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Urban Ministry Network meeting renews call for ‘urban vision’


PC(USA) group seeks to serve pastors in urban contexts

by Chris Iosso | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Attendees at the October 24-26, 2016 Urban Ministry Network meeting of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Photo provided)

Attendees at the October 24-26, 2016 Urban Ministry Network meeting of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Photo provided)

ST. LOUIS – The Urban Ministry Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met October 24-26 to consult with several local pastors and to plan ways to expand the urban ministry network in advance of both Big Tent (July 2017) and the General Assembly (June 2018). The network was created in response to a report to the 2014 General Assembly, “The Gospel from Detroit,” which called for renewing the church’s “urban vision.” The best way to do this, said the Rev. Phil Tom, who convened the group, was to listen to pastors dealing with the toughest urban realities in communities under pressure. One core goal of the group is to be a support community itself for pastors serving in cities and inner-ring suburbs.

There were several focal points to the urban roundtable meeting:

  • Clarifying the urban ministry network’s roles to include continuing to build local networks and a national network, sustaining an urban ministry “presence,” advocating for policy changes and being a prophetic voice regarding issues impacting metro urban communities.
  • The network agreed to spend the next year analyzing how the sale of urban church properties goes to support metro urban ministries, and to examine a variety of urban issues such as poor education as a “pipeline to prison,” police violence and militarization, etc. and their impacts on PCUSA policies.
  • Listening to a panel discussion hosted by Third Presbyterian Church featuring its pastor, the Rev. Cedric Portis, Sr., the Rev. Clyde Crumpton of the Cote Brilliante Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Paula Cooper of the Kirby Memorial Presbyterian Church;
  • Reviewing the actions of the 2016 General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, to propose updated urban strategies for presbyteries [link] and to encourage funding for an effort to assist African American young men in five major cities [link];
  • Explore ways that urban ministers and others in St. Louis might present a “Gospel from St Louis” to be part of an urban mission narrative that builds on the work of the Detroit and Portland Assemblies and looks toward Baltimore in 2020. Key to this narrative are ways Presbyterian city churches have responded to the racial and class divides that afflict most US urban areas.

The panel discussion at Third Presbyterian Church highlighted the turnaround efforts by all three pastors in very different settings in St. Louis. The Rev. Portis, who co-chairs the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy’s Committee on Local Arrangements, discussed his strategy to change the culture of his congregation to serve its community. The Rev. Crumpton discussed the challenges of change after a long predecessor pastorate. The Rev. Cooper described outreach efforts in a very diverse and mobile community that includes many immigrants. Though all three pastors and churches responded to the public tragedy in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in 2014, with the shooting of Michael Brown, they focused on their larger and longer term efforts to live out the Gospel in their parts of St. Louis.

The Rev. Kevin Johnson of Detroit, a member of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy originally responsible for The Gospel of Detroit report, reaffirmed the hope that the churches in each city where the General Assembly meets can contribute to an ongoing narrative about reversing violence with a Gospel message of personal and social healing. He and other pastors in Detroit walk the streets of their neighborhoods to build relationships and lessen gun violence.

The Rev. Adan Mairena of Philadelphia noted that his presbytery is working towards approving an urban network there, and he discussed strategies for gaining support for new ministries across a large presbytery that includes wealthy suburbs as well as central city areas.

The Rev. Phil Tom noted three other items of interest to urban ministers:

  1. The invitation letter to urban pastors interested in joining the network.
  2. A new book by George Todd and Trey Hammond, longtime urban ministers, on lessons from urban ministry in the second half of the 20th century.
  3. A project called Twenty-first Century Cities based at Johns Hopkins University that provides more data on urban trends and policies.

Other network members came from Chicago, Kansas City, Baltimore and New York City, along with three pastors now on staff in Louisville. Ruth Farrell, Coordinator of the Hunger Program—which has helped support urban ministries, was also present representing the ongoing commitment of the overall Compassion, Peace, and Justice ministries.

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