Author Topic: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?  (Read 6780 times)

Eileen Smith

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The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« on: April 25, 2017, 09:28:56 AM »
With some hesitancy I start this thread - hesitancy as it may be a time still to raw for Pastor Gard to take part in this discussion.  Yet, it is a worthy (I believe) discussion and one which I hope will not take away from Pastor Gard's thread - one of lamentation and prayer. 

What do you do with congregations in the city where membership has dropped off?  Where people moved away.  Where the remnant left is elderly.  Where the area was once more middle-class or even affluent and now is in an area of poverty.   Close it?  Find a way to support it through the synod or diocese?  What is the responsibility to the people who remain in the church - perhaps more importantly, to the neighborhood?  This is not simply a Lutheran issue, the Catholic church has closed congregations and schools - and I'm certain affects all bodies of faith.

In many areas, but I'll pick the Bronx, there are many such congregations.  These congregations reside in what is considered a hopeless zone (a phrase not coined by me, but established by others).  The church is all that these people have to cling to and, indeed, some do.  But, others do not.  There are few examples of mentors for the younger people.  Crime (serious crime) is an everyday occurrence and the threat of prison really isn't a threat at all for most see this as their destiny - following family and friends before them.   What is common in these areas:  severe poverty.  Poverty that either leads to or exacerbates hopelessness.  Many of these (most?) don't have dreams of college and a future.  Their future is before them - parents, other family members, and friends in prison.  I've heard them speak of incarceration as a given.  Those with dreams often have them quashed as some follow the path of others into drugs and crime and some are the victims of those who lead a life of crime. 

So what does the church do?  Send food?  Send clothing?  Many do this.  I'd suggest it is not enough.  There has to be a presence.  A place where people can go - be fed (physically and spiritually).  I'm not certain that closing congregations is an idea that should be our first defense against what seems to be a dying congregation.  Too often we look at numbers, but not at existing ministry or needed ministry.  I've seen small, 'dying' congregations do far more ministry in relation to some of their larger counterparts.  We use the business model of closing what might be deemed as non-performing churches - but is money the key indicator of non-performing? 

Ideally, we find a way to fund them but we've seen with the Catholic church that this doesn't solve the problem.  Odd as this may sound to our Lutheran ears, I often wish there was a more centralized, authoritative office [of the bishop] and we could find a way to re-distribute income so that some of these congregations could continue.  But that's only the tip of the iceberg.   

May I ask those who have more experience in this to comment?  Pastor Gard's post is so heartbreaking that it seems a discussion on our responsibility to the inner city might be good at this point.

 



jebutler

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2017, 10:25:11 AM »
I spent 13 years in an urban congregation. It was disheartening. Across the street from the church was a crack house. Next door was park that had a lot of drug traffic as well. One morning, I came into the church to find some of our stained glass windows shot out and bullets on the floor of the sanctuary. Many of the families in the area lived in poverty. There was a huge family breakdown with a lot of 30-year-old grandmothers.

It's all nice to talk about remaining and ministering in the inner city, but where does the money come from? In our case, it was mostly from the older white population in the congregation that were dying out quicker than we could replace them (we had 15 funerals in one year). Overall, the congregation actually did a pretty good job of reaching out (the church was 1/3 of West Indian, with a smattering of African Americans and Hispanics among all the old white German stock). But the expense of the building upkeep, deaths, people moving away due to job loss--it all took its toll.

I wish I had an answer, Eileen. But after serving in a "hopeless zone" I never came up with one.
The truth we preach is not an abstract thing. The truth is a Person. The goodness we preach is not an ideal quality. The goodness is Someone who is good. The love we preach is God himself in Christ. --H. Grady Davis

Matt Staneck

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #2 on: April 25, 2017, 10:51:34 AM »
I'm going to post now, ruminate some, and (hopefully) come back later. But I want to post now so I can follow up. My initial thoughts are we need a different approach to how we plant, revitalize, and sustain congregations in the city. In the past (who could blame us?) the congregations were started along racial/monocultural lines. It sadly seems that congregations which close in the city cannot escape that mindset that this church is "my" church (explicitly stated) and it is here for "my" people (implicitly assumed).

And no, this post does not intend to blame "Germans."

M. Staneck
Matt Staneck, Pastor
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Queens, NY

Dave Likeness

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2017, 11:17:48 AM »
In the 1960's and 1970's some Districts of  the LCMS were planting "mission" congregations
in suburbia.  Often there was a District subsidy for 5 or 10 years to get the parish established.

Today, in the 21st century, the LCMS Districts could adopt a similar strategy for the inner city.
Certain parishes could be earmarked for financial aid from the District so they can continue
to minister to their surrounding community in the inner city  We can not completely abandon
the inner city, but we need to ensure that we have a continued presence there with Word and
Sacrament ministry.     

One example is the Southern Illinois District helping to support a Lutheran elementary school
in East St. Louis, Illinois.

Eileen Smith

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2017, 11:28:44 AM »
I spent 13 years in an urban congregation. It was disheartening. Across the street from the church was a crack house. Next door was park that had a lot of drug traffic as well. One morning, I came into the church to find some of our stained glass windows shot out and bullets on the floor of the sanctuary. Many of the families in the area lived in poverty. There was a huge family breakdown with a lot of 30-year-old grandmothers.

It's all nice to talk about remaining and ministering in the inner city, but where does the money come from? In our case, it was mostly from the older white population in the congregation that were dying out quicker than we could replace them (we had 15 funerals in one year). Overall, the congregation actually did a pretty good job of reaching out (the church was 1/3 of West Indian, with a smattering of African Americans and Hispanics among all the old white German stock). But the expense of the building upkeep, deaths, people moving away due to job loss--it all took its toll.

I wish I had an answer, Eileen. But after serving in a "hopeless zone" I never came up with one.

Thank you for your very honest words.  Across the street from where I grew up is a Catholic church - at one time a thriving congregation in the Bronx with a sizable school.  Now drug deals go down in the back pews during Mass.  When living in Queens my car was broken into (window smashed, screwdriver in ignition, etc.) four times while I was in worship.  So, I sympathize with all you say.

I suppose moving to the suburbs (when most people my age are moving into an apartment) was a bit of an eye-opener.  I can think of two pastors serving suburban congregations who told me, before the move, that suburban congregations are 'different' than the city - not only in the obvious ways.  And I found that to be true.  I do love my congregation and this move, at a time when I have health issues, has been a blessing as I'm now a mile away from my sister and within a few miles of other family members.  But sometimes I become frustrated - and, I am embarrassed to admit, a bit angry.  An example:  There were times, in my NY congregation, that the pastor would come to a worship committee meeting and say we need purificator.  That may not sound like a big deal, but it meant finding the money - that was a big deal.  (A friend of mine is a pastor in the Bronx and when they need purificatory they go to the store and buy a box of napkins - a $15.00 purification simply isn't a reality for them.)  My first meeting in my suburban congregation - sure enough - someone said we need purificator.  Oh no - I thought my first task was to help find money.  Nope - without batting an eyelash we ordered them out of the memorial fund.  My congregation is very generous in its giving - certainly more than a tithe goes out to the synod and many other ministries.  Our pastor has mandated this comes first in the budget process.  And yet, when I look at all we have and how easy it is for us to just order something out of memorial funds, it frustrates me when we have a budget meeting and some speak as if the funding is going directly from their checking account - especially when I know that those things we so easily purchase is not even a consideration for many parishes, especially those in the inner-city.

A friend is a member of a congregation in Long Island (suburban community).  Maybe, on a good day, they have 20 people in worship.  They won't give up their building or substantial property as they may have to sell it to stay 'in business.'  They have money in the bank to pay a pastor for about 3 years (half time).  Then, I suppose, if anyone is left (the youngest member is around 70),they'll sell off another asset.  There are three ELCA congregations close by and one LCMS congregation.  While I don't think the first option should be to close down - if these folks merged and the money from the sale of property could go to fund inner city ministries - well, I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.  Bishop Bouman had put forth a plan wherein if a congregation closed a portion of the sale price went back into the conference.   What if throughout the church funds such as these could help an inner-city parish.   I'm sorry that it all comes down to dollars and cents but the reality is that a congregation needs a pastor and there are also bills to be paid. 

I suppose I've been storing these feelings up and Pastor Gard's post just brought it all out.  In all phases of life, be it in this world or in the church in the world it is so difficult to have so much when some have so little.  Congregations in the suburbs do much for inner-city parishes yet they can only do so much - they can't provide a constant presence. 

Buckeye Deaconess

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2017, 11:29:51 AM »
The church needs to see its cities as mission fields and deploy pastors and parishioners into its midst, in my humble opinion.  The LCMS has an initiative in this regard:  MissionField: USA.  We have a department devoted to ministry in the city, as well, offering resources for our urban congregations and schools.  I'm a little close to both ministries, so pardon the plug.  :)

I have recently completed my doctoral research on Fortune 500 corporations that partner with faith-based nonprofit organizations for the purpose of urban revitalization.  I was shocked by the results.  Large companies are a viable source of funds for a church's work in the city under the right circumstances.  Primarily, where the church is involved in mercy work such as jobs creation along with educational endeavors, resource-rich corporations have no problem stepping in to assist.  I chose to study LCMS nonprofits, and each of the three had an impressive track record which made it a no-brainer for these corporations to partner for the purpose of assisting the marginalized and underserved.

John_Hannah

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #6 on: April 25, 2017, 11:58:56 AM »
Thanks for starting this Eileen.  So from the Bronx (past 24 years), here's my take:

We do need money.  There's no way around that.  We American Lutherans are not structured to provide it fairly.  Our congregationalism discourages that.  Eileen is correct; Roman Catholic polity is much better even though there is not enough money to sustain all of its city parishes.

We need a special kind of pastor, one that I suspect we do not recruit for.  In my opinion a city pastor must be very self-disciplined but equally flexible to cope with all the things that go wrong.  He (she) cannot be effective if not totally comfortable with the Christian faith, based upon a the clear confessional standard.  At the same time a city parish has no use for an ideologue, whether political or theological, left or right winged.  Even if we had plenty of money, I am not sure we could find pastors suited for the vocation.  I only know of one who has successfully made an entire career in inner cities--John Cochrane, now retired at St. Augustine's House in Michigan.  There could be others; Dave Benke comes to mind, although his talents were diverted by his episcopal obligations.

Wherever we can find those with long term experience we need to ask them what it takes to effectively work in cities.  And then we need to listen and pay heed. 

Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

Richard Johnson

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #7 on: April 25, 2017, 12:32:16 PM »
My wife and I have been binge-watching "West Wing," and last night she said (and I have often felt) "things just haven't changed." Same world and national issues, same messy governmental attempts to deal with them, same sleazy politics.

Back in the 1930s, the American Lutheran, predecessor of Lutheran Forum, raised all these same issues. The writers believed the church (in this case LCMS) simply didn't give attention to ministry in the urban centers--didn't provide resources, didn't train pastors, etc. etc. It's not a new issue.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

peter_speckhard

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #8 on: April 25, 2017, 12:37:19 PM »
Munster, Indiana is geographically small and abuts Cook County, Illinois, with Lansing (where Dr. Gard's student was shot last night) to our west and Hammond, IN to our north, and one small suburb removed from Gary/Griffith to the east. So we are in a sense a small island of relatively affluent suburbia wedged into a larger region afflicted by all the problems common to struggling urban areas.

The LCMS presence around us in both the Nothern Illinois District and the Indiana District (as well as English District and Slovak District up toward East Chicago) is struggling mightily, and some of those struggles are fairly recent. I've been here three years and in that time three of the LCMS schools in our South Suburban Athletic Conference (we're the only Indiana school in it) have closed their doors. At least one of those was operating at capacity, meaning 250+ kids in k-8, as recently as twenty years ago. Many of the others have so few students they struggle to field teams.

If it were a problem one could throw money at and solve, money could be found. But our LCMS culture is very family-oriented and has a hard time dealing with the breakdown of the nuclear family. And our region is very ethnic-oriented. The churches are Reformed but Dutch Reformed. The Catholic and Othordox churches are overtly identified as ethnic. And the black churches are known as such. People hear "Lutheran" and if they think anything at all they think "German." But if we give up catechism teaching on the family (which is too often dismissed as middle-class socio-political stuff rather than the theological truth that it is) and give up the name and trappings of "Lutheran" then it becomes difficult to come up with a raison d'etre at all; the big box entreprenurial churches are filling that market just fine.

When a neighborhood starts to go downhill, it isn't one factor, it is many. In our case, in the 1970's we had a beautiful old Gothic church in downtown Hammond, and a mission plant in the brand new bedroom community of Munster, and when the old building and school couldn't serve any more (crumbling, no parking, etc.) they decided to up and relocate the whole operation to Munster. Comparatively, therefore, we have thrived where other other congregations that stayed have struggled or failed. But one cannot know what might have been had we decided to insist on thriving downtown Hammond. There can be no doubt that at least part of the other LCMS parishes' struggles in the 80's and 90's have been caused by our thriving. Health is attractive to people. We invariably exacerbate the problems we flee, like young people leaving the rural areas to find work leaving those rural areas even less likely to attract employers in the future. But when fleeing means surviving you do what you can do.
« Last Edit: April 25, 2017, 01:41:48 PM by peter_speckhard »

Dave Benke

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #9 on: April 25, 2017, 02:03:34 PM »
I don't know if any of you watch "Blue Bloods," with Tom Selleck as the NYPD Commissioner.  It's unabashedly Christian/Roman Catholic in its vibe; the family eats and prays and goes to Mass together.  They're usually on target with what's happening in New York City and its neighborhoods as well.  A couple of weeks ago the show featured an expedition into East New York, which is where my parish is located.  And the mantra, even in the show, was "well, this is East New York.  You have to expect it to be tough."  Which it was, in the show.  And to some extent, in life.  Death Wish IV was filmed a few blocks from our church - out of control gangs and druggies, corrupt cops, the whole nine yards.  Not a welcome brochure put out by the realtors.

Except that a lot of people were moving IN to East New York, even back then, and certainly today.  Because
a) it's more affordable
b) it's accessible by train, bus and car to the rest of the area
c) a nice park, and lots of low-slung one, two and three family housing in certain areas

The pillorying of urban work because it's got bad neighborhoods and bad people is not exactly fake news, but it's definitely not accurate, and in fact wouldn't we as Lutherans want to engage the worst areas so that the Gospel light might shine the brighter?

In terms of your comment about family ministry, Peter, that's exactly what I/we have been doing in Brooklyn for over forty years.  The breakdown of the nuclear family of dad, mom and the kids does not mean there are no parents and no kids.  Often but not always it means that dad is not around.  That just sets the deck for family ministry and catechesis of a different sort. 

In terms of finance, the best model is sufficiency of membership to provide tithes and offerings equal to the budget.  Failing that, there are ways to receive dividends from the facility, if the facility has space for other programs.  And of course, there could be a plus-budget Lutheran school - that's very hard in today's market, but can be done.  The difficulty with outside grants over time is that the congregants become dependent not on their own stewardship, but on the grant writer.  Maybe the best way to say it is that the congregation will own its plan and vision if it is paying for it to be accomplished.

In terms of leadership, #1 and #1a is the pastor.  In the hustle and flow of the urban scene, the pastor has to be both engaged and engaging in the midst of tremendous diversity.
#2 is the congregational leadership.  Recently I've noticed that the younger pastors are often saddled with leadership that's dedicated to a bygone era, and to the rules and approaches of that era.  Since the urban churches are normally more on the margin in terms of making a go of it, there's very little room for obstinacy in leadership. 

In terms of wider church involvement, the best would be consortia locally developed - in Brooklyn we are doing two nursing home outreach missions  with four or five of our congregations, and several of our congregations are very active in community organizing entities seeking not only mercy but justice; the second best is working with the district because of the local knowledge the district would have; finally, the district working with the national church (I'm referencing Kim's post) can be of great help as well.  I will say that in my life as a district leader, we were less successful when importing people to NYC, and more successful when raising up pastors from here (or who vicared here), or training leaders toward ordination/commissioning from within.  Since I'm from Milwaukee, I guess I can say that occasionally the transplanted non-native New Yorker can get the picture.  But it would be the same in anybody else's city. 

Dave Benke

Eileen Smith

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #10 on: April 25, 2017, 04:07:53 PM »
I don't know if any of you watch "Blue Bloods," with Tom Selleck as the NYPD Commissioner.  It's unabashedly Christian/Roman Catholic in its vibe; the family eats and prays and goes to Mass together.  They're usually on target with what's happening in New York City and its neighborhoods as well.  A couple of weeks ago the show featured an expedition into East New York, which is where my parish is located.  And the mantra, even in the show, was "well, this is East New York.  You have to expect it to be tough."  Which it was, in the show.  And to some extent, in life.  Death Wish IV was filmed a few blocks from our church - out of control gangs and druggies, corrupt cops, the whole nine yards.  Not a welcome brochure put out by the realtors.

Except that a lot of people were moving IN to East New York, even back then, and certainly today.  Because
a) it's more affordable
b) it's accessible by train, bus and car to the rest of the area
c) a nice park, and lots of low-slung one, two and three family housing in certain areas

The pillorying of urban work because it's got bad neighborhoods and bad people is not exactly fake news, but it's definitely not accurate, and in fact wouldn't we as Lutherans want to engage the worst areas so that the Gospel light might shine the brighter?

In terms of your comment about family ministry, Peter, that's exactly what I/we have been doing in Brooklyn for over forty years.  The breakdown of the nuclear family of dad, mom and the kids does not mean there are no parents and no kids.  Often but not always it means that dad is not around.  That just sets the deck for family ministry and catechesis of a different sort. 

In terms of finance, the best model is sufficiency of membership to provide tithes and offerings equal to the budget.  Failing that, there are ways to receive dividends from the facility, if the facility has space for other programs.  And of course, there could be a plus-budget Lutheran school - that's very hard in today's market, but can be done.  The difficulty with outside grants over time is that the congregants become dependent not on their own stewardship, but on the grant writer.  Maybe the best way to say it is that the congregation will own its plan and vision if it is paying for it to be accomplished.

In terms of leadership, #1 and #1a is the pastor.  In the hustle and flow of the urban scene, the pastor has to be both engaged and engaging in the midst of tremendous diversity.
#2 is the congregational leadership.  Recently I've noticed that the younger pastors are often saddled with leadership that's dedicated to a bygone era, and to the rules and approaches of that era.  Since the urban churches are normally more on the margin in terms of making a go of it, there's very little room for obstinacy in leadership. 

In terms of wider church involvement, the best would be consortia locally developed - in Brooklyn we are doing two nursing home outreach missions  with four or five of our congregations, and several of our congregations are very active in community organizing entities seeking not only mercy but justice; the second best is working with the district because of the local knowledge the district would have; finally, the district working with the national church (I'm referencing Kim's post) can be of great help as well.  I will say that in my life as a district leader, we were less successful when importing people to NYC, and more successful when raising up pastors from here (or who vicared here), or training leaders toward ordination/commissioning from within.  Since I'm from Milwaukee, I guess I can say that occasionally the transplanted non-native New Yorker can get the picture.  But it would be the same in anybody else's city. 

Dave Benke

In much of what is written herein, I agree.  But to one point, the pillorying of urban work and bad neighborhoods, I think there are two sides to that issue.  There is, indeed, what was shared earlier by JEButler.  A church with a crack house next door, etc.  That's a reality in many places.  In the Bronx neighborhoods that I speak of, specifically to the area known as the hopeless zone, there is not an influx of dollars and people coming in.  If there were, however, where would the people residing there at present go?  This is a very serious urban dilemma.  It is good that people are coming in to East New York.  I saw the PBS special and read several articles on this.  Had someone told me, say 20 years ago, that a headline would read:  "Bushwick and East New York are 2017's Hottest Neighborhoods," I would never have believed it.  But, the headline is out there and gentrification is happening all along the waterfront in Brooklyn and Queens.  This comes with a cost - there are people in these neighborhoods who live in poverty and as gentrification occurs and neighborhoods begin to rise again, they are often displaced - homeless.  One of our pastors is married to a woman who was an attorney for these victims of gentrification.  She moved on to adoption law - it just burned her out.   

These are the people I think of when one talks of inner-city.  With very little or no family structure, there is no push on the kids to even go to school.  A priest in Brooklyn had a ministry to young people where they would come to the parish center.  There, he would serve a meal and these kids would learn to eat with a knife and fork.  They were from single-family households and a number of them lived with a mother who was a prostitute and/or drug user -- with little time for raising a child. He taught them the rudiments of family life that many of us learned, perhaps, subconsciously - simply by doing what our parents did.  The life young people see before them is often one of violence and incarceration.  And then, they suffer the indignity of losing what little one has as neighborhoods begin to grow and pick up.  There are areas in Harlem that were once a bed of poverty and now one can hardly afford.  Yet, the answer isn't to keep the area in poverty. 

In my initial post I wrote and crossed out issues we see in suburbia.  The drug problem in the suburbs is serious and does lead to crime.  Our town loses kids every year to drug overdose.  The other night a young man in our congregation stopped at a local McDonald's.  A man forced his way into this kid's car and had him drive for hours.  He took money from this young man (his ATM), he bought drugs, and he actually paid prostitutes and had relations in the car with this 19 year old driving.  This young man escaped at 3:30 a.m. by claiming he desperately needed a bathroom and threatened to go all over the car.  He rain into a 7/11 and had the manager call the police. But, as I started to share this story earlier, I realized it wasn't quite what I was getting at in this thread.  Our young member was returned to a very loving home and loving congregation.  Those that I think of - perhaps this man who kidnapped our member - don't have that structure. They're not afraid to commit crime and be picked up by the police - that's normal in their world.   I would suggest that these people who are hopeless are also faceless and that may be more the issue.  They are not faceless to God, but I believe the church needs to proclaim that message in a way that they will grasp and, ultimately, cling to the only true hope we have.    If our hope isn't Christ - aren't we all in the hopeless zone. 

I hope this makes sense - it's such an emotional issue!

Eileen Smith

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2017, 04:20:50 PM »
Yet another thought...

I'd like to add something to what Pastor Hannah earlier stated (money and a pastor with an urban heart - paraphrasing):  a new definition of success.  What defines a successful congregation?  Self-supporting?  Number of members?  Other variables?

I don't really know Bishop Rimbo of MNYS as I left before he was elected.  Recently I read a sermon that he preached at a Chrism Mass on Tuesday of Holy Week.  It's a wonderful sermon and if you'd like to read it in its entirety, it's on mnys.org, click on the Bishop's Message icon on the right.   I appreciated much of his words, but especially the following:

"Another temptation that takes my spirit is what one of my spiritual directors described as attachment to the outcome. He said it this way: Attaching yourself to the outcome, any outcome, will kill you. This will surely snatch your spirit.
 
And itís a hard one to avoid. Letís be honest: when we in the church start putting our hopes in successful outcomes, our spirits are easily lured into that place where we think we are the actors rather than remembering that we are but the broken but blessed vessels with which God acts."

Matt Hummel

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #12 on: April 25, 2017, 04:48:49 PM »
I am somewhat trepidations in writing this, but one change that has to occur is an end to what I experienced server I g in MNYS, and to a lesser degree in DEMD. Urban ministry is not "real" ministry. It is ministry, with challenges unique to the ecosystem. There are real challenges​ everywhere. When suburban and exurban parishes are not made to feel like judicatory ATMs so that real ministry can be done, then I think  collaborative work can be done.

Our urban parish, which was relocated to what is an industrial suburb of Philadelphia. We, having learned to be one, are now seeking how to reach out. Father walking the dog in his cassock helps.
Matt Hummel


ďThe chief purpose of life, for any of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.Ē

― J.R.R. Tolkien

peter_speckhard

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2017, 05:02:09 PM »
The problem about the lack of family structure is the flip side of tolerance on issues of sexual morality. We're so afraid of saying anything judgmental about the decisions that lead directly to disintegration and brokenness that we fail to apply even a healthy first use of the law.

We lament lack of access to contraception or too much access to guns as though we're the farmers and the inner city people are our livestock or plants in need of us to find them the right mix of feed or the proper balance of sun and shade to be healthy. We would never say that, but that is the attitude behind so much our approach. The single mom is always the victim, never the victimizer of her neighbors via her decision to have sex, (though the deadbeat dad is). Her neighbors must now live next to her "at risk" children. If the neighbors decide to leave, they are abandoning the cities. If they come back, they're engaged in oppressive gentrification. And if they object that she shouldn't be having sex, they're just Puritans or people stuck in the 1950's and need to mind their business and get their morality out of her bedroom. Every time we tolerate that attitude toward sexual morality we are consigning people to the misery and social ills caused by unstable home environments. It isn't what tools people have access to, like contraception or guns, but what moral code they have learned that determines how they seek to live.

Dan Fienen

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #14 on: April 25, 2017, 05:03:54 PM »

Inspired by this discussion, I looked up the current statistics for the church I grew up in and in whose school I received most of my elementary education.  The church was founded in 1841and was a early member of the LCMS.  It has always been a central city church in a mid-west city, urban, not suburban and remained in the city even as neighborhoods changed in the 60s ad 70s and many churches followed their members out of the central city.


This church has long ago closed its school.  It's weekly worship is about twice that of the church that I serve now on a part time basis.  It has a baptized membership of 242, down from the 1,200 to 900 it had when I attended back in the 50s and 60s, down from the over 1,300 baptized during its heyday in the  40s.


I have not been actively involved there in over 50 years, so I can't say what all the congregation tried to do to adapt to changing demographics and to reach out to the new neighborhood.  But whatever has been tried, the congregation has shrunk to where it's viability is questionable.


In the Lord of the Rings the Elves who still lived in Middle Earth were leaving and not coming back.  They by and large felt that their time was coming to an end.  Their struggle to continue they called their "long defeat."  Rightly or wrongly, because of bad planning or misplaced efforts or just happenstance, that is what life has looked like for many urban churches - a long defeat.  It takes dedication and stamina, a willingness to engage cross culturally, to risk much in a pastor to work in such a situation.  Not all pastors have those gifts, I don't.  But it will also take ideas.  A few, a very few pastors are geniuses who are able to look at seemingly hopeless situations and discern possibilities.  Those need to be cultivated and supported, and also not quashed by those who figure that the church of all ages needs to fit into the same round holes it always did and are suspicious of anything that do not fit.
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS