Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.

[1 Peter 4:10-11NRSV]

I have been going through a dry spell lately as far as posting to this blog. But for those of you faithful readers, I have a treat. We have several pastors doing some wonderful ministry in our synod, and I want to share the thoughts of one of them with you.

Pastor David Kamphuis has been serving Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Youngstown since August of 2014. It is an urban parish that does outreach to its mostly African-American neighborhood. But, without telling you too much by way of introduction, let him tell you the story. His blog is entitled “Urban Fire Escape” and is also available on WordPress. What follows is his most recent entry. I thank him for allowing me to share this marvelously unique story. Enjoy!

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Pastor David Kamphuis
Pastor David Kamphuis

Let us be honest for a moment. I am pastor of an inner city congregation. That congregation is located in an inner city neighborhood. Said neighborhood is by no means the worst neighborhood in town, but it is also by no means the suburbs.

However, again and again I get this same comment: “Too bad about the neighborhood.” I’ll be honest, I grow tired of this comment. I grow tired because people keep saying this like it is some universally understood objective truth (but it really isn’t).  I grow tired because it is stated by people (and I should be clear that they are beloved children of God and frequently very nice people) who left neighborhood years ago. In all honesty though, I grow tired of this comment because I actually enjoy my neighborhood and I find it quite beautiful.

Next time I will write more about why I think this attitude about the inner city reveals a real and fundamental problem with our theology, but this week I just want to talk about the beauty that can be found between Market St and Glenwood Ave in Youngstown, Ohio. So here are my three reasons why I still think my neighborhood is beautiful:

1. It is really hard to avoid relationship with your neighbors.

Something I have noticed about modern houses is that you don’t really have to interact with anyone who lives close to you if you don’t want to. Pull straight into your garage which opens from a button in your car and walk inside. Very rarely is a there a front porch and when there is the attached garage acts as a kind of retaining wall to keep outsiders from seeing you. Modern houses seem built to keep you from actually interacting with the people around you.

Along with the reset of the neighborhood, my house was built in a different age. My front porch is prominent and can’t be avoided. If I decided to use my grill (whether on the porch or in the back yard) people will see me and they will make conversation. I live right next door to my congregation and walking to the front door of the Church I will see people who are outside and they will talk to me (because otherwise it is just awkward). From the physical layout of my neighborhood to the culture of my neighborhood it is hard, nigh impossible, to avoid being in some kind of relationship with your neighbors.

And while I am an introvert and I enjoy a day locked in my man-cave as much as anyone, I find that relationship beautiful. My neighbors can ask me how my steaks on the grill are going to turn out or tell me their prayer requests on my way to work (both of which happen on a regular basis). If that isn’t beauty then I don’t know what is.

2. Church can be a place that truly brings people together.

Volunteers teach neighborhood youngsters the art of gardening.
Volunteers teach neighborhood youngsters the art of gardening.

The schools left my area of town years ago. That basically means that one of the few institutions that still resides in the area is the Church (not just mine, but all the churches). It is a beautiful thing to see people who are devoted not just to their individual congregations, but the many and various congregations in the area. It is a kind of ecumenism that goes beyond (and I would probably argue deeper) than the ecumenisms found in official doctrinal statements from national or international church bodies.

Seriously, I have people who have never darkened the doors of my church walk up to me and say “we’re looking out for you.” People in my neighborhood, who have only been to church once or twice, regularly tell me that they pray for us every day.  That kind of relationship is beautiful.

3. I get to see the prophets’ words be made real in a new way

Jeremiah is appointed a prophet in order to “to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” I used to think “tear down” was God’s word of judgment to a people who had really messed up, and certainly that is part of it. But after you watch a house actually get torn down you begin to understand that God’s word to Jeremiah means a whole lot more than just judgment. Sometimes tearing down can be a great sign of grace in the world.

Exterior FrontI never would have learned that new way of thinking about scripture if it wasn’t for my neighborhood. It is a beautiful and powerful thing that I get to live in place that continues to teach me. In the inner city I have found people who have some of the most amazing and beautiful theology and from whom I have learned so much. Can you say the same?

So to all of you who have said, or will say, “Too bad about the neighborhood.”  I want you to know that I hear you. I hear you that the blocks around my church have changed significantly since you left. Before you utter that phrase though, consider that there are people here who still like and care for this neighborhood. Consider the idea that there may still be much good in this place. Finally, consider for next time that regardless of what you think of my neighborhood this still is the exact place where God wants us to be.

To view the post in its original site click HERE

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