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By Dr. Doug Powe
James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism and Professor of Urban Ministry
By the time this is published it will be more than a month since Michael Brown was killed and already we are seeing Ferguson fatigue. Fatigue by those who are tired of racial conversations and just want them to go away. Fatigue by those who are protesting for a just resolution, wondering how long they will have to keep up the fight. Ferguson is not the first incident of this kind and it will not be the last. My question is, “How do we confront the fatigue?” In particular, “What role can congregations play in confronting the fatigue?” The latter is a theological issue for me and the perspective I will take here.
One of the challenges we face in the United States is really seeing each other as made in the imago dei (image of God). We dehumanize each other in several ways that prevent us from having fruitful conversations even when we disagree. Some of the rhetoric in Ferguson highlights this issue (I am not going to repeat, but any quick online search will pull up some hateful rhetoric) in the way that both sides attacked each other and called each other names. The challenge is how to move from the heat of the street to a space where a dialogue can happen when you feel like you have been called everything except a child of God.
This connects to my second challenge the role of the church (ecclesiology) in leading the effort toward a different dialogue. Congregations have an important role to play in modeling and creating a space where healthy conversations can take place. Black and white congregations have to begin having honest dialogues with each other before things hit the fan in the community. If black and white congregations begin modeling something new prior to explosive events it will enable for a different dialogue when something happens. For this modeling to take place it will require creating a space in the community where individuals can come together and share honestly without being dehumanized. In theological language our ecclesiology should help to frame the way we treat each other as children of God.
The work I do at Wesley Theological Seminary is preparing students who can be the community bridge makers and lead these congregations and conversations. In our Urban and Missional Fellows programs, students are learning how to engage in the work of bringing individuals together in a life-giving way so that a new future can be built together. My response to confronting Ferguson fatigue is theological and practical. It requires understanding what it means for a congregation to treat all others as children of God. In so doing the congregation is helping to create a space in the community for a different type of dialogue that may prevent another explosive event. Fighting fatigue will be an on-going effort if we are willing to be bridge-makers it is an effort that can move us toward a different future.
By Lesli Vaughan
Maryland-DC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA
Whole person health is largely influenced by social determinants of health, or the economic and social conditions that influence the health of individuals and communities. Baltimore, a place in which Wesley is beginning to work, is a city that exemplifies this complex relationship. What makes Baltimore most unique is its neighborhoods, each with its own distinct cultures, health challenges and needs. In some ways, the social determinants of health are similar across Baltimore neighborhoods, but in many ways, they vary widely. This variety means that each neighborhood has unique social and economic conditions that influence the health of that community. Knowing this, it is crucial that we account for this variety in our work if we hope to connect community leaders with the resources to address whole person health issues. What works for one neighborhood may not work for another, and recognizing this both affects how we approach our work in Baltimore and allows us to more effectively use our resources.
In June, Wesley’s Heal the Sick program expanded its focus in Baltimore in addition to the greater Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia areas. The goal of the program is to prepare community, clergy, and lay leaders to support congregations in the development of health ministries. Using faith communities to address the health needs of individuals is beneficial because of the sense of trust and their tendency towards ministry and addressing issues of social justice. Heal the Sick now has one dedicated staff member who lives and works in Baltimore, which allows the program to provide a concrete human resource to assist faith communities. Recognizing that the city of Baltimore is vastly different from the areas in which Heal the Sick currently serves, we have worked to adapt our approach so that we can be most beneficial to the congregations and faith communities in Baltimore.
Thus far, there have been two key components of Heal the Sick’s approach that illustrate the importance of considering social conditions in addressing health issues. First, after meeting with several leaders in the faith and health fields, we quickly realized the importance of narrowing our scope to focus on one particular zip code. This allows us to maximize our resources and be most helpful to the faith communities, organizations, and health providers with which we work. We can tailor our focus based on the needs identified by the members of the community through our congregational dialogues. This aligns with the second, and perhaps most important, component of our approach: allowing the individuals who live in our target neighborhood to be the change makers themselves. Wesley’s goal, in Baltimore as in the other areas in which we work, is not to change existing health ministries or create new ones however we see fit. Instead, our goal is to empower leaders of faith communities to address the health needs of their congregation and the surrounding community in the ways that they believe will be most beneficial.
If you are interested in learning more about our work in Baltimore, you can contact Lesli Vaughan by email at email@example.com or by phone at 202.706.6839.
By Rev Erik Martinez Resly
Wesley Downtown Teaching Assistant
Words matter - not only because they describe our social worlds, but even more importantly, because they actively shape them.
In the throes of Germany’s rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century, Ferdinand Tönnies described the socio-economic transition to urban life as a movement from Gemeinshaft to Gesellschaft, from Community to Society. Whereas people used to live in small villages and take pleasure in the intimacy of face-to-face relationships, or so the story goes, the emergence of the capitalist city unleashed a set of alienating forces that effectively tore the social fabric apart. Tönnies’ dichotomy of community/society spawned other value-laden distinctions that haunt us to this day: rural/urban, clean/dirty, safe/dangerous, white/non-white, traditional/revolutionary. Sound familiar?
Though it is hard to believe that Tönnies’ analysis ever captured the whole story, we know for sure things have become even murkier in our time. After all, we live in an age when gentrification is pulling wealth into the city and pushing poverty out into the suburbs, where many families peer out from behind their white picket fences and yearn for the camaraderie of block parties, open air concerts, and cooperative housing found in major urban centers.
As the times change, so will God’s work. There may come a point when we no longer rely on the adjectives “urban” or “missional” to distinguish the place and purpose of our “ministry” - when suburban megachurches are called to confront the material needs of their new unhoused neighbors and when bands of urban house churches compete with yoga studios and meditation centers to meet the spiritual hunger of privileged young professionals. What form will our ministry take in an increasingly urban and missional world? And what words will we use to talk about it? How will we avoid falling into Tönnies’ dualistic trap?
I am honored to join Dr. Powe this semester in equipping our Urban and Missional Fellows with the requisite theological, pastoral, and community organizing tools they will need to faithfully lead us into this uncertain yet exciting future.
Rev. Erik Martinez Resly is the Lead Organizer of The Sanctuaries, a racially and religiously diverse arts community, as well as a Ph.D. student in the urban anthropology of religion at Johns Hopkins University.
10/10-11 | Faith Community Nurse Certificate Program
Registration Deadline 9/29, Register here
10/13 & 11/10 | Equipping people of faith to help with the new healthcare system
Health ministry workshops with Wesley in partnership with Inova Mt. Vernon Hospital, for more information, click here.
Attention All Baltimore Washington Conference United Methodist Church members.
Please complete survey on parish nursing and your church. Click Here to complete a very short three minute survey to provide input and feedback to guide current and future parish nursing health ministry planning.
(Formerly Urban Fellows Newsletter)
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