," Fairfield recalls. "When we lived in Memorial, the kids were kinda pampered. A lot of them were rich, unhappy kids."

As he prepared to graduate from high school, Fairfield was leaning hard toward the ministry. He had made plans to attend Williams College in western Massachusetts, not far from where the last of the great New England Calvinists, Jonathan Edwards, had preached of the indisputable iron will of God.

But it was not yet time.
"At the last minute," he says, "I got scared and stayed here."
Instead, he went to Baylor, and followed another lifelong impulse: his interest in life and thought over the course of time. After graduating with a degree in history, he considered attending law school. And, of course, the pastor's life still beckoned.

While he had the freedom to chose, in reality there was little question he'd leave college and go to work in the family business.

But long before then, Steve Fairfield had been called. If he failed to recognize it, well, that was because the extent to which life is a ministry was still a mystery.

Al put his son in charge of attracting new ventures, which, given the diminished state of Houston's economy in 1983, necessitated traveling outside of the state to find wealthy, willing investors. But it was no secret that times were tough in Texas. Out-of-state banks were wary. Private investors were hardly less cautious, sniffing around for a bit, then bailing out just before closing. Given the evaporating value of oil and real estate, almost any deal would have been considered an accomplishment.

"Our thing had stopped," Al Fairfield says. "We just couldn't do it anymore."

Al Fairfield's is the classic Houston success story. He got into the building trade right out of college in 1958, and within a few short years had his own company. Though Al has developed a fair amount of commercial real estate through the years, his legacy is some 20,000 single-family homes, many of them in the Memorial Village area and priced to sell at $500,000 to $1 million.

He's been, in turn, a self-made dreamer, a visionary and a wily opportunist. The only constant has been optimism and a life-affirming faith in unfettered capitalism. Steve, however, never shared his father's passion for transforming land for fun and profit. During the mid-'80s, it was hard, and more often than not, fruitless work. Each venture that failed confirmed for him a deeply held suspicion: he didn't belong in the family business. Even now, however, he seems unclear on exactly why he felt that way, other than to suggest he came to see the mission as unattainable, at best, and at worst, redundant.

"I felt bad about taking money for doing something that was undoable," he explains.

Though he had little savings and no prospects, Steve quit his father's company in the summer of 1986. Sure of nothing except that he had no desire to cruise in his father's wake, he hit the road, taking in the country by car. The trip was cleansing and a respite before the pilgrimage: he camped and fly fished, visited old friends and mentors. He also thought about leaving Houston for good.

"I hate it, and I missed him," Al says of the day Steve left the company. "But with all the stuff that was going on with the Houston economy ...."

In reality -- and in his heart, Al probably knows it -- it wasn't the economy or a failure to appreciate the rewards of building houses that dissatisfied his son. There had always been a "goodness" about his son and an honest desire to spread it around. But his empathy for suffering was beyond that required to develop real estate, and it was only a matter of time before Stephen Fairfield would heed his calling.

"He is very bright and philosophical, and he always got along with people," Al says. "I seriously thought he'd be in the ministry; I thought he'd be reaching more people."

"What's this all about?" asked the judge, peering down from the bench. "You don't look like my normal group of defendants."m On February 1, more than 50 evangelical Christians appeared in a Washington, D.C. courtroom for arraignment on charges of illegal protest. The group was arrested shortly before Christmas, when, in the midst of last year's maddening budget debate, they marched into the Capitol and started praying. They were singing when two doors off to the side swung open and a double line of police officers surrounded them.

Not that things were likely to escalate. A group of schoolchildren witnessed the event, and cheered the demonstrators as they were led out of the Capitol. Steve Fairfield was arrested by an excited officer making his first collar.

The demonstration was organized by a consortium of clergymen, theologians and activists, mostly from northeastern states. Even before last winter's budget impasse, some had been openly critical of the Christian Coalition, which professes to unite all God-worshipping Americans under a single political and social agenda. Fairfield joined the protest when the Republican-led Congress proposed to pull the plug on federal housing aid. In February, a D.C judge sentenced the group to time served -- about five hours.

"Our central message to the conservatives was, 'We think it's appropriate for government to be involved in crafting a safety net for the poor. We don't want to see it clipped away,' " Fairfield explains. "To the liberal community, we wanted to say, 'Don't over-bureaucratize the system. There is room for change.' "

Fairfield pays a price for his sense of balance. He has a Republican pedigree but considers himself an independent. He's opposed to abortion and acknowledges a moral obligation to accept a reading of scripture that condemns homosexuality. Other than that, Fairfield has worked at trying to remain above the rigidity and intolerance that sometimes passes for Christian values. In the past few years, his brief vacations have been, more often than not, sojourns to the seminary.

Fairfield has studied with great interest the sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century revivalist who triggered a bitter doctrinal dispute by advocating the Great Awakening. The movement encouraged the then-radical notion of a religious spirit of democratic values. The doctrine eventually led to missionary work with the American Indians.

Edwards' essay "Christian Charity" is considered the definitive argument on behalf of a socially conscious religion, striking down, one by one, the common excuses we use to turn our backs on the poor. Fairfield struggled mightily with the gap between Edwards' reasoned discussion of moral obligation and the support of so many Christians for a political agenda that sometimes seems to go out of its way to demonize the less fortunate.

"If you say you're a Christian, prove it by what you do," he says. "The Book of James talks about a 'pure and undefiled religion' being one that cares for 'the widow, the orphan and your fellow man.' "

Fairfield found the courage of his convictions in 1992, after Pat Buchanan's notorious address at the Republicans' national convention in Houston. He put a Clinton/Gore bumper sticker on his car, which became a symbol of betrayal among his evangelical friends until an elder in his former church scratched it away.

"They thought I had lost my salvation," he says. "But I just wanted to engage my Christian friends in a discussion. I was just so frustrated by that election. You can acknowledge things like abortion and gay rights theologically, and still reach out to people. But everyone was so adamant, and there seemed to be so little genuine reflection."

Fairfield ended up voting for Clinton, but, by then, what his Christian friends thought was unimportant. They had become like so many people who charged into the inner city, only to leave in anger, cursing the people they'd come to help. Fairfield left that all behind when he gave up his rent house in Bellaire and moved into an unfinished warehouse in a rugged part of the Fifth Ward.

But each Sunday, Fairfield hears in the sermons of the Reverend Harvey Clemons a reminder to remain humble before the Lord -- particularly when the pastor chooses to address the question "The True Church, or Community of Good?"

"Do we want to be a community-development corporation with a chapel where folks who are disgruntled come to visit on occasion? Or do we want to be a church with a successful outreach ministry?

"If we want to be the True Church," Clemons continues, "then deliverance ought to be expected here .... We must determine if we want to be the True Church or the Community of Good. We are under attack by those who would have us change our mission from what God has given us and ordained us to do."

And suddenly, it's obvious -- the skill as a homebuilder, the empathy, the restless but steadfast faith. Finally, the strength to accept and be accepted in, as Clemons describes it, "a community he has come to love and that has come to love him." That it happens to be an African-American community is, in itself, worthy of no great admiration. It just happened to be where he found true deliverance.

"One of my great frustrations," Fairfield says, "is that a lot of folks who call themselves Christians seem to have lived lives unchallenged by the profession of faith. You have to go out and do something. Then God will take away the heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.

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