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Faith and Works Bring South Side South

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 While other church groups have traveled to the Gulf Coast to help with Hurricane Katrina relief, Pastor Jim Walker of the South Side's Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community admits his congregants' recent work in Biloxi, Miss., might have stood out a little.

"We're reaching the tattooed, pierced kind of folks who would never be welcome in a regular church," says Walker about his three-year-old church, which attracts 200 for Sunday services. "Sun up to sun down, we helped people muck out their houses and tear down drywall" in Biloxi. Walker trusts their week of work last month "belied every stereotype" Mississippi residents might have had about his crew.

Both the Presbyterians and United Methodists sponsor Hot Metal, which worships in the Goodwill Building at South 26th and Carson streets. Call them "multi-denominational," Walker says. The church employs dramas instead of sermons and offers a lunch each Sunday. Walker and co-pastor Jeff Eddings met as roommates and fellow theater majors at Point Park College in the late '90s and began this church in the hopes of attracting more college students and other young adults with such an approach.

In Biloxi, the Hot Metal group joined a Methodist relief effort. Walker got more than 40 volunteers for the Nov. 19-26 trip. They also helped another church group serve Thanksgiving dinner by purchasing frozen turkeys and deep fryers for the multitudes.

The Biloxi neighborhood where the Hot Metal crew worked was poor to begin with, Walker notes: "When the hurricane came, it just made it worse. They already had nothing. You could have gone down and done a mission trip before the hurricane came."

Says church member Katie Flecker, who participated in the trip: "To walk down the streets of what used to be a neighborhood similar to our own was so powerful that it prohibited you from talking and almost from breathing." Yet she, Walker and other participants, including one who blogged the trip (www.dairyaisle.com), were most impressed by the positive spirit of local residents. They were, says Walker, "people with a deep joy that you can't really put into words. It makes you hungry for that kind of thing.

"Everybody that we helped was very grateful," Walker adds. "One guy, we met him the first day. We showed up at his house [and said], 'You're on the list. What can we do?' He said, 'Well, my buddy next door needs help -- why don't you help him?'"

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