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Andrew and Helen Jackson

Pastor Andrew and Helen lead Webster Avenue C&MA Church in the Hill District, but are involved in many other community activities and events. Pastor Jack, as Andrew is affectionately known, and Sister Helen, make a wonderful ministry team and they are the perfect couple to lead The Marriage Works – for the Better Ministry. Urban Heroes caught up with the Jacksons in the midst of their busy schedule to talk to them about what made them such an effective Urban Heroes team.

KB: It has been our privilege and pleasure to work very closely with the Jacksons. We met Helen when she was a CUBM student and is a great woman of God. Then Pastor Jackson came to school as well. It’s very nice to work with them. It’s wonderful when you see the people of God coming together to do His work, and that perfectly describes the Jacksons. They’re a super power couple.

JS: Amen. Of course I have known them as students, colleagues, and coworkers. They’re very faithful, committed, and wonderful to work with. They’re always so open and encouraging. Welcome to the Urban Heroes program, Jacksons. Congratulations!

HJ: Thank you so much. We are very excited.

JS: We are honored. Let’s get started. Helen, tell us a little bit about yourself.

HJ: I was born right here in Pittsburgh, in a Christian family. I would call myself a Pittsburgh girl. We lived all over the city. My early years I grew up in Homewood on Homewood Avenue. I went to Baxter Elementary School before it became CAPA, when all of the good things were happening in Homewood. Homewood Avenue was a thriving business community with theaters and all sorts of things. We went from there to the South Side. Then I went to South High School and grew up in the Arlington Heights Projects and completed my high school education there and went on to college.

AJ: It’s pretty much the same story for me. I grew up in the south Oakland section of Pittsburgh, which was a mixed and diverse community. I grew up under the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning and spent most of my youth at Forbes Field playing ball. I loved sports. It was easy for my mother to find me, because all she had to do was check one of the ball fields or the swimming pool. I graduated from Schenley High School and my educational venture stopped right there. I returned to school after 32 years and came into the CUBM experience, which was a wonderful one.

KB: Tell us what your parents and siblings were like.

AJ: I too was raised in a Christian home, both my mother and father were old-­‐school church leaders. There were certain restrictions and different things we just didn’t do or couldn’t do, but ’m really grateful for that upbringing. It seemed to me that every time the church doors opened, my family was there. So I grew up loving God, loving the church experience. I grew up, even though I’m not much of a singer, in youth choirs and the whole church experience. I had a very good upbringing.

HJ: For me, it was similar, except that my dad was considerably older than my mother. So I really grew up with her being the disciplinarian, the educator, the mentor and all of those things. We were a very strict home with strict Christian values that we had to adhere to. We had to go to Sunday School. I was involved heavily in the music ministry of the church, along with all the things young people did when they had their own clubs and own outreach programs and evangelistic programs, I was involved with all of that growing up. We had a huge impact on the community and all our friends came. It was just a wonderful experience growing up under church leadership. It was very important to me then as it is now, and that’s why I probably ended up marrying a pastor. We are in church leadership now because it’s who I am; it’s in my DNA. I consider leadership in the community very important and vital in the community, in our church and our homes.

KB: Reverend Helen is named for her mother, and she also tells us the pearls of wisdom her mother shared with her. So I never met Mother Helen, but feel as though I know her very well.

JS: How did you two meet?

AJ: It’s funny how it happened. We were neighbors but didn’t have much interaction with each other. Unfortunately, one day my brother was really sick and he eventually passed away. Reverend Helen came to my parent’s home to share with us during that time. It’s funny how it happened. We just started talking one day and 26 years later, we’re still together. It wasn’t anything where it was like a 4th of July with fireworks going off or anything like that. We grew to be friends first, and through that friendship came relationship. I’m so glad the Lord allowed the two of us to cross paths.

JS: You have the same story, Sister Helen?

HJ: I remember it that way. His middle brother and I were the same age, so we actually were the ones who were friends. Since he is a bit older than I, I didn’t have too much interaction with him as he said, so I didn’t think about talking to him. We all just really loved Barney Jackson. We rode the bus together every day and had a really nice relationship. So when he was ill, it impacted our entire community and beyond. He was the kind of young man whose teachers from Schenley and grade school came back to pay honor to him. So he was a wonderful man of God.

I guess that was really the beginning of my grief ministry. I went and just wanted to share the love of God and all of the things you do when that happens. I didn’t think of that meeting or interaction as the beginning of our relationship. I just thought I was doing the work of the Lord. We were neighbors and I felt he was a tremendous community leader then, even though he didn’t see himself that way. He had his own softball team back then and would take people in the community to the Hall of Fame and things like that to get them off the streets. I thought he was a wonderful young man and could see where the Lord’s hand was on his life.

JS: Pastor Jack, as we sometimes call you, did you know you had a call to the ministry? And if so, when?

AJ: Actually, I did. I felt the call even in high school. But like Jonah, I ran and tried not to accept my call. I didn’t know it was necessarily ministry work. I was always drawn to working with and helping people and doing the best I could in the community. I guess that was the beginning of my training process in the community, because I always found myself in a leadership position. They would make me the captain of the team, or things like that would happen in my life where I was always put out front. I didn’t necessarily like to be put out front, but I felt it was a call on my life to do the work of the Lord, as best I could.

I have always had a heart for the disenfranchised and people didn’t have a voice for themselves. So, working in our community was a wonderful thing for me and it helped to nurture me into the ministry setting. One time in particular, I can remember not feeling very well emotionally, and I could hear the voice of the Lord speaking in my heart that it was the time to do the work of the Lord from a ministry point of view. I felt my call early in life, but I didn’t accept the call until probably my mid 40s or so.

KB: Tell us a little bit about how your ministry started.

AJ: Once I got back in the church, I worked as an associate pastor and pastor of men’s ministry for several different churches. But as I said, I had a real burden in my heart for the disenfranchised so we were led to start a ministry called Abundant Mercy. It was primarily an evangelistic ministry where we took our ministry to the streets. We did our best to try and help those who weren’t coming to conventional church. We took our message to them. We also did some things as far as food and clothing were concerned. We wanted to help them out as best we could and that ministry grew. We were working with some of the homeless and gave them gift cards to Giant Eagle and other supermarkets and clothing stores. So that’s how that ministry was established. We really had a burden to help the homeless and those that weren’t able to get to conventional churches.

KB: I think one of the things I found very interesting was your work ethic. I know you and Helen have had a business together. I would like you to share the different things you have done in your lifetime.

HJ: As you noticed, I just think the world of my husband. He’s a quiet storm. He is quiet and I’m the talker, which most people already know! He has so much in him, and in all of these endeavors, he would wake up and tell me the Lord spoke to him to do something and I would respond that we should go. The beginning of that was we founded and started a commercial cleaning company called All-Pro Cleaning Service here in Pittsburgh, and we did that for a number of years. At one time we had up to fifteen employees. When we were in other churches even, we employed their youth departments for the summer and would allow them to clean the senior citizens’ homes and their neighboring churches. We would pay them for their service – a nice wage I might add – so they would have money for school clothes.

We did that for many years and the Lord blessed us with over thirty active cleaning accounts in the city and beyond. So we did that seven days a week, still went to church, and still taught Bible study. So in terms of work ethics, as you know, I have a special place in my heart for ethics from my upbringing. You work hard, are responsible to God first, your community and home, it’s just the way we are. We work very hard in everything we do and put 100% in it and more sometimes. That was our All-Pro Cleaning experience and then the Lord called my husband into ministry and pastoring. We came out of that experience and transitioned into Abundant Mercy, and now we’re part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance family. We’re still working as hard as we can in ministry. This year we would like to start an outreach in the community where we are planted, which is in the Hill District.

KB: I think your church is ideally positioned to do that. The Hill is coming back, but we don’t want to forget our population that is there. And I look forward to supporting you all through that. They have all sorts of great creative ideas.

JS: Helen, you have had quite a music ministry. Talk to us about how you first discovered that and some of the expressions of that of late, the gospel choir and other things you find yourself doing.

HJ: Even going all the way back to when I was young, there was a great community choir way back then called the Pittsburgh Believers Choir, which was a community choir, with people from all over the city from different churches. Our highlight was the last show at the Stanley Theater when they brought in Patti Labelle. We were the gospel choir that was featured. We came and did that and sang with Patti Labelle and it was a tremendous experience for me. It was awesome. So from a young girl on I have always been in my church choir and community choirs.

There is a wonderful choir I was a part of, the Pittsburgh Gospel Choir, which has since changed names to The Pittsburgh Heritage Chorale, under the leadership of Dr. Herbert V.R.P. Jones. We sang all over the city of Pittsburgh. They are going to Europe this year to tour. It’s an awesome experience and you grow in every facet of your life, not just musically, but spiritually too, I was the first chaplain of that choir, which was a tremendous experience. I have made some lifelong friends there. We would always pray together and seek the Lord for our needs. Dr. Jones is a hard taskmaster, vocally you had to step up. You had to audition and all those things. It’s a tremendous experience.

But I do not want to leave out the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry choir. I started singing the year I graduated. I consider it a serving position. It’s a place for me to serve the school I think so highly of that helped me to put a lot of things back into perspective. I always wanted to earn a college degree, which was a lifelong dream. And I am here and owe much to the Center for Urban Biblical Ministry. I love the school and love the leadership. Thank you so much for everything you have offered and afforded to me and my family.

JS: Pastor Jack, where did you get your work ethic? Who is the role model or what experience in your life caused you to be so diligent and focused and able to accomplish so much?

AJ: I think there were several people in my life. Obviously my father had a lot to do with it. My father was the kind of man, when he had a project to do or when he made a commitment, he stuck to it. He passed that on to me. I had other strong men in my life. One person I recall right now was Mr. Marino who was Dan Marino’s father, who was one of my football coaches and just a great man who showed me that, through hard work and diligence, many things could be accomplished. Growing up I had a grade school physical education teacher I can recall. There were so many people in my life that showed me if I put my nose to the grindstone and was honest about my work and not take advantage of people, I could succeed.

All those things they taught me, even now, sometimes I have a feeling that I’m cheating when I have a day of rest. I am so accustomed to what they call burning the candles at both ends. I understand the need for rest, and I know the need for time away from activities. On the other hand, I’m just one of those types of people who never required a lot of physical rest. The older I am getting, the more I am seeing the necessity of resting. But on the other hand, there is so much work that needs to be done, and it is my contention that we don’t have a lot of time to get it done. I am trying to do my part through my little efforts to see that some social issues are addressed, whether it be through the church or in the community work. And that’s just the way I am.

KB: A young person or someone is reading this and would like to follow in your footsteps; what advice would you give?

HJ: I certainly would lead off by saying to seek the Lord. I know that’s probably not as popular nowadays, but when I was coming along, church was the hub in the community. Everyone you knew went to or belonged to a church. There’s been a falling away from that and we know the Bible says in this time and day this would happen. But I still have a real sense of obligation to tell people about the gospel of Jesus Christ and His love and saving power. I would start there. Because the family structure isn’t where it once was, the Bible promises that when your mother and father forsake you, the Lord will take you up. Even if your family structure isn’t what you think it should be or needs to be, I know the Lord Jesus will take up your cause and put people around you to support you.

You people need to surround themselves with people they see are doing it and getting it done. If they see someone doing life, then maybe they will see and conclude they can do it as well. That’s what happened with me. I worked 32 years in the criminal justice system, and a lot times people asked me how long I had been there and said they could never stay on a job that long. I think we need to be doing positive things and young people need to be close to someone who is doing it right.

I worked for a great judge, Jacob H. Williams, who had a great work ethic. He was a plumber by trade and judge all the other times. I would see him go out and put in a water line and then put his robe on and fill in the bench. I saw that done, so I knew it could be done. We as community leaders have an obligation to do the work. It’s good to tell people about it, but I would tell young people to watch me do this. When we were coming along there was a slogan. I don’t know if they say this anymore but people would say, “Watch my smoke.” If people can see me doing something positive and watch my smoke, they can learn a lot.

They could watch me go from a young woman in the housing projects where people didn’t expect me to do anything and I now sit here with a master’s degree in organizational leadership. Just watch my smoke; watch me do it. God is no respecter of person and He will do for you what He did for me.

AJ: I think I would recommend that young people get an education while you are young. I waited more than 30 years before returning to school, If I had started in my early 20s, it wouldn’t have been such a struggle. I returned to school because I wanted to show my children and grandchildren that it can be done. I was so blessed to be at a graduation this past weekend where my granddaughter graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It was a wonderful thing because I am the first generation of my family that has gone to college. And I wanted to be a role model to my children and grandchildren. So now I have three grandchildren in college, a son in college, and I didn’t see those kinds of influences in my personal life when I was growing up. I think it’s a big deal to go ahead and get your education while you’re younger so you can be of benefit not just to your community, but to society as a whole.

JS: Good advice. Reverend Jack, you mentioned some social needs that you are concerned about and would like to address. Would you care to share what those are?

AJ: One of the things, and it’s no secret, is that the family unit in the urban areas has been fractured. There are so many younger men who don’t have fathers or live-­‐in fathers. We can see the results of that in the community. Therefore, one of the things on my heart is work towards bringing the family unit back together again. I know it’s a daunting task, but we have to work towards making the family function again. We have to try and do it one family at a time, which leads me to one of the ministries we have been doing called The Marriage Works. That ministry is designed to enhance marriages. It’s also for engaged couples and for couples in general, whether they are cohabiting or just dating. I believe in my heart that God set it up for us to be in a family. What has happened is we have too many of these modern families around, like the television shows, and they are all dysfunctional and we seem to celebrate their dysfunction. We need to get the family unit back in order as God sees fit.

KB: What are you doing with The Marriage Works? I know you have an event coming up.

HJ: With The Marriage Works, we have transitioned to a little bit of a new area. It started off doing ten sessions, and because of time constraints, we looked at doing some new things. We went to five sessions and start with two sessions on communication and decision making. We then go on to cover some budgeting and finance, intimacy, and a lot of things in those five weeks. We now do a big celebration at the end, because we think it’s important when you’re married, that you do a lot of things together. So we think it’s important to celebrate and we have a big event. Our last group was fourteen couples who participated, so we are going to take them to a celebratory event at Dave & Buster’s and have a nice date night. We think date night is important. We moved our sessions to a Saturday night date night and have people come out to eat a meal and whatnot where they can let their hair down and enjoy their spouses. Even if they are dating, we encourage them to do the same thing. We talk about dating and laugh about this, and ask those who are a little bit older, what happened to dating and courting? You don’t hear those words anymore. We even work with couples who have been together a long time, because things can become stale if you aren’t mindful of it and don’t keep your eye on it. Those are the kinds of things we talk about in The Marriage Works.

JS: What do you think your most significant accomplishment is up to this point in your life?

AJ: Mine is still in the works, but getting my associates degree at the age of, well I’ll say 60‐ish – that was one of the greatest highlights of my life. I can remember being young and hearing people make comments that I would never amount to much. At this point in my life to get my degree was a big deal. Now I’m continuing my education and my next step is my bachelor’s degree, which I am working towards. Just to get the associates degree was an outstanding moment and a great accomplishment as far as I am concerned. As some know, at that time I was working the midnight shift and would work all night and try to get a little studying in before I went to sleep in the evenings. So it was a real struggle for me and by the grace of God I got through it all. And I have to say that with the fine instructors at CUBM, they really gave me some help and tools as far as managing my time and just the whole nine yards. I thought I never would have been able to make it without the instructors helping me along.

KB: I remember Pastor Jack dropped out for a while and then he came back. That was a tribute his tenacity and determination to get a degree. I remember talking to him when he did come back and he said he was going to finish it. I have the greatest respect to you for doing that.

HJ: I am very proud of the master’s degree I earned. I’m looking forward to going on and doing some other things. But as I rethink it, I really want to tell you that by marrying Jack, God really blessed me with the best husband and help-mate. And I would not have been able to earn my degrees without him. I want to acknowledge what Karla when she referred to him dropping out because we couldn’t afford for both of us to go to school at the same time. Jack dropped out so I could finish, supported me the whole way through and made sure I had lunch money and book bags. He would drive me to school and come pick me up. People didn’t know that was the reason he dropped out, so I am very proud of him coming back. I think it’s a great thing in my life to have him as my husband and best friend.

JS: Pastor Jack, tell us about your church.

AJ: The church I pastor is the Webster Avenue Christian and Missionary Alliance Church located in the heart of the Hill District. Our church does not have a large membership yet, but it’s a great church. It’s not great because of anything I am doing, it’s great because God is great. It’s been a struggle at times trying to break old and traditional thinking, but it’s been a good experience. We are located right within a rock’s throw to three larger established Baptist churches that are right around every corner.

We believe, however, that we have a niche in the community we are in. They are doing some revitalization in our area and we are located close to the Bedford Dwelling Housing Projects. We are now attempting to do some evangelism in the area and have started new programs. We established a movie night once a month that has been well attended. We are just trying some new and progressive things.

Since I have been there we also started a free bread program for members in the community and we do that twice a month. We have clothing drives. We’ve done a shoes for Kenya drive. We’re just on the move. I’ve been the kind of person who isn’t always the most patient in the world, but the Lord is teaching me patience. We’re taking it one step at a time and we are making some headway. We are trying to do technological kinds of things in the church to move ourselves into the 21st century. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a good one.

KB: I would agree. I visited the church and know you have two services now. I’ve seen growth since I have been there and have been there two or three times over the year. And I think people are friendly and welcoming and that has to do with the leadership.

JS: I have been there and have had the privilege of speaking and have been very well received. And the Jackson’s commitment to education has spilled over into their congregation. I’ve gotten to know many of their members through our classes. They’re committed and astute people of the Word, very opening to learning – committed to excellence and always do great work. Part of that is Helen’s recruiting, but part of that is both Helen and Andrew’s personal commitment to learning, which I think has rubbed off on the people. That is so commendable and part of the discipleship process. We’ve been the beneficiary, not just of the Jacksons, but of the people they work with. So thank you Jacksons for enriching our lives. What’s yet on the agenda for you two?

What’s on the bucket list that you haven’t done that you want to do, personally, ministry wise, missions, publishing? Give us the lay of the land for the future.

HJ: I have a bucket list. One of the things I did when I was quite young was put a list of things I wanted God to give me in my Bible. There are a few that have been crossed off now educationally. I would like to go earn my Ph.D. I also started a book, but I learned some more things about that process just yesterday. Ministry wise, as my husband said, while there is just so much to do, the more you do, the more there is to be done in terms of helping the community and families. I would really like to have a great Vacation Bible School/Back‐to-School event at the church before the end of the summer, along with giving away some clothing. That’s really what I want to achieve this summer. That’s my short list.

AJ: As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always looked at the local church as a hub for the community, not just the religious aspect, but to be involved in the community financially and socially. So one of my goals, and I don’t know if I am being realistic or not, is that the lights of our church never go off. That we would be the kind of church that, make ourselves available to our community 24 hours a day. That being said, Mrs. Byrd mentioned that we started a 9:00 service. There were some people who were naysayers about that. But we are growing and because of the 9:00 service there are people coming who aren’t members of our church, but they live in the community and come at our 9:00 service and then go to their church service. We want to continue to be available. I guess that’s the right word. We want to be available to the community and be of help to the community. My goal is to have the church, at one time, where our lights will never go off, where we’re 24 hours a day doing ministry.

JS: And course that is what is going on over at ACAC, your big brother church over on the North Side. It really is a blessing. The building opens at seven in the morning and the last service attendant leaves at ten or eleven at night. The question being asked today is, “If your church disappeared would your community notice? Would it be missed?” I think you both have the same attitude and philosophy towards ministry. We know you will succeed in that because if you weren’t in our lives, you would be greatly missed. There would be things we could not do. And you are looking to replicate that in the church and your community and in The Marriage Works program. We know it’s already happening and will happen even more as you continue to be who you are.


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