About a year ago, Keith and Veronica Evans, a couple in faith and marriage, began the process of furthering their spirituality by taking the formal steps to become faith leaders.
Previously having lived in the New Haven, Conn., area, the couple have three grown sons in the Pittsfield area and moved to the city about two years ago. Keith Evans said he saw Pittsfield struggling with similar social and economic issues as in New Haven, and he and Veronica said they felt a call to action.
This past Nov. 15, though still in the ordination process, they called their first followers, eight community members, to a prayer and Bible study in their living room at 78 Springside Ave., in Pittsfield. They had mostly all met at the city's Price Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church, but were ready to embark on a new spiritual journey together.
The Evanses back in February celebrated their installation service as pastors under the Rev. Leroy Stovall and other elders of the Holy Ghost Temple Church in West Springfield. The ordination solidified what they now call Heart 2 Heart Ministry, which includes a very interpersonal mission of outreach, prayer and community service.
Where many larger and traditional churches are experiencing population attrition, Heart 2 Heart seems to have carved a niche, and is growing a following in the center of the Berkshires.
Back in the spring, around Easter, the Evanses connected through a mutual friend with Ray Allen, director of missions for the Massachusetts Baptist Association. That organization owns the brick church located at 11 Summer St., in Lanesborough, on the corner of Route 7, adjacent to the library and town hall. Allen said he saw in the pastors a kindred spirit with a faith and practice aligned with the Baptist Association's mission and purpose.
"We had a church building empty at the time, and they were similar to us in their basic theological beliefs," said Allen. "What they were telling us about seemed like the type of church that we would like to be there," he said. So Allen and the association agreed to open their doors to Heart 2 Heart, no money down.
"We're truly blessed to be here," said Pastor Keith Evans.
"This was the answer to our prayers," Co-Pastor Veronica Evans said.
An official dedication ceremony, which filled the small church and parking lot to capacity, was held on the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 4.
A subsequent Sept. 11 service included nearly 40 of all ages and backgrounds gathered in the Lanesborough space. The service included scripture and sermon, a pause for announcements, offerings, communion and lots of songs. Keith Evans preaches with an intensity that works him into a sweat. By contrast, Tanya Ramsey serves as the choir director who gently and gracefully leads an all-ages choir and praise team.
A fellow minister, Inez Broner lends her voice to the church in multiple ways. Like other members of the ministry, many who are Pittsfield transplants from larger urban areas, Broner said the lively way Heart 2 Heart operates reminds her of the ministries she grew up with in Brooklyn and the Bronx, N.Y. "I love the sense of the spirit of God here and the spirit of the people," she said.
A bright red and white Heart 2 Heart Ministry sign posted on the lawn now heralds activity there, which includes a Sunday two-hour worship service, Monday evening Bible study, and women's and men's groups meeting on Thursday evenings.
The ministry also does community outreach on Friday evenings with the Berkshire Dream Center, 475 Tyler St., in Pittsfield at the former Morningside Baptist Church.
Heart 2 Heart is one of the core active partners in the state-funded Pittsfield Bridges: Transformative Movement under its Working Cities program.
"I think we can do a lot in the community. There's a lot of power in numbers," said Tinamarie Smith, who, along with her daughter, Gloria, 7, were among the founding members of the ministry. She noted that Heart 2 Heart also partners with Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity and Western Mass. Labor Action.
Beginning this past June, the ministry also began to take their faith and outreach to the streets of Pittsfield, literally walking the walk of their beliefs in being out in the community and raising hope through prayer. Each Saturday, they meet at noon at 81 Linden St., the George B. Crane Memorial Center, where the group temporarily relocated after outgrowing the co-pastors' living room. From there, they walk or drive together to Park Square.
Instead of robes, the pastors wear Heart 2 Heart Ministry T-shirts, sneakers and jeans. The people joining them also come as they are — be it from the school of hard knocks or a long path of piety. The pastors say that all are welcome to join them.
One such prayer walk, held on Sept. 3, included 16 men, women and children, who began and concluded their hour-long practice by holding each others' hands and bowing their heads in prayer. "Lord, may we walk by faith today, Lord, and help us to be a blessing to this community," Keith Evans said.
Then, they began to move in a meditative motion, taking slow and deliberate steps together, not in silence, but powerfully in song.
In boundless harmony, they lifted their voices in unison, singing gospel songs and traditional hymns. They prayed for the sick and troubled they were told about that week. They prayed for those who watched them; some passersby just looked, some beeped their car horns, some held up their fingers in the "peace" sign or waved. Some women and men of the group lifted their arms up and exclaimed "Praise, Jesus!" Others, mostly the younger ones, sang or hummed along, sometimes closing their eyes, seemingly reflective in thought, while keeping pace in their step.
"For us, this is not just faith. It's a confidence we have in what we do and believe in," Veronica Evans said.
Stephanie Robinson said that confidence is something she gained in joining Heart 2 Heart.
"I used to be shy, but I'm outspoken now, and I'm learning more. I'm always talking about my church," said Robinson, who now reads church announcements and sings in choir.
Sharron McClain was among those first members who was drawn to those initial gatherings in the Evans' living room. She said she appreciates the pastors' dedication to what they do.
McClain said when her daughter, Danaija Frazier, died in May in Connecticut, Veronica Evans took a week off to travel there to minister to McClain and help support her family.
"The pastors are genuine, and you can tell they're focused on their spirituality," McClain said. "Everyone's just real here."
If you go ...
What: Heart 2 Heart Ministry.
Where: 11 Summer St., Lanesborough.
When: Sunday service at 1 p.m.; Monday Bible study at 5:30 p.m.; women's and men's groups at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays. "Celebrate Recovery" program held at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays at Berkshire Dream Center on Tyler St. in Pittsfield. Prayer walks at noon on Saturdays.
Contact: Pastor Keith Evans can be reached at 203-343-4898. Co-Pastor Veronica Evans can be reached at 203-360-9276. They can also be reached by email at email@example.com or found on Facebook.