Saturday, August 1, 2015

Talking urban ministry


My friend John has just driven up from Atlantic City. We’re going up to  Bernheim & Schwartz to meet Phil and talk urban ministry. (B&S now occupies what was the historic West End, once home to Kerouac and Ginsberg and Mario Savio and jazz greats…even during it’s embodiment as Havana Central they kept one wall for historic photos…annoying that B&S while representing that they honor history, ignore that of their very home…decent local brews however…)Phil, with roots in Chinatown and the Bronx, has decades of experience as an urban pastor, our national urban staff person and most recently the Obama administration. And now he’s back home in the Bronx.  (Although he’s a Mets fan from years of watching the Giants with his dad at the Polo Grounds.)

John and I were colleagues in Pittsburgh and now he’s spent a quarter of a century across the causeway from AC in Brigantine where the casino workers live. He’s now President of the Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association. (PHEWA) And together we’ve got over a century in urban ministry. We’ve written national policy statements, planned workshops, launched professional organizations…seen a lot. A Presbyterian paper inspired by Detroit’s collapse has inspired yet a new call to exegete our urban reality and seek to chart a course. (

When we started in the ashes of the sixties rebellions, white flight was the issue of the day. Young white pastors moved into cities, gave themselves to their work. Tended to drink too much, survive on caffeine  and nicotine and wear out their families seeking to be in solidarity with their African-American, then  Asian and Latino colleagues who’d been there all along. We’ve seen the urbanization of the suburbs followed by the suburbanization of the cities as the age of gentrification and the luxury gated city has dawned. And now black lives matter.

We’ve moved from the  day of dedicated national staff and budgets  for studies and hearings and policy development to where we’re going to have to raise serious money ourselves to pull this off at the grassroots level. And we’re looking for the young leaders under 35, we’ll settle for under 40, who are doing the work now, if they’re Presbyterian at all.  And as we’ve learned in Occupy and Black Lives Matter, we’re going to have to do a lot of listening.

As my mentor,colleague and friend Warren said 13 years ago, we’ve gone from being young Turks to gray beards in the blink of an eye…

Last Saturday night, in Damrosch Park, Randy Newman spoke of all the septuagenarians he runs into out on the road, keeping the young ones off the stage. And so, in his typical ironic voice, he sings, I’m dead but I don’t know it… 
Is that where we are with the church? We’ll see…..

Meanwhile, I’ll head with Pat and Steve and Sam and play Tara Hill in my old neighborhood tonight…..

No comments:

Post a Comment