This week, I’ve been thinking about one particular aspect of urban ministry that is frustrating and challenging, but also offers interesting opportunities. Among the issues raised in the discussion over the St. Francis house development (previous blog posts here and here) are increased noise, traffic, congestion, parking difficulties and vandalism. None of these is unique to the block on which the proposed development will be built. Urban churches deal with them every day and few are as affected by them as Grace Church. Three of the last four Sundays have seen parking restrictions and re-routed traffic on the streets around the church. We have had noise (and smells) from the Taste of Madison on September 4, and on September 11, in addition to the nightmare of the Ironman Triathlon, there were 9-11 services at the Capitol during our 8:00 service.
Still, the opportunities outweigh the challenges. In spite of the fact that people had incredible difficulty arriving for our 5:00 interfaith service on 9-11, there were around 150 people in attendance. All of that foot traffic around the square for Taste of Madison or the Triathlon is free publicity for our church and an opportunity to tell our story (at no monetary expense) to passers-by. Our courtyard garden is an important part of our mission, ministry, and outreach. I received a letter this week from a neighbor who praised its beauty and the hard work of our volunteer gardeners.
I was intrigued by an essay by Richard Krawiec that explores the community created in urban settings. He argues that our random or regular encounters with people in the city create a certain kind of community:
In the city, community is created when the clerk who knows your face lets you take the sandwich, trusting you’ll be back tomorrow to pay. When the guy at the newspaper kiosk remembers your interest in the Red Sox and sums up last night’s game for you as he hands you the Boston Globe. When the owner of the small café invites you in after he has closed and personally cooks you something to eat.
It is a set of interactions, human behaviours that have meaning and expectations between its members. Not just action, but actions based on shared expectations, values, beliefs and meanings between individuals. Interdependent.
He contrasts that sort of community and those random encounters with suburbia. It is something I’ve noticed as well. We know our neighbors better in the year we’ve lived in our Madison home than we got to know in 5 years in a Greenville County subdivision. The complete essay is here: The Bearable Closeness of Being: Why Cities Create Community
There is a challenge that faces us, however. It is that many of our neighbors are students, who grew up in suburbia and may not realize that they are living in a community that includes people other than other students, and that living in such a community brings with it shared responsibility and some shared values. Each class needs to be educated about that, both by the university and by the larger community.