President Joseph Aoun spent this past Sunday in familiar territory: speaking from the pulpit.
Aoun made the latest in a series of visits to area churches as part of an ongoing effort to connect with people in the neighborhoods surrounding Northeastern. This Sunday he attended the service—and spoke to the congregation—at the Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury, where the fourth Sunday of each month is dedicated to inspiring young people to better their lives.
The church’s longtime pastor, Rev. Gregory Groover, who chairs the Boston School Committee, noted that “our church historically has been an education church.” On occasion guests join the congregation to help with its youth-focused mission.
“I mentioned in my sermon that [President Aoun’s] presence at the church expressed a commitment not only to worship with our youth, but to show in person his commitment to their education,” said Groover, who added that Aoun’s appearance meant a great deal to the young people in attendance.
“For them to see a college president of a well-known, nationally famed institution, who works every day in their community, took on significant meaning,” said Groover. “He’s someone who chooses not to just go home at the end of the week, but to come and sit with them and worship on a Sunday morning.”
The congregation was swelled by the attendance of about 50 members of the church’s basketball outreach ministry, Groover noted. Aoun promised them a chance to watch the Huskies play in Matthews Arena.
Groover said the president enhanced the church’s historic emphasis on education. “In our congregation we try to do anything and everything we can to encourage and motivate and deepen the interest of our youth to think: college, college, college,” he said. “It’s our expectation that we graduate them all and send them off to college … and that each of them will strive to attain the terminal degree in their careers,” he said.
Aoun said he was inspired by the congregation: “Visiting a church in our community with such a passionate devotion to higher education—and with so many young people there—reinforced for me all of the reasons this is a vibrant neighborhood in a strong city,” said Aoun. “Rev. Groover is a genuine leader and his work on behalf of Boston’s young people is an inspiration to all of us. I thank him for welcoming me into his congregation and for allowing me to contribute to his important work.”
Groover’s connection to Northeastern goes beyond his role as local pastor. In November, he spoke to a Jewish studies class on the importance of the Underground Railroad, local politics and issues of social justice. He also joined Aoun, Boston school Superintendent Carol Johnson and Mayor Thomas Menino at an event announcing Northeastern’s new Foundation Year program aimed at helping Boston public school students enter and complete college.