Warren Dennis Lecture 2019 – Video & Full Text
March 19, 2019
Warren Dennis Lecture
February 26, 2019
Janice McLean-Farrell, Ph.D.
The City as Classroom: Emerging Pedagogies in Urban Ministry
Scroll down below the video fo the full text of the lecture.
Urban Ministry finds its fullest meaning within the context of Metropolitan Ministry: a vision and practice that considers and engages a myriad of systems that impact life in an ever-changing and increasingly urban world. Today’s urban contexts – local, national and global-are diverse, complex, pluralistic, entrepreneurial, innovative, trendsetting and growing. Ministries/social agencies within urban contexts and programs in urban ministry, need to make the city their classroom, i.e. to know the cultures and environments around them, interrogate their interactions and relationships with the communities they serve and affirm the multi-religious and multicultural dynamics that shape these communities and those around the word. How do urban pastors, practitioners and social agencies develop a vision and daily practice that are contextually relevant, culturally competent, historically grounded, pastoral in nature, faithful to scripture, global in outlook and prophetic in witness? This lecture will address these questions and provide innovative strategies for doing ministry in 21st century metro-urban contexts.
First some preliminaries before we move on to seeing the city as a classroom and interrogating how this shapes the pedagogies emerging in Urban Ministry.
First, I acknowledge that in many seminaries, we are educating more and more adult learners. These “non-traditional” students won’t necessarily live in a dorm room setting. They are 25 years of age or older, some have children, many work while they attend school. For us at NBTS, these “non-traditional students constitute the majority of our students and are 25 years and older, work, have children, and have other responsibilities. As adult learners, these students are self-directed, have jobs and families, want their learning to be purposeful and rewarding – be it for the purposes of gaining additional skills for professional advancement or preparation for a different career. As such, consideration must be given to the stress they experience and what will help them to succeed as they navigate and manage, family, ministry, work and education.
Second, adult learners bring a vast reservoir of experience with them into the classroom. As an educator, part of my job is to capitalize on this experience by creating a classroom that fosters mutual collaboration in the learning process. In this manner, students can become active participants in the learning process and thus take greater ownership of their educational outcomes.
Third, I acknowledge that adult learners in the classroom are diverse. Many come from multiple confessional and free-church traditions, different ethnicities and diverse educational backgrounds and experiences. As a result, course preparation needs to be structured around how to connect the student’s knowledge, learning styles1, culture and learning abilities, subject matter discussed in class, and other disciplines including theology, urban sociology, history, and contemporary social issues. It is also imperative that the learning process include opportunities for experiential and transformational learning. In expanding the classroom learning experiences beyond the walls of a lecture hall, these sessions provide students with the invaluable opportunity of engaging in place-based learning where the local community becomes another primary resource for learning. This in turn helps to ground the students’ theoretical engagement within the lived realities of the local community and the wider metro New York area.
What does it mean to take the city as a classroom and examine some of the new ideas and strategies this elicits for doing ministry in an increasingly urbanized world?
In considering the topic before us today – the city as classroom: emerging pedagogies in urban ministry, I decided to use my current course – Introduction to Urban Ministry to tease out what themes I believe are important to cover as we prepare people for ministry in urbanized contexts that seeks the transformation of persons, community and societies.
A brief review of some Urban Ministry texts – Urban Ministry (Conn and Ortiz), City of God, City of Satan (Linthicum) Urban Ministry an Introduction (Peters) – provides a glimpse into the nature and scope of cities in the Scriptures and the manner in which they served to foster or inhibit God’s work of salvation in the lives of the children of Israel and the nations around them. While such framing is necessary and foundational as I construct a biblical framework for the city and urban ministry – I acknowledge that there is one question and several assumptions that need to be interrogated. The question relates to – Who is my neighbor? Who is the other, the Samaritan, and the despised in our urbanized contexts? And how are we to treat/interact them? How we critically address these questions will shape the cities and urbanized spaces in our region, nation and world.
In turning to the assumptions about our faith, it is to have the boldness to lift up the edges of the proverbial rug and look with honesty at what lies beneath. It is to see the lies that bind us, the truth that frees us, the ways in which the Scriptures in their propagation, were used by people to kill, oppress, destroy, as well as to heal, give life and set free. It is to re-assess our Christian heritage/history and to deal honestly with the myths we have called truth and the truths we now call lies.
As a Jamaican American, my foundational place of engagement begins in the Caribbean in 1492. It is to interrogate the way a certain construction of God was seen as “giving” license to conquest as articulated in the Pope Alexander VI’s Papal Bull giving Spain the “dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered toward the West and South.”2 As “discoverer,” Spain had the legal, theological and ontological right over lands and people. In this transaction however, it is to note how God’s image in the other was marred and robbed of personhood and rendered voiceless, unable to advocate for oneself.
It is also to note the colonization process, and how the embodiment of that process sought to make the colonial power into the image of God. Where one’s personhood could only be defined based on how close it came to a standard of whiteness and that standard’s articulation of God and faith. It is to speak of the manner in which this embodiment continues to live on in contemporary faith practices where the once colonized continue to perpetuate on their fellow citizens the brutal heritage from which we come- killing, making dumb and destroying. It also to call attention to the subversive power of God’s spirit, in bringing life to the dead and causing once dry bones to now stand as a mighty army. It is a calling for and working towards the justice and freedom of all people.
It is a process of unlearning and re-learning, of paying attention to the hermeneutic lens – the window- through which one views scripture, God, myself and people, especially the other. As an “other”- i.e. one who is from the margins and shaped by these places, it is giving preference of place to those voices that speak from similar places of marginalization and powerlessness (Slaves articulation of the faith, revivalism and other afro-Christian religions, Rastafari, liberation theology, black theology, womanist theology, et.) about how the gospel is and continues to be good news to all people – where Shalom or wholeness is more than an ideal but a lived reality.
Activity – Learn to love and appreciate the city – developing another lens the city
Choose a neighborhood or area of the city you want to interact with. Visit that place – walk the blocks, use your senses to know this place. As you are in that space, pay attention to your feelings about this place – name them, own them and bring them in prayer to God. Who is the other in this place? Return several times to this place, getting to know the place with your senses. With each visit and walk pray for God’s Shalom to be made manifest in that place. Also pray the scriptures that speak justice and liberty, and reflect on how these could be actualized in the very fabric of this place. With each visit, note any changes in your reaction this place – how do you see the physical space, people, systems? Where is God at work? How can you appreciate what is there and in time work for what will be about the wholeness of this place?
Naming one of the elephants in the room – The construction of race and its impacts of the people of African descent.
“In 2013, the United Nations established the International Decade for People of African Descent (resolution 68/237) to provide a framework within which the United Nations, Member States, civil society and other relevant actors can work with people identified as Black to identify and address problems of recognition, justice and development”.3 While such measures are needed, the killing of black bodies, exclusion from “hallowed” spaces, vilification in the media, continued discrimination and racism toward people of African descent and other people of color in the US and globally, etc. underscores that the issue of race remains a seminal issue in the task of preparing people to conduct faithful ministry in urbanized spaces in the world.
What is challenging in regard to “race issues” however, is that much of what facilitates it is unconscious – built into the very fabric of a society that one is expected not to question. On the other hand – the insidious nature of its constructions shapes all areas of life and as such any adequate interrogation of the topic and the true nature of the lives of people of color requires the engagement of multiple levels (macro/micro, local/national/global) various disciplines (theology/biblical, history, politics, science, sociology, economic, etc.) and the incorporation of diverse perspectives, especially by those that have been relegated to the margins by those with power.
For the sake of time, my engagement will be limited to briefly covering one root (England and the US) of what has given rise to the racialized spaces we not inhabit, both in the US and the wider world.
England’s identity as a nation developed during the medieval period and centered on the unification of the kingdom. Instrumental in this process was the forging of an Anglo-Saxon heritage harkening back to Germanic tribes written about by the Roman historian Tacitus in 98 C.E.4 He describes them as ““a distinct unmixed race” with “fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge fames” … [who do not] laugh at vice, have “good [moral] habits and good laws.””5 According to Kelly Brown Douglass, the English “believed that these tribes were their Anglo-Saxon ancestors. … Fueled with this understanding of their ancestral lineage, the early English reformers were intent on restoring [the] English church and society to their free Anglo-Saxon past.”6 Like other European countries as the time, England’s identity also had ethnic implications – to be English was to be a certain people, a “godly”, moral, civilized, white race. Therefore, is no surprise that by the 18th century, British and English were interchangeable – with ethnic associations i.e. whiteness embedded within it. With the Anglo-Saxon heritage around whiteness at the core, every other ethnicity was deemed deficient.
For England the superiority of “her people”, had exerted profound effect upon the bodies of the Africans and other colonized peoples. The superiority of the “race” was to be maintained at all costs, it formed the bedrock of colonization, the foundation for the society, a tenet of Christianity, and the way of life for all people – the oppressed and the oppressor. Another dynamic that was at play in Europe was that each construction of “purity” was over against the lack of such by the other Europeans. Thus, embedded in each countries articulation of “nationality” was a presentation of themselves and their particular embodiment of “pure blood, virtue, ancestry, and faith”. As Douglass shows in Stand your Ground, America’s conceptualization of her Anglo-Saxon identity was framed in opposition to that of England and the manner in which England had betrayed its Anglo-Saxon roots.7 Thus while England was seen to have reneged on its heritage, America saw herself as the one who would embrace her chosen destiny as the true Anglo-Saxon descendants and have it shape all of life. Foundational in this construction was the myth of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism (to be Anglo-Saxon is to be gifted, to have morality and freedom in their blood – i.e. genetic matter) to which was added the ethnic assignment of whiteness as a cherished property (i.e. “whiteness as an esteemed attribute in Anglo-Saxon America and the mark of a superior people if not expectational people”8).
Additional justification for the subjugation of non-white people came from a particularized interpretation of the curse of Ham as well as various pseudo-scientific, philosophical approaches. According to Samuel Yeboah, “The doctrine of inherent black inferiority” which informed the ideology of racism, served several purposes. First, “It provided moral justification for the acts of bestiality,” and prevented any possible indignation that may come from the [European] context. Second, “It soothed any vestige of conscience that the slave traders and colonists might have possessed, by enabling them to reconcile their cultural values with their brutal activities.” Third, by undermining the self-esteem of the black [person], this doctrine sought to prevent any resistance from the enslaved and the colonized, while simultaneously trying to convince him[/her] of the superiority of the white man and his right to rule.9
We should note that for Britain the colonization framework provided by these racial discourses were also used to justify its expansion; for America, its Anglo-Saxon heritage became the foundation for its Manifest Destiny and “rationalization for America’s program of imperialistic expansion.”10
How does this play out? It is seen in the very systems, structures and laws – the subtle and the explicit – in the US and across the globe that work to oppress, terrorize, annihilate, silence, deem them worthless, and contain non-white peoples. In our metro-urban contexts it is seen in the construction blue privilege, mass incarceration, mass criminalization, substandard public housing and education, the cradle to prison or grave pipeline, food deserts and inadequate health services to name a few. All of these have their origins in and pivot on the law of the land.
Activity – uncovering what lies beneath
Return to the place in the city you have visited to pray. As you walk around take note of how the dynamics of ethnicity and race has given physical shape to this place. Who are the dominant groups in that area? What is the makeup of the lived space? What types of residence/commercial business exist or thrive there? Are there parks and schools? Describe the physical space and how you feel in it? Visit another place that is the opposite of the place you visited – what is the dominant group present there? Describe the place and how you feel in it? Find a library in both places and learn more about the history of these two places. What roles has racism/discrimination/exclusion played in that community? How does this reality of the city intersect with your life? What has been your experience of racism or white privilege? How do you now engage your “other” given what you have learned about how ethnicity and race shapes various aspects of life in the city?
Migration and pluralism
Human mobility or migration is a central element in the history of the world. From ancient to most recent history, people have moved from one place to another and sought to adapt to their new environment. Much could be said about the complex and multi-layered reasons that fostered these movements be it voluntary/involuntary, economic/self-actualization, push/pull, internal/international, permanent/temporary, etc. In contemporary times however, the discussions about these reasons especially within the public sphere have, at times, taken on a pernicious tone. Within “xenophobic” framings of the migration phenomena, the people who move are often classified as “criminals,” the “under developed” sending countries are labeled deficient or worse and thus unable to provide for its citizens, and the “resource rich” receiving countries are positioned as needing to protect their borders/culture/ “nationhood” from those who will exploit these resources by becoming increasingly “fortress like.” This particular “framing” of migration gives very little room to uncovering the policies (historical, economic, political, spiritual and socio-cultural, etc.) that continue to drive migration locally and globally or the “triple win”, i.e. the fundamental benefits, migration produces within cities and nation states (sending and receiving) and among the migrants themselves.
As I have argued in West Indians Pentecostals: Living their faith in New York and London, “the majority of studies conducted on Caribbean and West Indian migration have used an economic approach to explain why migration takes place.” Framed within a functionalist and historical- structural framework, Caribbean international migration is normally perceived to be a classic example of the equilibrium theory, i.e. the movement of labor from an area of surplus to a region of demand. As I stated, this uni-dimensional approach does not do justice to the complexity that accompanies the immigration phenomena.11 What I attribute to the study of migration in the Caribbean context, is also present in the examination of migration in other regions – Latin America, Africa, Asia, etc. Using the Caribbean as an example, I will offer a brief look into some of the issues that shape migration in the region, thus highlighting that the current migration from other regions is also as complex or even more so.
Caribbean migration history
The Caribbean region and the associated cultures, languages, societies and people are all products of external migration. As a result, it is fair to say that migration is an integral feature within the very DNA of Caribbean life. There were the ancestors of the native peoples who moved from Asia to America at the point where the Bering Strait now divides the two continents and later their descendants who moved slowly throughout the Caribbean islands as they “adapted to changing environmental conditions and developed distinctive lifestyles and languages.”12 With the inauguration of the colonial period marked by the coming of the Spaniards in 1492, migration to and within the region became diversified as Europeans, African slaves, Indians, Jews, Syrians, and Chinese peoples all “made” these islands their home.13
As Portes and Grosfoguel so aptly state, while the “language and religion of colonizers [were] different, the economic system they imposed throughout the region [was] the same.”14 This was primarily mono-agricultural and operated with a closed economic system.15 Within this scheme, the islands provided their European colonizers with the tropical products they required, and were the necessary outlets for their export goods.16 While this economic structure “made many Europeans wealthy, [it] devastated the island society social[ly] and economic[ally].”17 For “built within [it] was an unhealthy dependence upon the beneficent and favorable external markets for both economic growth and progress.”18 So whether the economic structure was built on sugar, diversified to include bauxite, oil, tourism etc., or involved the formation of organizations like the Caribbean Community (Caricom)19 – to try to lessen their economic isolation – the foundation of the dependence on external economic beneficence nurtured during the colonial period remained. These relationships however were “far from being wholly beneficial to the region, for they tend[ed] inevitably to give rise to uneven development patterns, to the detriment of many.”20
America’s regional hegemony
West Indian migration to the United States and specifically New York is not new. While “Jamaicans and other west Indians had been coming to New York in some numbers since the late 1880s,” the post 1965 migration saw the US replacing Europe as the dominant player in the region.21 America’s “new” interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine (mid-1880s onward) gave America international policing authority. Within the region it meant that “Caribbean itself was to become America’s closed sea, . . . [where] as assistant Secretary of State Loomis stated in 1904: ‘no picture of the future is complete which does not contemplate and comprehend the United States as the dominant power in the Caribbean Sea’.”22 America’s dominance was exerted on two primary fronts – politically through direct intervention in the island national states and economic through its huge foreign investment in various industries and “infrastructural projects.”23 Indelibly linked with America’s political and economic dominance was its cultural hegemony within the region. This “mean[t] that the images Caribbean people [saw] on a daily basis on their screens [were] not largely of their own societies but glamourized or sensationalized images of the métropole [the U.S.]. [As such], events in the métropole [were] therefore allowed to dominate the informal public agenda.”24
Agency and a culture of migration
There is no denying the significant role that economics and labor re-distribution play within the migration process. However, they are not the only influencers – the agency migrants exhibit is also critical. In actualizing their agency, potential migrants would access the factors influencing their lives and act according with what was deemed most beneficial for them and their families. The trajectories of their movements were diverse, encompassing intra-island, regional and international relocation.25 This in turn further developed a culture of migration. Constructed from experiences of past migration, these narratives–individual and collective-“served to link family members [and communities] across generational and national boundaries, while also facilitating the process whereby each ‘subsequent’ generation is ‘socialized in a way of life and livelihood conditioned by migration.’”26 Located within the migration process is also the perceived benefits it provides to the family – namely access to American consumer goods, attainment of status, – as well as the hard realities of being a transnational family.27
Activity – getting the know the stranger among you.
When immigrants come to the US, they bring their culture, religious beliefs and practices and values with them. As they settle in their “new’ context these features become significant parts of their identity negotiation/construction process across generations.
The engagement with the city as classroom around the issue of immigration/pluralism is two-fold. One, visit a detention center get to know an immigrant who is held there. What are the nuances/complexity the accompany their migration experience? How does this align or not align with the dominant themes/rhetoric presented in the media about immigration?
Second, visit two immigrant places of worship – one that is Christian and one that is of another religion. In conversations with someone in these worship services, find out what role their faith plays in their life? How does it assist or inhibit the immigrant in their settlement and identification processes? How do the youth bring faith to bear on the US contexts in which they live even as they are simultaneously been shaped in the cultures and values of their parents’ home country? What are areas of convergence and dissonance and how to these play out in their families.
Life in contested urbanized spaces
In numerous neighborhoods in cities across the United States blocks, stoops, sidewalk, parks, etc. have become contested spaces. Places where tourists, visitors, long-term and recent residents, organizations, and business, negotiate how and for what purposes these spaces exist. Undergirding this navigation process however is the question of belonging – to who does this neighborhood belong? Or in my local context it would be asking the question: Whose Harlem is it anyway? Using words like history, gentrification, displacement, eminent domain, redevelopment, restaurant row, and trendy hotspot, each group draws their battle lines to ‘protect’ or enlarge their territory.
Living in contested spaces requires the uncovering of how this contestation fits within the historical narrative with US of occupying space in which others live. It is the acknowledgement that many of our cities are the product of land “taken” from the native peoples and cultivated by bodies “taken” from their homeland. It is the cultivation of the ways in which one is either complicit in this process or seeking to be a changing agent.
How does one become a change agent?
First there has to be an awareness of oneself and one’s journey that has brought you to this contested space – i.e. the uncovering of the lens through which you see the land.
For me, my lens is a composite of my past, present and future hopes. I am a Jamaican immigrant, an American citizen, a female scholar and minister, wife to a second-generation Trinidadian man who self-describes as African American and mother to a black boy and girl, five and two years old respectively. Like many immigrants, I primarily saw the United States through the lens of opportunity, one in which hard work and education would yield the expected results of success and access. However, as my husband and I raise our children in contemporary America, we realize that while their immigrant background can provide them with a sense of heritage and identity ultimately it will not shield them from the racial realities they will encounter or the potential harm that could inflict upon their black bodies – physically, psychologically, emotionally, etc. My acceptance of these realities, and a desire for change serves as a backdrop for this lecture and my engagement in contested space.
Second, there is an uncovering of the history of the context of that space – the macro and the micro. How is this neighborhood situated in relation to others, the county or the region? For New York City, on a macro level it is a global city that exerts a tremendous influence on the rest of the world. Its position as a premier standard bearer both nationally and globally is on display in the fashion, advertising, and financial industries and celebrated in various songs, and movies. In the song – “Empire State of Mind” by Jay Z and Alicia Keys, New York is described as the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York, these streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you, hear it from New York.” But this inspiration can come at the huge cost to oneself – for the immigrants Jay Z sings “it’s a pity, half of y’all won’t make it.” For women, he remarks – “Good girls gone bad, the city’s filled with them.” So, while in this hip-hop anthem, with an urban syncopation that appeals to youth and the young at heart around the globe – New York IS portrayed as the ultimate, a place of endless possibilities where one can begin life anew; it can also inflict a life-crushing blow on the lives of many.
On the micro level, attention shifts to the characteristics and realities displayed on city blocks. Do they reveal signs of social neglect (local, state and federal), that is, systemic poverty and certain fundamental needs going unmet? How safe are the streets? Where do these blocks fall in the mix of changing neighborhoods, systemic socio-economic disenfranchisement, and segregated affluence? Evidence of what current Mayor Bill de Blasio called in his first mayoral campaign speech “a place that in too many ways has become a tale of two cities, a place where City Hall has too often catered to the interests of the elite rather than the needs of everyday New Yorkers.”28 What is the perception of that neighborhood with the larger city – is it a “ghetto” or “slum”, an upcoming desirable area, or a much sought after neighborhood? Each of which has an accompanying image that influence how we interact with the neighborhood, our neighbors and how we construct life in that space.
How then do we live in the changing neighborhoods of New York City or any city when there is the constant pressure to take sides? Do you stand in solidarity with the long-term residents and ponder what their place will be in this re-developed neighborhood? Will the voices of those who have weathered the storms of the “bad days” be heard now that “better days: have come? How much are they a part of the decision-making process about the present and future of the neighborhood? Or do you stand in solidarity with the recent arrivals – i.e. the new condo owners, and luxury renters, business, artisan shops and restaurants who see it as their right to own this place and whose presence declare the neighborhood to be safe enough to visit and the proverbial hotspot that everyone now wants a piece of?
Entering a contested space is to come to terms of America’s history around land and uncover on which side of the fault line will one sit. It is to learn the history of eminent domain and how it has been and is still used by the powers that be to destroy neighborhoods and concentrate poverty and social ills which is then used as evidence to criminalize a people, while benefiting the rich, connected and privileged. It is to grapple with how faith speaks to the streets and how one engages the policies that shape the blocks of those streets. It is to appreciate the sacredness of the murals, that mourn the loss of another life and to understand what led to that death. In these contested neighborhoods is the invitation to enter the “other America” the one that was left behind or marginalized and be present in that reality. It is to catch a glimpse of how God and good things were present in that neighborhood before you arrived.
Activity – Uncover, appreciate, wait, engage.
Uncover what is your story as it relates to this contested space. Are you a change agent or one who comes in the historical spirit of robbery?
Cultivating a posture/attitude that enables a new “resident” to appreciate the neighborhood they have come into requires an awareness of contexts. It is to get the know the history of the neighborhood. How has it been shaped and what were the factors behind it? What has been the impact of governmental policies and laws upon this neighborhood – has it resulted in blight and poverty or its “thriving”? Cultivating an appreciation for the neighborhood and the people who live there acknowledges that God and good things were present in that neighborhood before you got there.
After learning to appreciate, it is a time to wait – learning what it means to live life with one’s neighbors in this place. It is to enter into a process of mutuality – where each offer and receive the gift of knowing each other’s story.
Finally, it is to discern together how you are called to engage in this community in a manner that aligns with God’s ongoing work of transformation. It is not to take over and do for others what they can do for themselves. It is not to lead, because you may think you know what is wrong and have the answers. It is to give room, time, space for those who have lived there to speak and invite you into what can become new. It is together to engage the systems and structures that will seek to shut out many of the “old residents” from the agendas been put forward for the re-envisioning of the land.
For many clergy who serve in urbanized spaces, our theological education was based on a Euro-American foundation in which the relationship between the body and religion has been marked by ambivalence and/or a mind-body dualism. Beginning in Medieval Catholicism, the body, which is given a centrality of focus in various theological and eschatological concerns, encounters a huge challenge from the Protestant Reformation, whose emphasis on individual conscience and the primacy of justification by faith through a reinterpretation of Pauline Theology orients one towards the wellbeing of the soul.29 The outcome which continues to be seen throughout church history, is a delicate balance, where the body is “often denigrated and renounced as the source of sin, [while also functioning as] an essential aspect of doctrine and practice, serving also as a locus of potential redemption.”30
When the ambivalent approaches to the body are incorporated within the ideas of Descartes, the result is the modern mind-body dualism, in which the mind is separated from the body, granted transcendence, and control of the body, i.e. “rational processes are invoked to discipline and minimize the body.”31
Given the prominence of the mind within these philosophies, and their extensive influence on the study of religion, insufficient space has given to the exploration of the transformative role that the body plays in religious practice. Such an examination is warranted since “bodies are important; they matter to the persons who inhabit them, and religions speak to many of these body-oriented human concerns.”32 In fact, our bodies matter significantly because “we strongly identify … with our bodies [and] we experience things done to our bodies as done to ourselves.”33
Therefore, in considering the expressions and experiences of pastoral life in an urban context, the significance of the body must be central, for the way we relate to the city is connected with the sights, sounds, smells of particular blocks and neighborhoods. For the urban minister all of what I have discussed before – race and the systems, power and laws that keep things the ways they are or change them for the better, immigration and the complexity that surrounds it, contested spaces and how one navigates “stolen” property, and so much more – all converge in community they serve. How then does one work for God’s justice and transformation in spaces exhibits either the complex layers of oppression that are so insidious and pervasive, or the normalization and celebration of the benefits of complicity with a system build on the oppression of others or both?
In response to this question I offer three lessons I have learned from conducting ministry in urbanized spaces in the Metro-Urban New York area. All of these are framed with an awareness/care of our bodies.
First, one of the key things an urban minister can do is to practice the ministry of presence, vulnerability and humility to God’s people. It is also with our physical bodies that we engage in this holy work. However, this holy work is also slow and hard work. Companioning another in discerning God’s work in their life is difficult – regardless of where they fall on the oppression, complicit spectrum. In practicing the ministry of presence, the relationships one builds with God’s people cannot be forced, or coerced. It takes time and must be mutual – accompanying others and inviting those you serve to be companions with you.
However, the practice of presence, vulnerability and humility in service to God’s people has a dark side – in that you can become so available to people and the demands and responsibilities that accompany ministry that little by little you fail to give time to develop your spiritual life, nurture your body or care for one’s family. Awareness of the deceptiveness of this dark side however, does not inoculate one from the disease but helps one to be more aware of the symptoms and what they point to. When the dark side is coupled with American cultural assumptions regarding “productive” and “successful” then the work of ministry becomes and idol and we who engage it this work are tempted to develop a savior complex. For the urban pastor, this area can be one of ongoing struggle (there is always so many to be present to and so much to do), re-calibration and dying – that is, with the Spirit of God’s help and prompting, one must honestly assess your present condition, naming the idols (this may include that of using God’s people for your gratification) and choosing practices that will continue to cultivate God’s life in you and God’s people.
Second, this savior complex may also extend to a lack to attentiveness to maintaining boundaries – the traverse of which is also detrimental to oneself and one’s family. In practicing this discipline, ministry leaders offer an amazing gift to those whom they serve. After all, they too deal with the pressure to succumb to the culture’s definition of productivity and success. And they too struggle with maintaining proper boundaries. In maintaining a boundary, we declare the sacredness of our time, lives, family and ministry. Thus, part of our witness to the frazzled and stressed out world around us, is that in Christ we can have a rhythm that sustains us in all of our life – including our personal, familial, communal and work.
The third lesson I offer is a critical reflection on the ministry context and the way is continues to be shaped by Western/American culture. For urban ministers who minster in those spaces marked by oppressive systems and structures, part of their work is to engage structures and systems in the fight for justice. It is also to develop relationships with organizations in order to truly help those you serve navigate the structures that shape their daily realities. It is the ongoing development of messages of liberation that continues to call the dead in their midst to life anew in Christ. For the urban ministers in places of complicity, they too are to engage structures and systems in the fight for justice. It is to become a prophetic voice calling God’s people out of their complicity to lives marked by true justice and mercy.
The lessons I have offered, are embodied acts, that require the health of the urban minister to become a reality. As such, it is important for the urban minister to develop the practice of finding “breathing space” –knowing the presence God in the everyday. Where in your ministry context can you find “trees for your soul”? This can be a physical space, an activity, or a posture. Whatever it is, in order to do ministry that emits the fragrance of God’s Spirit, these “trees for your soul” is needful.
I will end with some very brief comments on two questions:
How does 21st century urban contexts shape the global church?
- According to a report by the UN, 68% of the world population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050.34 Therefore the future of the global church is urban. This make the task before us more significant. In urbanized spaces marked by complexity, our presentation of the gospel must be robust enough to speak to the lived realities of people. As urban ministers we must to make the city our classroom – a place of learning and critical engagement. As we work for justice, we do so with knowledge of our contexts and the systems, structures and laws help and or oppress people. This process needs to have two foci – local/national and global – for in an interconnected world, what happens out there, affects our reality right here.
- The global church is diverse. The old missionary paradigm of “from the west to the rest”, no longer holds. Today’s reality is mission of everywhere to everywhere. As immigrants migrate, they bring their faith – one of which is Christianity. The western church is no longer the “sole steward” of God’s work – that now belongs to the church in all places. How does the church in urbanized spaces in the US, and our Metro New York area embrace this reality – being open to receive the gifts God brings to us through those sisters and brothers who have come as strangers among us?
- Primacy of spiritual practices that sustain our Christian lives. According to Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass practices are “things Christian people do together over time to address fundamental human needs in response to and in light of God’s active presence for the life of the world.”35 Unlike techniques or instructions, Christian practices are our way of life. While I have spoken about the spiritual life of the urban minister, this is also critical for all members of the global church. As the world becomes more urban, the lives of people in the global church will increasingly be shaped by those realities. What is the way of life that will enable the Church in the 21st century to be the fragrance of Christ to those around them – I believe it is the development of practices that provide them with “trees for their soul” that allow then to be jars of clay filled with the treasure that is the presence of God.
What is the significance of partnering with other social agencies/institutions/not-for-profits organization in conducting ministry that speaks to the lived realities in contemporary global cities?
The complexity that accompanied the reality of lived in urbanized spaces make it clear that as a church the days of doing things on her own are over. The issues with which the members in the pew grapple are diverse, complex, multi-layered and require the input of many disciplines, many of which the leaders in the church do not have expertise. Therefore, in order to adequately serve both the members of the congregation and to seek the transformation of the surrounding community developing partnerships with other social agencies/institutions/not-for-profits- is essential.
The task of conducting ministry in urbanized spaces that produces the wholeness of people and society has always been a critical one. Evidenced by the work of the prophets in the Holy Christian Scriptures in calling the people of Israel back to the Torah and what it meant to care for the other – widow, poor, orphan, etc.
In our 21st century contexts, the task is very similar and at once complex. In this lecture I have highlight some of the distinctive pedogical issues to consider in teaching/preparing/shaping leaders who make the restoration of wholeness i.e. God’s work of transformation in people, places and the world, their primary focus in ministry.
1 Four ways of knowing—experiential, presentational, propositional, and practical. Experiential knowing “is evident when we meet and feel the presence of some energy, entity, person, place, process, or thing. Presentational knowing is evident in our intuitive grasp of the significance of imaginal patterns as expressed in graphic, plastic, moving, musical, and verbal art forms. Propositional knowing is expressed in intellectual statements, both verbal and numeric, organized in ways that do not infringe the rules of logic and evidence. Practical knowing is evident in knowing how to exercise a skill. Lyle Yorks and Elizabeth Kasl, “Toward a theory of practice for whole-person learning: Reconceptualizing experience and the role of affect” Adult Education Quaterly, Vol. 52, No. 3 (May 2002):182
2 “The Bull Inter Caetera (Alexander VI.). May 4, 1493,” in European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, ed. Frances Gardiner Davenport (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1917), 77
3 Lucy Michael, “Anti-Black Racism: Afrophobia, Exclusion and Global Racisms” in Amanda Haynes, Jennifer Schweppe and Seamus Taylor, Critical Perspectives on Hate Crimes: Contributions from the island of Ireland, (London: Pulgrave McMillan: 2017) 275.
4 See Kelly Brown Douglass, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the justice of God (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2015) chapter 1 for an in-depth discussion.
5 Ibid., p. 5
6 Ibid., 7
7 Douglass, 10
8 Ibid., 40
9 Samuel Yeboah, The Ideology of Racism (London: Hanslib Publishing Limited, 1988), 44–5
10 Douglass 96-07.
11 Janice McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostals: Living their faith in New York and London (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016) 45-60; Elizabeth M. Thomas-Hope, Explanation in Caribbean Migration (London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1992)
12 Philip Sherlock, and Hazel Bennett, The Story of the Jamaican People (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1998) 42
13 While I will not elucidate this topic in this chapter, it is imperative to highlight that for the slaves and the Chinese and Indians who arrived under the indentured servitude schemes in particular, attention needs to be given to interrogating their agency in actually making these islands their home.
14 Alejandro Portes and Ramón Grosfoguel, “Migration and Ethnic Communities” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 533, Trends in U. S.-Caribbean Relations (May, 1994), 50
15 Within the British colony the mono-agricultural crop upon which the economy was oriented was sugar.
16 Selwyn H. H. Carrington, The Sugar Industry and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1775-1810 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2002), 13.
17 Portes and Grosfoguel, 50
18 McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostals, 50
19 Caricom is a grouping of twenty Caribbean nations to promote economic integration, foreign policy coordination, human and social development and security.
20 Watts, The West Indies, 523
21 Portes and Grosfoguel, “Migration and Ethnic Communities,” 55
22 Eric Williams “American Capitalism and Caribbean Economy,” in Caribbean Freedom: Economy and Society from Emancipation to Present, ed. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd (Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers Limited, 1993), 342
23 Ransford W. Palmer, Pilgrims from the Sun: West Indian Migration to America (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995). America’s economic dominance was further solidified in two specific ways: “through the implementation of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI); and the adjustment measures imposed on several islands by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the US agency for International Development (USAID).” These measures served to continue to region’s enduring dependence on an external nation for its economic vitality and growth. See McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostals, 54
24 Shaheed Mohammed, “Migration And The Family In The Caribbean,” Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 3/4, (SEPT/DEC. 1998), 112
25 Following emancipation, regional migration was normally temporary and predominantly male in its demographic. See: McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostals, 51-52. For information about female regional migration see: Paula L. Aymer, Uprooted Women: Migrant domestics in the Caribbean (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1997)
26 McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostals, 57; Thomas-Hope, “Caribbean migration,” 194; Monica Boyd, “Family and Personal Networks in International Migration: Recent Developments and New Agendas,” International Migration Review 23, no. 3 (1989), 642–3,
27 For a discussion on remittances, “barrel children” and the influences of these narratives upon families and communities see: McLean-Farrell, West Indian Pentecostals, 57-8, 74-6.
28 Hunter Walker “Bill de Blasio Tells ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ at His Mayoral Campaign Kickoff.’ The Observer 27 January 2013. http://observer.com/2013/01/bill-de-blasio-tells-a-tale-of-two-cities-at-his-mayoral-campaign-kickoff/
29 Manuel Vasquez, More Than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) 31.
30 Ibid., 36
31 Philip Mellor and Chris Shilling, Re-Forming the Body: Religion, Community and Modernity (London: Sage, 1997)
32 Meredith B. McGuire, “Religion and the Body: Rematerializing the Human Body in the Social Sciences of Religion” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 29, (1990): 284
34 https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html accessed February 20, 2019.
35 Craig Dykstra and Dorothy Bass “Theological Understanding of Christian Practices” 18