It’s noon on a Sunday at the corner of 17th and Florida streets, in a parking lot outside the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The summer sun beats down, and perhaps no one should want to gather here today. The cold of winter, too, seems unbearable without the latest North Face or the wooliest boots. But every Sunday, through every season, they come. And they come in the hundreds. Pastor Joseph Moore and cohorts from several local churches open their arms in reception each time, the start of a weekly Christian worship service for Open Air Ministries, a church for those in the Baton Rouge community with no roof of their own.
“Open Air Ministries started in 2007 with Ginger Ford, who was a director at the A.C. Lewis YMCA,” says Moore. “I originally worked with her for about a year as a part-time community outreach director, but then felt the Lord call me to step down into a volunteer position. And I’ve being doing that for about 13 years.”
After time in the military, 25 years as a captain with the Baton Rouge Fire Department, and a difficult divorce, Moore, who had pastored three Methodist churches, knew his way around the circuits of life.
“I had been in what I call a desert place when Ginger first contacted me,” he says, “but this was healing for me. And now these homeless members of our community are going through storms in their own life. I figure God was just preparing me to take up this opportunity, to help me find my purpose and to help these people find theirs.”
With various church volunteers hosting each Sunday service alongside Moore, Open Air Ministries also works with St. Vincent de Paul to provide meals, clothing, toiletries and other necessities to those who come to worship. Moore has even set up a bike repair area on the premises—volunteers have donated about 500 bikes to the homeless population in five years—as well as a community garden where anyone can come to collect armfuls of fresh vegetables. Recently, the ministry even bought tablets for the homeless to use in their endeavors to pursue GED diplomas. At the same time, these people can also find employment through a small lawn-care service Moore and the YMCA put together. But perhaps most importantly, Moore and those who join him in worship provide a sense of belonging for those who feel most alone.
“Baton Rouge is one of the most giving communities I’ve ever come across,” he says. “A lot of lives have been touched and put back together again because of the love shown at these meetings, and because of that I’m truly honored to serve the least of these.”
To learn more about Open Air Ministries, visit openairministriesbr.org.