Tucked between tall buildings near one of downtown Baton Rouge’s busiest intersections, a new “oasis of Christian hospitality” quietly opened late last month.
Christ in the City is a nondenominational, storefront ministry geared to meet the needs of downtown workers who seek a quiet place for prayer, communion, counseling or a cup of coffee before, during or after work.
Located at 320 Third St., next to Raising Cane’s and downstairs from Ruffino’s Catering, the 3,000-square-foot, four-room ministry center is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We’re taking the church out into the world,” said its director, the Rev. David Melville. “We have retail hours for a retail world.”
Christ in the City is not open Saturday or especially Sunday because “we are not competing with the churches. We won’t have worship and we won’t have members,” said Melville, 64. He is an ordained Methodist pastor and several of the nonprofit’s board members are Methodists, but it is not an official Methodist outreach.
“As Methodists, we’re always looking for ways to be where the people are,” Melville said. “There are a lot of folks not coming to our churches, so we need to keep trying for out-of-the-box ideas to go to where they are.”
“By coming to where people are, walking by every day to and from work, maybe we’ll help somebody, maybe we’ll meet somebody and maybe we’ll offer Christ to somebody,” Melville said. “This is (about) establishing relationships. We will refer people to nearby churches if they are seeking one. For whatever reasons they are not attending churches right now — we know over 50 percent of workers are unchurched.”
The place is enclosed, like several other downtown establishments, behind a steel fence and gate that shelters a 20-foot-by-30-foot tree-shaded courtyard with a table and chair and 3-foot-tall, stone Celtic cross.
Inside the etched-glass doors is a reception area with a piano, two overstuffed couches and a 10-foot-by-30-foot office converted into a chapel, complete with a Holy Communion table. Up six steps is a larger snack room and coffee shop area featuring several small tables and shelves of free Christian books, and behind that is a larger room featuring a large conference table with colorful Louisiana scenes painted on its walls.
“We’re reaching out to construction workers to CEOs — everybody has a need regardless of their economic level or power position or job,” Melville said. “Everyone has needs and everybody has something to give — that’s what is going to make us unique also — it’s not just a place to receive and be fed but, like churches, it is also a place we hope to give. For example, we have a food basket for those who want to give food.”
Before Melville and his board acquired the place last July, he said it was Triumph Kitchen, a culinary school for teens. Upstairs is the historic De La Ronde Hall ballroom.
A longtime Methodist pastor, Melville grew up in Bossier City, earned two degrees from LSU and has been married for 41 years to Melanie. They have three grown sons and a daughter, and 10 grandchildren.
His most recent appointment was in Amite. He served in Methodist churches in Keithville, Noel UMC in Shreveport, Fellowship UMC in Bossier City and he began his career as a social worker for 13 years at First Methodist in Shreveport. This ministry is a combination of his counseling and pastoral experience, he said.
Board member Leah Ann Renwick, who attends St. George Catholic Church, said she is involved because she believes the people who work and live downtown can benefit from it.
“Christ in the City is a place where we can literally ‘love our neighbors as thyself.’ In the downtown area, we are actually all neighbors,” Renwick wrote in an email. “It is a place to get acquainted with others downtown. A place to come see a smiling face. Jesus asked us to love one another and to spread the good news.”
The Rev. John Edd Harper is treasurer on the board of directors and serves as the coordinator for the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry for the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church. He also serves as minister of discipleship at Hope Community United Methodist Church on Evangeline Street.
“I believe that Christ in the City will be a safe place for all people to visit and share their celebrations or hurts in life and receive a positive word of encouragement,” Harper wrote in an email. The “Rev. David Melville is a colleague and personal friend. He is a man of compassion, integrity and vision. When he shared his vision of having a place (a positive and wholesome environment) in downtown Baton Rouge available for people to spend a little time relaxing, talking and networking, I knew I needed to support David in this endeavor.”
So far, Melville is the only person there and he said he’d appreciate some volunteer help.
For more information, email Melville at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (225) 397-6393.