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The Importance of Community Education

Milwaukee pastor Marcus Arrington sees learning as a key to improving the neighborhood.

Marcus L. Arrington always has viewed those under his care through a ministry grid. Although he now serves as senior pastor of Parklawn Assembly of God in Milwaukee, Arrington previously spent 18 years as an educator in Wisconsin’s largest city.

“When I started teaching, I viewed students in the classroom like a flock,” says Arrington, 43. “There was a shepherding aspect to it: feeding, protecting, nurturing.”

When Arrington became principal at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. African American Immersion School in 2014, the flock increased from one classroom of 30 pupils to 500 students throughout the building.

“School was my place of ministry,” says Arrington. “I didn’t see myself pastoring in a brick and mortar church building, but God revealed otherwise.”

Early in his teaching days, Arrington began attending Parklawn, then pastored by Walter F. Harvey. When in 2018 Harvey approached Arrington, an elder at the church, about succeeding him, Arrington expressed shock. But he soon remembered a page he had journaled four years earlier. In 2014, he says the Lord told him he would need to make a decision about entering full-time ministry.

Harvey, who served as senior pastor for 28 years, left the position in 2020 to focus on two other ventures: chief executive officer of Prism Economic Development Corporation  and president of the AG’s National Black Fellowship. In November, Harvey, 61, also began serving a four-year term as one of 21 national AG executive presbyters.

Now that he is explicitly serving as a full-time minister, Arrington has shifted his flock mentality to the community. He says Parklawn is focused on rendering acts of compassion to residents, such as distributing food and clothing to the needy; building relationships with neighbors; and sharing the gospel. The church also is designed to be a neighborhood resource center, he says. Recently a community job fair and financial classes have been conducted at Parklawn, a predominantly African-American congregation of 800 regular attendees.

“The building is sought out frequently for events because we have a large capacity for crowds,” Arrington says. “We also have a gymnasium, which is a safe place for young people to come play.”

Church can be the center of refreshing for neighborhoods, Arrington maintains.

“We need revival in our cities, towns, and villages,” Arrington says. “The world cannot enliven the spirit of men; that comes only by the power of God.”

One of Harvey’s first projects in leading Prism involved opening UpStart Kitchen, which provides state-of-the-art low-cost shared cooking/baking space for local food entrepreneurs. UpStart, which serves primarily ethnic minorities, is located across the street from Parklawn AG.

Arrington says Parklawn and Prism are collaborating with the Shular Institute and Milwaukee County Youth Services to expand UpStart by opening a youth culinary arts program.

UpStart Kitchen is a welcome entity to the challenging realities of the Sherman Park neighborhood where Parklawn AG is located.

Arrington grew up in Milwaukee’s violent urban center, raised by his single mother, Lois. He credits her for instilling life-affirming values — and for keeping him alive with her prayers. Several peers were shot to death; friends chose wrong paths and ended up incarcerated. At 18, Arrington says he saw his life flash before his eyes when robbed at gunpoint.

“Armed robbery was rampant, and a lot of times the victims were killed, even if they cooperated,” Arrington says. “I grew up hoping I would see 22.”

During his traumatic encounter, Arrington vowed to God he would serve Him wholeheartedly if he escaped. Arrington determined higher education as the best way to avoid the destiny of many of his contemporaries.

“Many precedents for studying are established in Scripture,” Arrington says. “God doesn’t want us to have full hearts and empty heads.”

Arrington began his adult education at Grambling State University in Louisiana, at the time the only historically black college or university in the nation with a Chi Alpha Campus Ministries chapter. There he learned about the Assemblies of God, and served as Chi Alpha group president his junior and senior years.

Although he didn’t really want to return to Milwaukee after graduation, he did so, and started teaching in public schools. He also kept going back to school himself. He earned a master’s degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee and doctorates from Hope Bible Institute & Seminary in Hammond, Indiana, as well as from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee.

Arrington and his wife, Crystal, have two children, 13-year-old Jacen and 9-year-old Mikaila. He continues to view schools as a vital link for the Church to engage culture.

“Schools are mission fields,” says Arrington, who in 2020 wrote the book, When Hope Finds a Home: The Influence of Caring Adults in the Lives of Urban, African American Youth. “They are critical battlefields for the lives of our children.”

Children from faith-filled homes often experience criticism and ridicule, Arrington says, yet they must not be fearful of sharing their testimonies.

“The Church can offer truth, which doesn’t change,” Arrington says. “The truth is Jesus.”

Parklawn is in its 112th year, and Harvey says Arrington is aware of the heritage of those who have gone before him.

“Marcus has the ability to operate in multiple realms, the realm of the prophetic and the practical,” Harvey says. “He knows the culture and code of Parklawn, as well as the city and the nation.”

Harvey continues to attend Parklawn and occasionally preaches there. Arrington meets biweekly with Harvey, who continues to provide counsel to him. Arrington’s faithful mother is a member of Parklawn.

PHOTO: Walter Harvey (right) continues to be a mentor to Marcus Arrington.

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.