I just read a blog post by Romal Tune about the church's role in gentrification. I had so many thoughts and feelings that I wanted to put them down into a long form response. Not refuting his point, because his point is good, but how does his article relate to my life, to our ministry in Amarillo.
For those of you not up on your big words, gentrification is when urban areas experience a time of remodeling and updating that leads to displacing the population of people who had occupied that urban area. The displacement occurs because of increased property values and taxes that lead to the original occupiers being forced to move away from the community.
There are some ideas and feelings that I will take away from Romal Tune's article that I will definitely hold onto. I can feel his hurt over the loss of these communities that he once belonged to. It is clear that the hurt is deep. And I love his statement, "As someone whose work focuses on changing the life outcomes of oppressed people, I am biased towards congregations that are spiritual, social, and practical."
Amen! Churches must be spiritual first a foremost, but they also must not overlook the actual day to day needs and hurts of people.
I have to brag on Citychurch's bookkeeper Dean Roush for a minute. He keeps the money straight at Citychurch, but he also is letting God use him in ministry. He has been teaching our adult Sunday school class for a few years now. In his free time, Dean wrote a book about personal finance with a Biblical worldview.
Last week Dean volunteered his Saturday to hold a free personal finance class with free childcare called Dollars and Donuts.
The adults we minister to at Citychurch have a felt need to understand how to handle their money more wisely. Dean is allowing God to use him to meet that need.
This is just one example of a way that Citychurch is meeting tangible, felt needs of the inner-city of Amarillo. But back to the issue of gentrification.
Romal Tune's article points out examples of gentrification going on in California and Washington D.C., and there is no question that this is a trend going on in other large cities in America.
Where I live, in Amarillo, it just isn't an issue. We have a very segregated city, and the one neighborhood, North Heights, that is predominately black has always been predominately black. There are neighborhoods in north Amarillo, such as Eastridge, that were built in the 1950s as lower-middle class white neighborhoods but are now neighborhoods with dozens of races represented.
I would be surprised if in Texas that gentrification is a problem in any city outside of Dallas and Austin. (Maybe Houston, but my parents lived in the Houston area, and I know those Houstonites love their suburbs.) Here in the middle of America, gentrification isn't a problem yet. Yet might be a key word.
The problem Amarillo does have is that almost every church in the northeast area of Amarillo had moved to the southwest side of Amarillo or ceased to exist because of memberships that shrunk to nothing by the early 1990s. Most of these churches were "following the money," as Romal Tune pointed out.
When Citychurch moved downtown in 1996, my father-in-law Don Lane saw the need for the north side of town to have a church. He felt God was calling him to be a pastor to people who couldn't afford a pastor. And children in low-income neighborhoods, not only can't afford a pastor, they don't even know they need one.
Citychurch ministers primarily to 6 neighborhoods of Amarillo, San Jacinto, North Heights, Eastridge, Hamlet, Mary Hazelrigg, and Glenwood. There are lots of races of children represented among those neighborhood and children we minister to.
Sometimes I have wondered why God did not send someone to start this ministry from a minority race. Although my parents had been raised very, very poor, I grew up in a middle class, white town. I had never even seen a homeless person or a prostitute until an 8th grade trip to Austin. How am I qualified to spend my life ministering to neighborhood of people that have little in common with my formative years?
God always reminds me in these times of questioning about what is important to the God who created this world and all of its people. God looks at the heart. It's clear from the Word of God that the greatest concern of our Creator is the condition of our heart.
So my questions to the church are as follows:
What is the condition of your heart?
Are you loving your community?
Are you reaching beyond the street you reside to care and love for your city?
Are you reaching beyond the group of roads around you to your neighbors to show them love and meet their needs?
Is your heart full of love for the church globally? Are you reaching across the oceans to show love and meet the needs of are global neighbors?
My feelings are that God is more concerned with our hearts, the church's heart, than God is with real estate. I do believe that gentrification is a problem, and as Christians interested in justice, we need to be aware of its affects. I don't want to minimize the issue, but we need to be very aware of where God may be calling you to take the message of the love of Jesus Christ. I suspect if you ask God and listen for an answer, it will include someone who is financially struggling.
How can I be so sure? Because God never changes, and if you read the New Testament, you will see Jesus in the business of taking His message to crowds and homes and one-on-one meetings of financially struggling folks.
We can also see from Jesus's actions that real ministry is never just surface level encounters. Handing a bowl of soup to someone or dropping off your old stuff somewhere is as surface level as it gets. Jesus met needs spiritually and physically. Jesus made people whole.
We can't be Jesus, but we are called to try. As Citychurch ministers in neighborhoods to children and families in northeast Amarillo, we become involved in their lives. Sometimes more than we even want to be, and it can get interesting. But usually we enjoy loving God's people, and we learn from their problems and hurts. We do our best to point them to answers to spiritual questions, and we spot and meet needs constantly. I've seen Citychurch do everything from buy work pants for a young person's new job, pay utility bills for families, give people rides to work, buy kids shoes when they show up at church barefoot, pay tuition to schools for several children, take kids to get glasses.... I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.
I appreciate Romal Tune putting words to his concerns about gentrification. I will always be open to listening to new views about urban neighborhoods because Jesus has made my heart tender to these issues and His people living in urban areas.
My hope is that the church is preaching love, that Jesus is repairing and sanctifying our hearts, and that more and more of God's people will follow Jesus's lead to do true ministry.
If you haven't heard of Romal Tune, check out his amazing book that I love.
One I my favorite things James and Donnie have produced about Citychurch's ever growing mission.
Because I always like to include a song with each blog. Here you go. This is a classic.