02/22/1993 at 01:00 AM EST
by Samuel G. Freedman
Saint Paul Community Baptist Church ministers to one of the most blighted neighborhoods in Brooklyn, but out of ruins the church built a dynamic, prosperous and creative group of believers who have rejuvenated hundreds of discouraged souls and given pride back to the streets of East New York.
The remarkable hero of Freedman's brilliant chronicle of a year in the life of the church is the Reverend Johnny Ray Youngblood, a 44-year-old dynamo of innovation, discipline and vulnerable humanity. After teaming up with other churches, Saint Paul was able to build several thousand units of low-income housing in an area that had been falling into rubble. Youngblood brings a similar spirit of action and persistence to the task of forging an inner-city theology that offers sympathy and understandable truth to men and women steeped in despair and danger. Freedman, a former New York Times reporter, spent 15 months observing the day-to-day drama of Saint Paul's life in the community, and he has told the complex, overlapping stories of this pastor and his flock in a clear, searching and moving style. (HarperCollins, $22.50)