How important are churches in Pittsburgh today? We are curious about the evolving role of community faith organizations in our city. In this story, we take a look at one small, local church that focuses on community outreach and offers educational support during the school year.

Are you a member of a local faith organization that adds a lot to your life? If you’d like to add to this conversation, e-mail us here or message us on Facebook

A few weeks ago, the Sunday morning service at Friendship Community Church in West Oakland started a bit late. With approximately 20 worshipers in attendance, Pastor Gary Willingham-McLain acknowledged that attendance was low due to summer vacations but said he was happy to see everyone.

As the service started, more people began wandering into the small second-floor chapel. Without air conditioning, sweltering summer temperatures here are met with ceiling fans and open windows. By the time the service ended, after a little more than 90 minutes of singing, worship and the pastor’s fiery sermon on racial equality, 50 enthusiastic devotees — children, women and men, black Pittsburghers and white — had sung, embraced each other and praised the Lord.

For many in this community, the church and its outreach program, The Corner, are essential parts of their lives.

“I wouldn’t know what to do without it,” says Kelly Brookings, who takes advantage of programs ranging from tutoring to continuing education offered by The Corner.

Students like Kahlaya find help with their studies and a caring community. Photo courtesy of Friendship Community Church.

Teaching the next generation

One of the missions of The Corner is to enlist college students from the University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University to tutor children in the neighborhood. For many families, including Brookings and her grandchildren, it’s an important source of help during the school year.

“I have a grandson (10) who is very rambunctious and doesn’t like math,” Brookings says. “I just think the tutors, and also Pastor Gary, have a way of grabbing his attention and allowing him to become focused on his homework. If he was at home with me in our house, it wouldn’t be so nice.”

Brookings’ granddaughter, 13, was previously held back a grade in school. But with the help of The Corner’s tutors, she was able to make up her lost year and rejoin her grade.

“I have a lot of gratitude for The Corner,” Brookings says. “The individualized attention they give there is very good.”