Meissner continues: “What I’m telling you happened midway to the end, and not necessarily the beginning. One of the first things we did before we were ever organized into the community was there were a number of young mothers there with small children, and we set up a Well Baby clinic. It was either through Planned Parenthood or the Health Department. Huber church got a nurse to come in once a week. It was strictly a Huber project. It didn’t last; it eventually died, but the time had come for it to die after a year and a half. While it was functioning, it met a need. See, wherever we could, I tried to sniff out resources that were already available, and we got a lot of stuff from, well, I got a recreation worker from the City Department of Recreation to deal with teenaged boys and get things going in the neighborhood—ball, soccer, whatever. He simply functioned out of the Huber church.”
Another example was when Meissner’s wife Lois was on the board of directors for the YWCA, which was north of Huber—“a very white collar suburb. Lois was in a meeting and she says, ‘Why don’t we have staff down in Homestead Montebello? That’s where women need a good person.’ And they said, ‘Never thought of that.’ Well, they hired the staff and we used them.”
The new staff person was a young black woman from the South; she functioned out of Huber Memorial Church, where she worked with teenaged girls in the neighborhood. Meissner recalls that “The leadership from the South was excellent. They’d been used to organization in their own community.”
Meissner can’t recall the young woman’s name, but he’s never forgotten one incident that occurred when this staff person took the girls to a dance. Apparently, the event started turning angry, and the staff woman knew it was going to be a tough scene. Meissner says, “She gave me a call. At that time I was driving a Volkswagen bus, and I said I’d be right over. We picked the girls up and took them back home. Well, she was so thankful; I can remember her running across the floor at the dance with open arms to give me a hug, and she stopped fifteen, twenty feet from me. I knew exactly what was going through her mind. She as a black woman shouldn’t be hugging a white man. She came out of the South. It hurt, but I understood it fully. We were on excellent terms, but she didn’t want that being misunderstood by anybody.”
“Denominationally, the UCC, Presbyterians, and Episcopals had a city-wide mission—not a building but they were attempting to bring the Christian faith in terms of the whole urban scene. “They hired two or three what they called ‘street ministers.’ These were young black men who weren’t ordained or anything of that nature, but they were men who were interested in doing something for the blacks in the neighborhoods.” These ministers also worked out of Huber church.
One of these ministers, Osbourne Robinson, worked with Meissner . He was the one who discovered that there were a number of artists in the area that just had no place to go and no way of getting into the art world. “So we talked with the group and said let’s form an artist’s association. Eastern Baltimore Artist Association met at Huber Memorial Church. They paid no dues, had no responsibility to the church. It was a space. They had a key and could come and go and do what they want. As a result, through Huber Memorial and the Homestead Montebello churches, we were able to put on an annual art show at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.” Featured arts included literature, dance, and instrumental music. “There were Black Muslims who were members of that, there were Christians, there were secularists. “ Huber church even provided a piano to Johns Hopkins for the jazz performers to use.
One of Meissner’s proudest memories of what Huber gave to the community was the small play lot the Army Corps of Engineers installed with building materials supplied by the church. “We were contacted by the Army wanting to come and they were all the guys who had themselves grown up in the inner city. We said, yeah, sure you can come down.” On a tiny vacant city lot “they put in a carousel with these horses for the little kids, and a half-court basketball hoop for the teenagers, and swings. Well, those swings were mounted. It would’ve taken bull elephants to get them out of the ground. But the neat thing was, everybody on that street came together and they cooked a meal for the guys when they were doing the work. We had the best fried chicken and corn bread! To see that kind of interaction was just delightful.”
Meissner explains that “much of what we did was behind doors and working the system, knowing who to talk to. “When I was president of the PTA, we needed our buildings modified. We had these Quonset huts for our extra school board. The building itself didn’t have proper electricity. I had a professional black photographer who took pictures of all the code violations, and we went down to the School Board and said to them, ‘These are the violations. We expect them to be changed, and if they’re not, the Fire department will have these pictures within a week.’ And they snuck down an electrician at midnight to make the changes.”
When asked if Huber church defined for him what “church” is, Meissner says, “Yeah, we need to move outside. See, I had two congregations in a sense, and I had to come to that realization for myself. I had the congregation to which I was called, which was basically the older white group, most of whom moved away but were still members. But I also had the congregation to which I was called unofficially—the community. I functioned at those dual levels.”