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Homewood Loses A Hero

Posted by Elwin Green on August 29, 2016 at 8:40 PM

Rev. Eugene "Freedom" Blackwell, founding pastor of House of Manna and former pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, passed away this morning, at the age of 43.


I don't know the details yet, but do know that he had endured - and until now, survived - bouts with cancer over the past few years.


Bethesda announced the news in a Facebook post:


TO: Bethesda Family & Friends
We share news of the passing of Rev. Eugene "Freedom" Blackwell, who served God with you here at Bethesda from 2004 to 2009.

Just as we prayed for him and the family during his journey and battle with sickness, please continue to pray for the family as they mourn his passing. It is my prayer that as the family remembers and celebrates his life that the blessed assurance of the Holy Spirit will surround them with a peace that transcends all understanding. May they have joy in the midst of sorrow as they remember that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, death does not have the victory (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). Surely, there is a crowd of witnesses who can confirm that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. AMEN


I first met Rev. Blackwell at an event at which Dr. John Perkins was the featured speaker. Dr. Perkins is well known among evangelical Christians for an approach to ministry that focuses on local churches becoming change agents in underserved neighborhoods.


The approach hinges on what Perkins calls "the three Rs" - relocation, reconciliation and redistribution. "Relocation" refers to Christians relocating to inner-city communities; "Reconciliation" refers to them working with their new neighbors to bridge the racial divide; and "Redistribution" refers to redistributing resources - not just money, but things like relationships and access - for the benefit of their adopted neighborhoods.


In case you couldn't tell, this message was almost exclusively directed toward white suburban Christians; the successes of Dr. Perkins ministry largely boiled down to white people moving into the hood to do good. That's not a knock, it's an observation, and I only make it to make this observation - Rev. Blackwell was the first Black pastor that I've come across who deliberately and intentionally did the first R - he and his family relocated into Homewood so that they could do ministry here as residents. And for that, they gained my everlasting admiration.

I believe that Rev. Blackwell was the pastor of Bethesda when we met; he eventually left to establish House of Manna, a Presbyterian mission church that distinguished itself early on by holding worship services on Friday evenings (and serving dinner) and doing street minstry. He and his wife Dina ("Free") established a separate non-profit, Homewood Renaissance Association, which created a program to train young people in the construction trades.

In keeping with the original meaning of "gospel," their work was good news for Homewood, resulting in coverage by the Post-Gazette here, here and here.


There's more to say, and more that will be said. But that is my two cents' worth for now. Let those who pray, pray for his family, his congregation, and all those who knew him well.

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