Norwood Community Ministry

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The Norwood Community Ministry (or Church House) was an ecumenical ministry active in Norwood during the 1960s. It was founded in 1964 as an outreach program of Handley Memorial Presbyterian Church by then-pastor David Singleton. At the time, the membership of his church was increasingly commuting to Norwood for services from new suburban communities while incoming residents, lower-income white and middle-income black families, were moving into the neighborhood. Singleton saw the changes as an opportunity for outreach, but many in the church saw "the program" as encouraging the integration of Norwood, to its detriment. He left the church after three years of harassment.

Afterward, with funding from the Birmingham Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the US and the local district of the United Methodist Church and opened "Church House" in a rented house at 2524 13th Avenue North (since demolished and now part of the landscaped entranceway to Carraway Hospital). The house hosted a community medical clinic and helped offset medical costs with help from the hospital, provided recreational programs for neighborhood youth, distributed food and clothing to families in need, taught literacy classes, and provided orientation to new residents.

Margaret Minor was the director of Church House, assisted by Pat Minschew and a volunteer staff comprised mainly of local teenagers. In the Spring of 1969, the ministry's programs, which had been open to both black and white residents, were formally integrated. At the same time an integrated swimming pool opened at Norwood Park and black families began moving into the historically white-only heart of the neighborhood, east of 26th Street North. Reactionaries among the white residents organized as the Norwood Citizens for a Better Community whose members were blamed for vandalizing the pool to the point that the city was forced to close it down. They then targeted the Church House.

Neighbors complained that "long-haired" youth engaged in "lewd and immoral behavior" on the premises. Rumors of a conspiracy by the city and federal government to integrate the neighborhood focused on the Church House as the most visible institution, apparently promoting socialization between the races and perhaps promoting a "socialist" program. In the Fall of 1969, demonstrators gathered in the front lawn to protest Church House. Minor and Minschew got involved in a brief fracas and were charged with assault and battery by demonstrators. Even though the charges were latter dropped, the controversy led the syndicate owning the property to not renew the ministry's lease.

With the loss of the house and the ministry's effectiveness obviously compromised, the board, headed by Reverends Charles Quiggle and Charles Betts, made plans to "start from scratch" with more community involvement in the group's leadership.