How can churches be part of urban neighborhood renewal?

   There are too few opportunities for people in older neighborhoods to work and socialize together to help combat the "move up move out" idea.  Our older neighborhoods have churches and schools (the institutions that bring people together and challenge them to higher goals) that have too few participants for their programs who live in the surrounding neighborhood. These institutions that once held neighbors and neighborhoods together are not serving that purpose like they did in the past.
Where different age groups once mingled and worked together at the church and school in their neighborhood,  now adults often are suspicious and even afraid of their neighbors and teenagers in their neighborhood.
If we promote the idea that success is moving to a suburban neighborhood... then you are a failure unless you live in the most expensive house in the most exclusive neighborhood.  The result is what we often get...abandoned neighborhoods where no one wants to maintain or own property, or develop relationships with their neighbors.

   We need to work with churches to encourage their members to live in the neighborhood around the church and become involved with their neighbors.  Churches need to share their faith and the community building wisdom and philosophy that is the foundation of the church with surrounding neighbors.

Letter to the Editor

Printed in the Take Pride Community News Paper October 5, 1998
Editor Walter Mathis
Bringing Multi-Ethnicity to Area Churches
By William K. Blickley

editor's note: Mr. Blickley contributed a letter he sent to his church's Synodical multiethnic committee.  In it, he detailed his church's wish to more adequately respond to the call of God in this area by establishing a multi-ethnic Synodical committee.  He wrote that, "The committee is also encouraged to review any other material that will help it give guidance to the denomination in its search to minister to and reconcile with ethnic minority communities in the United States and Canada.  " The following is an excerpt of his letter with principles outlined by Timothy VanderKodde.

   During the past 35 years I have been blessed to live and raise my children in an African American neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I have had the opportunity to partner with many African-American Christians and share my faith verbally and by example to non-Christians.  My family has been greatly blessed.
In the past several years the City government of Grand Rapids, Michigan and now the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce has begun to encourage employees of the City and businesses to move into the central city to revitalize neighborhoods.  They not only give encouragement but also a financial subsidy.

Following) is a communication from a person who moved their family with several children from a middle-class neighborhood into the central-city parish of a Grand Rapids Christian Reformed Church.  Their experience in family living and ministry is consistent with the experience of our family over the past 35 years.

Dear Bill... I spent my whole life at Oakdale Park CRC.  The "white flight 'happened so gradually that I didn't even notice that we had changed from being a parish congregation to a commuter congregation.  I believe that this change has become our biggest obstacle as far as connecting with the inner city community, more so than racial or cultural issues.

I had been involved in our church's Cadet (youth) program for most of the last 15 years.  I've come to believe that a local church can have an awesome Cadet (or other) program, but still have little impact on the lives of the boys, girls and families over the long run.  We only lived about one mile away from our church but still we drove in to "do programs and then drove back out to our home and neighborhood.  We drove in to worship on Sunday and then drove back out.  It was not wrong for us to attend Oakdale Park, but it was difficult to feel that we had any impact in the neighborhood because we did not have relationships with very many of the people who lived near our church.  We (my wife and 1) strongly believe that God uses relationships to bring others to Himself sometimes long term relationships, maybe even lifetime relationships...

... Since we have moved into the Oakdale community, we have been amazed at the relationships we have already made (we moved here in May on 1997). immediately we were able to connect with the Kids.  Either they knew us from Oakdale CRC programs or they became friends of our kids... Just in the last couple of months doors have really been opened with many of the adults on our street, basically by just being accessible neighbors who are out a lot.

One thing that really struck us is that we expected things to be much worse than they actually are.  Our perspective has changed because we are not on the outside making assumptions about violence or drugs in this neighborhood.  While there are occasions when this is evident, there are many more positive things happening in our neighborhood that we see because we live here and are able to experience the good stuff daily ... We now have 11 different households on our street that call Oakdale Park CRC their church and most are attending worship more frequently.  Of these three are white, three are black, two are Hispanic, two are black/white couples and one is a Hispanic/black couple.  Many other families are members of other local congregations.  Just think of the kind of impact this can have, and is having, on a community.  I think we need to be careful, though, about tying together moving into the inner city with "doing" programs at the local church.  We tend to think we are going to come in and "save the neighborhood' when what communities really need are just good neighbors....

... A few weeks ago my wife was at a meeting where some women from our church were planning a summer Bible study and kids program .... the Bible study ended up meeting in a home outside the neighborhood because the leaders did not live in the community ... Where is the ministry really happening?  I believe our Bible studies and Wednesday night kids programs are valuable, but just think how much more valuable they would be if the leaders were also neighbors and would see the kids and their parents on a regular basis.  Since we have moved here, God has given us the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with the families of the children who attend the programs at our church....

... I think a real key to being accepted into a community is just being totally honest and real with people.  I think our neighbors were watching us closely to see what we were all about.  From our experience there seems to be a lack of trust by blacks towards whites Justifiably so).  I'm sure many of our neighbors still think we moved in for some type of financial gain and that we'll be moving out soon.  We believe, and I would hope the denomination would agree, that this is not some two or five year plan to save souls or save a neighborhood.  But like we tell our neighbors, we plan on living here permanently.

And really, what we want is no different from what anyone else want - a nice place to raise a family, a safe, friendly neighborhood, good schools, committed churches and strong local businesses with good job opportunities - just to share life's experiences with one another.  I believe many of the problems in the inner city are not caused by the fact that all the white people moved out but are caused because people of all races who had the resources moved out.  And if they haven't left yet, then their goal is to "make it" out, leaving the poor and those without resources behind.  If those with resources would stay or move back into our inner city neighborhoods, we wouldn't need jobs programs, we would have connected neighbors to share job openings with each other.  We wouldn't need tool lending libraries, we would have connected neighbors to share tools with each other..

... In closing, it is exciting to see the openness and willingness of the CRC to get involve in encouraging families to relocate into the inner city.  We need to be careful not to come in with a "we have all the answers" mentality.  Instead, we need to come alongside to learn from and work with those who are already living in our communities.  Our goal should be that our neighborhoods would be empowered to be self-sustaining.  Our ultimate goal is that our neighbors would come to know Christ, and that can happen if . we are obedient in loving God by loving our neighbors ...


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