Russ, who previously served as pastor of Hopewell Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, felt called to explore what it meant to “be” the Church outside the walls of a building and the one hour of Sunday morning worship. He and a group of friends held Bible studies and discussions for over a year, and came to believe that there was more to faith than religious services and more to life than accumulating possessions. The group’s discussions focused on the idea that their faith called them to open their lives and share what they had with the people around them.
The group members, Russ said, started asking difficult philosophical questions of themselves:
“How much of our lives are we willing to share with each other? Are we willing to share day-to-day, are we willing to share a house? Are we willing to share economics? And then how much are we willing to share with other people who are not in this group?” says Russ.
The questions continued: “Can we stand alongside those who are struggling economically, those who are immigrants or new to the area, to those who are currently unhoused, those who experience abuse? Can we literally stand in the same space as these folks?”
To answer those questions, Russ left his job at Hopewell and began a journey that would become Anthony’s Plot, an intentional Christian Community on the South Side of Winston-Salem. The unusual name is based on the story of Anthony Ulrich, the freed slave who asked Count Zinzendorf to send missionaries to share the gospel with his family in St. Thomas. Critical to that early mission was that the missionaries went and lived among the people, and were even willing to sell themselves into slavery if necessary.
An important aspect of the group was the need for a “home base,” a house in the South Side area they felt called to serve. Trinity Moravian Church offered them the use of the parsonage next door to the church in Sunnyside, a neighborhood in that area of Winston-Salem. Today, a small core group of members lives in the house, where they also provide limited transitional housing for some residents.
One of those, Mario Trollinger, is a 41-year-old man who struggled for years with drugs and alcohol. After living at Anthony’s Plot for the last seven months, Trollinger is enrolling at Forsyth Tech to earn a certificate in facilities maintenance. When he finishes, he will be certified to take a full-time job taking care of schools or other institutions. Trollinger said May’s influence helps him every day.
“His character is just — I had to watch him at times and try to humble myself,” Trollinger said. “I’m now trying to be a positive influence going out the door.”
The door of Anthony’s Plot is rarely closed. On Monday nights, neighbors come and share a meal prepared with donated food. When the weather is good, the meal spills out of the house, into the yard and onto the sidewalk. Swings and basketball nets provide activities for children. Supper is followed by a crowded worship service in the living room. On Thursday nights, anyone who feels they are part of the group is welcome to meet to plan work of Anthony’s Plot. Over the summer, they held art and music days for neighborhood kids who couldn’t afford summer camp. They hosted a block party and gave away more than 100 backpacks stuffed with school supplies.
Brian and Amy Feezor, who attend a Methodist church, said they consider Anthony’s Plot to be the place where they live out their faith. They bring their three children by a couple of times a week to play and eat and help.
May has worked to build strong relationships with area churches of different denominations. Trinity Moravian Church provides the home and acts as fiscal sponsor for the developing organization; Centenary United Methodist Church, a large downtown congregation, provided space for the group’s “Feast of Shelters,” an outdoor “live-in-boxes” event with area homeless persons that was based on the Feast of Booths in the Old Testament.
Ironically, the night of the award presentation, Brother May was asked to open the City Council meeting with prayer, as has been traditional. His prayer would end up being the last one that would ever open Winston-Salem City Council meeting, since that same day a Supreme Court decision caused the Council to vote to open with a moment of silence rather than prayer.
The Rev. John Jackman is senior Pastor of Trinity Moravian Church and has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for Anthony’s Plot. Photo above: Anthony’s Plot in the Waughtown section of Winston-Salem.
From the March 2012 Moravian Magazine