Author Topic: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?  (Read 6776 times)

Eileen Smith

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #15 on: April 25, 2017, 05:15:10 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.

May I ask, do you think the congregations in the inner-city see suburban/exurban parishes as judicatory ATMs or is it the message received from the judicatory itself; that is, the bishop's office/staff.  I ask as two thoughts came to mind as I read your post.  One is that the suburban/exurban parishes may have more resources, particularly in funds, than an inner-city parish.  Would it be possible to see giving a portion to continue the work of these ministries as something the congregation is called to do.  Another thought along these lines is the message. In what ways is a synod/bishop/assistant to bishop making a congregation/pastor feel like an ATM. I ask this truly out of curiosity.  But I also as as about a month ago my husband's RC parish had a type of pledge Sunday (not quite what I'm used to).  For two weeks the folks in the congregation were asked to re-consider and up their offerings.  The stewardship rationale given was not first fruits giving or the like, rather the expenses of the parish were listed and, thus, people were encouraged to up their contributions to meet these expenses.  My husband did and I strongly encouraged him to do so.  But quite honestly, the message from the parish wasn't one of giving a portion of what we've been given - it was very much like that ATM you mention.   I don't think we were in MNYS at the same time - were we?

Dave Benke

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #16 on: April 25, 2017, 06:42:18 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.

I'm not sure who the "we" is in your comments here, Peter.  Since this thread is about those who are doing the pastoral and church work in the inner city with single moms and people with compromised family situations, I'll just say that no preacher in any of the churches in the part of Brooklyn I'm in, including me, is avoiding the first use of the law.  And your depictions of the way people are neighbors represents no one on the blocks I frequent.  What the church does is to reach out to kids and parents as much as possible indiscriminately, treating the ones from the street and the ones from the more stable homes as children of God, sinners in need of redemption, and providing the undergirding, counseling and prayer for good decisions to be made, and giving opportunity for service and growth in various Christian environments after the worship service. 

Really this is the same as anywhere else. 

Matt Hummel

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #17 on: April 25, 2017, 06:42:45 PM »
I was in from 1987 to 1997. The attitude was partly that of my brothers and sisters serving in the Big Apple, and partly (inadvertently) the Synod. Let's face it- compelling dramatic sermon & newsletter vignettes.

A celebration of the quotidian or mundane might come in handy upon occasion.

I also think Peter's comments about marriage & family are important. As someone in it up to my eyeballs 5 days a week, I see how the destruction of the family has wreaked havoc. And I wonder if denominations like the ELCA that have given up a lucid vision of the vocation of marriage and family can actually do anything sustainable. Not writing to hate, but to point out what I am seeing on the ground.
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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2017, 06:44:25 PM »
I was in from 1987 to 1997. The attitude was partly that of my brothers and sisters serving in the Big Apple, and partly (inadvertently) the Synod. Let's face it- compelling dramatic sermon & newsletter vignettes.

A celebration of the quotidian or mundane might come in handy upon occasion.

I also think Peter's comments about marriage & family are important. As someone in it up to my eyeballs 5 days a week, I see how the destruction of the family has wreaked havoc. And I wonder if denominations like the ELCA that have given up a lucid vision of the vocation of marriage and family can actually do anything sustainable. Not writing to hate, but to point out what I am seeing on the ground.


We welcome broken families to receive the grace of God. They don't need to be told that they are broken.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Dave Benke

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #19 on: April 25, 2017, 06:49:55 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!

Yes to this; very helpful.  We have done, and are planning to re-do, the evening meal with kids/families where basic table conversation and use of implements is taught.  The bigger item than learning to eat with a fork is learning how to talk around the table in a conversation about a topic.  I was amazed at how the kids in our Friday night group reacted to that, and I think it was because their opinions were respected as they brought them forward.

Anyway, I went through a decade and a half of the tougher times in East New York.  We had a large youth program, and yet a bunch of those kids,whom we hung with all the time, ended up crossing to the shady side of the street and were incarcerated; some were killed in the drug trade.  The palpable sense of loss and grief in the church community when that kind of thing happens never leaves, and the sense that engagement is not optional, that spiritual warfare is constant, and that we wrestle not only against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness all the way up the line is a given.  So it takes someone on the pastoral end and a great team on the lay end who are imbedded and disciplined and will not give up to walk with Jesus through the streets, yes.

Dave Benke

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #20 on: April 25, 2017, 06:52:42 PM »
I think that David Brooks speaks to our problem in today's New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/25/opinion/the-jane-addams-model.html?ref=opinion

Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

Matt Hummel

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #21 on: April 25, 2017, 06:56:30 PM »
I was in from 1987 to 1997. The attitude was partly that of my brothers and sisters serving in the Big Apple, and partly (inadvertently) the Synod. Let's face it- compelling dramatic sermon & newsletter vignettes.

A celebration of the quotidian or mundane might come in handy upon occasion.

I also think Peter's comments about marriage & family are important. As someone in it up to my eyeballs 5 days a week, I see how the destruction of the family has wreaked havoc. And I wonder if denominations like the ELCA that have given up a lucid vision of the vocation of marriage and family can actually do anything sustainable. Not writing to hate, but to point out what I am seeing on the ground.
I

We welcome broken families to receive the grace of God. They don't need to be told that they are broken.

As some one dealing with the issues, yeah, actually they do.

What you foolishly neglect is that sometimes the most liberating thing is the diagnosis that there is in fact something wrong.

« Last Edit: April 25, 2017, 07:18:13 PM by Prolife Professional »
Matt Hummel


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― J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #22 on: April 25, 2017, 06:57:09 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.

Right on point, from my little corner of the world.  Just like Elvis, personal responsibility has left the building.  And the media, a reflection of our depraved culture, and government reinforce that personal responsibility is not something any longer much valued (other than to pay taxes); now big brother is expected to take care of all societal ills and we are to celebrate children conceived without marriage.  We have met the enemy and he is us (kudos to Pogo). 

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #23 on: April 25, 2017, 07:22:12 PM »
By "we" I simply meant our mainstream culture, including many churches. If I am wrong that "we" often blame violent crime on access to guns, blame unwanted pregnancies on lack of access to contraception, or otherwise treat the social ills of the inner city as though the people involved were mere objects being acted upon by larger forces rather than moral agents accountable for their own decisions, and if if I am wrong that "we" often tolerate an attitude (not hold it ourselves, but tolerate it) that says people's private sexual behavior is none of anyone else's business, then I am happy to be wrong and plead guilty of somehow having gotten the wrong impression of our society.

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #24 on: April 25, 2017, 07:55:41 PM »
By "we" I simply meant our mainstream culture, including many churches. If I am wrong that "we" often blame violent crime on access to guns, blame unwanted pregnancies on lack of access to contraception, or otherwise treat the social ills of the inner city as though the people involved were mere objects being acted upon by larger forces rather than moral agents accountable for their own decisions, and if if I am wrong that "we" often tolerate an attitude (not hold it ourselves, but tolerate it) that says people's private sexual behavior is none of anyone else's business, then I am happy to be wrong and plead guilty of somehow having gotten the wrong impression of our society.

OK - "we" the Church are not in favor of "we" the culture.  Got it.  I have kind of taken the pledge against KulturKampfing.  The pastoral approach in these many cases in the city is not mainly to wax moralistic, but to bring better teaching, better options, better hope.

Dave Benke

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #25 on: April 25, 2017, 08:15:56 PM »
By "we" I simply meant our mainstream culture, including many churches. If I am wrong that "we" often blame violent crime on access to guns, blame unwanted pregnancies on lack of access to contraception, or otherwise treat the social ills of the inner city as though the people involved were mere objects being acted upon by larger forces rather than moral agents accountable for their own decisions, and if if I am wrong that "we" often tolerate an attitude (not hold it ourselves, but tolerate it) that says people's private sexual behavior is none of anyone else's business, then I am happy to be wrong and plead guilty of somehow having gotten the wrong impression of our society.

OK - "we" the Church are not in favor of "we" the culture.  Got it.  I have kind of taken the pledge against KulturKampfing.  The pastoral approach in these many cases in the city is not mainly to wax moralistic, but to bring better teaching, better options, better hope.

Dave Benke
If you think you can provide better teaching in terms of the first use of the law without waxing moralistic, which is another term for teaching the first use of the law, you are fighting fires with gasoline.

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #26 on: April 25, 2017, 08:49:41 PM »
I was in from 1987 to 1997. The attitude was partly that of my brothers and sisters serving in the Big Apple, and partly (inadvertently) the Synod. Let's face it- compelling dramatic sermon & newsletter vignettes.

A celebration of the quotidian or mundane might come in handy upon occasion.

I also think Peter's comments about marriage & family are important. As someone in it up to my eyeballs 5 days a week, I see how the destruction of the family has wreaked havoc. And I wonder if denominations like the ELCA that have given up a lucid vision of the vocation of marriage and family can actually do anything sustainable. Not writing to hate, but to point out what I am seeing on the ground.
I

We welcome broken families to receive the grace of God. They don't need to be told that they are broken.

As some one dealing with the issues, yeah, actually they do.

What you foolishly neglect is that sometimes the most liberating thing is the diagnosis that there is in fact something wrong.


I think people know when things are broken. People often know when their bodies are sick. They still often need the diagnosis of what is wrong, and what can be done about it.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Matt Hummel

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #27 on: April 25, 2017, 09:10:13 PM »
I was in from 1987 to 1997. The attitude was partly that of my brothers and sisters serving in the Big Apple, and partly (inadvertently) the Synod. Let's face it- compelling dramatic sermon & newsletter vignettes.

A celebration of the quotidian or mundane might come in handy upon occasion.

I also think Peter's comments about marriage & family are important. As someone in it up to my eyeballs 5 days a week, I see how the destruction of the family has wreaked havoc. And I wonder if denominations like the ELCA that have given up a lucid vision of the vocation of marriage and family can actually do anything sustainable. Not writing to hate, but to point out what I am seeing on the ground.
I

We welcome broken families to receive the grace of God. They don't need to be told that they are broken.

As some one dealing with the issues, yeah, actually they do.

What you foolishly neglect is that sometimes the most liberating thing is the diagnosis that there is in fact something wrong.


I think people know when things are broken. People often know when their bodies are sick. They still often need the diagnosis of what is wrong, and what can be done about it.

Some folks may actually know exactly what is wrong.

Another, larger group may know "something" is wrong but not what. And that leads to other issues.

And another group really does not know what the problem is at all. I spoke to a classroom full of boys, white, black, Hispanic and Asian.  And they could not wrap their heads around the vocation of husband. That a man would commit to one woman for life. They could not see loving a wife as Christ loved the Church. I spend a majority of my time conversing/communicating with mothers since fathers are thin on the ground. I deal with about twice your AWA a day in young men terribly damaged by the brave new world wrought by the minds that gave us 2009 and other wonders. Some of them come out of situations where some clown has slapped a bandage of cheap grace over a superating wound. Lots of fun cleaning up that mess!
Matt Hummel


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― J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #28 on: April 26, 2017, 10:08:31 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

Wanted to follow up here.

Agreed with what pretty much everyone has been saying about money. Regrettably, and incredibly unfortunately, money is the key. However, a church flush with cash and no leadership can also spell disaster. The leadership in place does not have to be ready to hit the ground running on day one of a new pastorate. But the leadership does need to be willing and able to actually be led by a pastor. This is not to say that the primary job of the pastor is to save the congregation, it isn't at all. But the pastor is at least looked at as a symbol of sustainability (right, wrong, indifferent). If congregations go to that place in their mind (new pastor=new members) then they need to be willing to go to that place in practice.

I think creativity and imagination are needed for reviving city ministries. And in some other cases I think death is needed. Since congregations are made up of people it's no surprise that they won't change until they are past crisis mode, until they have hit rock bottom. Many of our city ministries ignore the warning signs because in the early years of the growing crisis everyone and everything is still in place. A few deaths and a basement flood can change all that in an instant (in reality though the problems were always there). I have a few ideas from the local level, the district level, and the synod level. Bear with me as these are ideas that I am still working through.

Local: More on the creativity and imagination. Congregational leaders in crisis ministries need to expand their minds. This congregation is not "my church" and your specific clique of friends do not therefore make up "my people." That mentality is toxic for struggling to survive ministries. It sends a loud and clear message to any and call newcomers. Creativity and imagination can lead to collaboration (time, money, skill, etc) that can provide a way for a congregation to stop the bleeding (assuming there is debt or a deficit). I do not really see a causal relationship between collaboration and sustainability though. That is, the collaboration has to be a way for the congregation to get back on its feet, or to keep itself going "in the meantime." There has to be some larger plan (as far as finite minds can plan) to move towards sustainability. Simply collaborating resources does not translate to sustainability, though it is often a doorway to sustainability.

Local pastors also need to be willing and able to be creative and imaginative. NOT DOCTRINALLY. But relationally. This should go without saying but check out some other threads around here....

District: District Presidents and districts need to intentionally plan for the cities. I do not simply mean bringing in "dynamic pastors" (obstinate leaders can drive out and kill pastors). But districts need to act like city ministry matters, and not just because we can pay homage to their pasts or prop them up as ethnic trophies. In the case of struggling city ministries that have leadership which are willing and able to work in new situations the district needs to reward these congregations with the best pastors they can possibly get and with a decent share of their resources (not just money, but training and networking). For struggling congregations with obstinate leadership, district needs to play hardball. While it is important for the district (and synod) to have a foothold in a particular part of town it cannot come at the expense of pastors and resources that can be better spent elsewhere. Some congregations simply need to die. If the congregation is obstinate there is very little the district can actually do to help. Intervening in a congregation with obstinate leadership can be a giant waste of resources for district and synod (despite what the opportunity may look like to the naked eye). In their place districts can and should pump resources to planting preaching stations that, with a sustainable plan, can grow into Word & Sacrament ministries/congregations. Districts need to resist the urge to continue to placate such congregations that refuse to work with anyone but themselves. Letting a congregation go may come off as giving up in some sense but it will help in the long run.

Synod: More of this stuff the deaconess was talking about. On top of that synod also needs (and I'm speaking from no inside knowledge here so forgive me) to trust local districts and leaders on the ground. City ministry is not cookie cutter. For example, it is true that city ministries tend towards the liturgical, but they don't all need to be replicating DS 3 as if it were being done in just any other location. Another thing synod should be careful about is not primarily focusing on the city as a wild west of drugs and prostitution. We aren't sending people to the city to save the city, there is much good about the city (and the good are not just people who get out). The end of history is a city, so we should act like the city is something we are all moving towards instead of something we are trying to save people from.

M. Staneck
« Last Edit: April 26, 2017, 10:10:05 AM by Matt Staneck »
Matt Staneck, Pastor
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Queens, NY

peter_speckhard

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Re: The Church in the Inner-City - Can We Keep that Presence?
« Reply #29 on: April 26, 2017, 10:44:18 AM »
As one who once was a missionary-at-large called by the district and who now leads a church that has the wherewithal, in the form of a large endowment fund, to help struggling inner city congregations should we so choose, I can see the money issue from both sides of the standard disagreement.

When one is the recipient of money, one resents the idea that the money is purchasing results. I can't guarantee converts/new members/growth etc. All I can do is bring the Gospel and see what the Holy Spirit does with it. It is hard to fit the idea of results into the equation. But when one is sending money, it is hard not to fit results into the equation. Nobody in the "sending" congregation will get on board with sending good money after bad to keep a dying congregation alive for a little while unless there is some sense that the congregation isn't just waiting it out and looking for ways to pay the bills until the lights go out and the doors close.

This also brings up natural rivalries. Many congregations were founded back when they needed to be closer together. Now there is less need for so many congregations, but lots of people are pretty heavily (and understandably and in a sense rightfully) invested in wanting their congregation to be the one that survives. As the congregations mutually struggle, a natural sorting occurs, with people naturally preferring to attend and raise their children in a healthy congregation. That means the "big" church usually has a lot of people in it who were formerly members of the "dying" churches, and the remaining members of the dying churches know it. Certain tipping points (Can we still afford two pastors? What about a youth director? Is there more than one service? Is the pastor full time? Does it have an adult choir? What about a Sunday school?) can cause a fairly healthy congregation to rapidly tank. The big box churches are full of people who are tired of trying to make it work and seeming to fail bit by bit.

So a church like mine, founded in Hammond (where A Christmas Story was set, btw), a town which struggles with many urban problems but which has two LCMS churches still in it (one a daughter congregation of our congregation from back in the day) could, if we choose, from our position in Munster, step in and prevent those churches from closing their doors, at least for a while, with financial contributions. But does that make the most sense? What about the churches that have closed on the south side (also just around the corner from us) or which are closed in every sense but the legal and technical in Gary? We could mail them a check. But what would that do? From the perspective of the people who gave to the endowment fund, we want to send that money to something with a future. From the perspective of those who receive it, how can there be a future without money?

If we didn't have congregational polity a lot of these things wouild go more smoothly. Everybody could just be enraged at the bishop for closing this or that church and uniting with that one, but amid the anger the thing would happen. Not so for us. Congregational polity is a blessing and a curse, but it comes down on the curse side when it comes to unified efforts to minister in the inner cities. 
« Last Edit: April 26, 2017, 10:49:34 AM by peter_speckhard »