Monthly Archives: October 2010

Listening to the Homeless in Monroe Park : Their Thoughts on the Park Closing

Monroe Park is the oldest park in the city of Richmond.  It is centrally located and utilized by VCU students, downtown residents and has become a hub for the homeless population of our city.  There are plans to renovate the park which would require it’s closing for up to two years.  The plans for the park’s future are impressive with a new playground, outdoor theater , more functional grounds , restoration of the fountain, improved restroom facilities and maintenance of aging infrastructure under the park.  The plans are exciting and will certainly improve the attractiveness of the park and our city.

The issue is not whether or not the park needs a face lift, the issue is what will happen to the hundreds of indigent and impoverished individuals who congregate at the park and the Christians who connect to the homeless by providing services in the park?

I decided the best way to understand this issue was to visit with the folks who were in the park today.  We met many homeless friends, some who were unsheltered, some sheltered, some formerly homeless and some newly homeless.  Some came to get food and clothing, others for the fellowship.  Some played chess, others gathered for conversations on benches, while others napped in the grass or beneath the massive trees.

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Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

Border Crossers verses Volunteers

The best post I read this week was titled “Disciples, Not Volunteers” by Jamie Arpin-Ricci.  Below is a brief excerpt.  I encourage you to check out the full post at A Living Alternative as well as the wonderfully insightful comments.

“As I’ve dug deeper, I began to see a common thread: we all too often view our involvement in missional church community through the lens of volunteerism.  In other words, we love the vision and reality of ministry and want to be involved, as long as it fits.  We have discipled entire generations of Christians to see missional engagement as a voluntary opportunity they can add to their lives when it works or isn’t too demanding. This isn’t to say that many people don’t live sacrificially, but rather that the general trend reflects an attitude of optionality.”

What do you think of Jamie’s observation?  Have we discipled people to see missional engagement as a volunteer opportunity?

To help us answer that question, we need to better understand what the words “missional engagement” mean.  I watched a great video titled “Missional – Does the word still have value.” The video is a conversation between David Fitch and Gary Nelson shared by Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.

Both Fitch and Nelson agree that the word “missional” has become so watered down and is used to mean so many different things that the word has lost meaning. I think Nelson hits on the core issue; the issue of identity.  Nelson adds clarity to the term when he states that mission takes place in “The Borderlands.”  Nelson goes on to say,

“I enter into mission when I cross over from my world to another world where people of faith, no faith, and other faiths interact.  As a borderland person, my identity is changed, I become something different, a different kind of believer…It’s a true missional dialog when we cross borders, it’s just a program when we do not have to cross borders or when we can keep our identity in tact and are not changed by the experience.  If I am not challenged by the tensions that exist in the borderland than I am not a borderland person.”   (Not sure I got this word for word but I think I captured the heart of the conversation.)

I would summarize Nelson’s definition of missional engagement as, “engagement that requires the crossing of borders in which the one doing the crossing is transformed by the experience.”

What do you think of Nelson’s insights into the word “missional?”

When we serve missionally,are we asked to do so as disciples or as volunteers?  What do you see as the difference?  How does the call to engage missionally differ from the call to volunteer?


Filed under missional church, Theology, Urban Ministry

Singing and Dancing in the midst of Murder and Mayhem

One of the most popular posts I have ever written is “Has the Light Gone Out?”  In this post, you will find my answer.

Thursday’s at Embrace Richmond are like riding an emotional roller coaster because it is our outreach day in both Hillside and Fairfield courts.  Janie Walker leads us in our morning devotions and prepares us for the adventure that lies before us but nothing can fully prepare you for the messy work of this kind of ministry.

We arrived in Fairfield Court, expecting to fellowship with the community, but the community did not show up.  Only three residents were there at our start time. My heart sank. One of our newest AmeriCorps members decided that if the community did not come to us, she would go to them.  She began knocking doors and inviting people to join us.  I joined her and we headed to see an old friend whom we have not seen in a while.  Mrs. Debra and her son were home and were thrilled we remembered them and invited them to join the luncheon.

This fellowship was a celebration of gifts.   Stephanie shared her musical talents and beautiful voice with us as Yolanda danced.  Chinary and Trudy teamed up for a wonderful Hip Hop song and dance. Janie told us jokes.  Charles, Cynthia and I performed a heartfelt rendition of “This little light of mine.”  There was great joy and celebration as more of the community joined in.

However, my joy turned to grief when Debra shared that the night before there was a shoot out one street over from her apartment.  Two men shot, one killed.  We had entered into a community in mourning, not realizing the tragedy of the night before.  I left Faifield with a mixture of emotions.  I was glad we could bring a ray of sunshine into the community on a dark day but sad many of our community friends were not present to fellowship with us while deeply grieved by the senseless loss of another life in the streets of Fairfield Court.

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Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

Panhandlers: To give or not to give?

A friend of mine who had lived many years on the streets prior to entering the shelter once asked me “What is the definition of insanity?”  I was not sure what she was getting at, so she enlightened me saying, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  She then went on to explain that she would sit on the same corner begging for money day after day, eat at the local soup kitchen, and then take the money and buy drugs and get high night after night; all the while praying for release from her addiction.  She was enslaved to heroin and day after day, well meaning travelers paid to keep her in bondage.

I am not suggesting that every panhandler is an addict nor is every panhandler homeless.  Some are truly in need, some mentally ill, and others simply making a living the only way they know how.  It is impossible to know someone’s full story while flying past them at 35 miles an hour.  However, I refuse to allow my ignorance of the truth become an instrument of destruction in someone’s life.  For this reason, I am against giving money to panhandlers when there is no personal relationship.

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Filed under missional church, Stories from the Street, Unity Works Reading, Urban Ministry

The Start of Some Beautiful New Friendships

Through the last several posts, I have been sharing insights from “Friendship at the Margins” by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl.  One distinction made in the book that I found helpful was that of cause verses community.  Most efforts to address the needs of those trapped in poverty are cause focused; hunger, homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, etc.  However friendship based ministry requires a community focus and the realization that in an impoverished community you are likely to address all of the issues or causes named above.   Community focused ministries by their very nature are generalized around the many needs of a specific group of people verses specializing in one specific cause.  In a world of specializations it is often difficult to be a generalist. The key to being a good community focused ministry is learning to connect to the specialist.  The best connections are made in the context of friendships.  This week several new friendships began.

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Filed under missional church, Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

Contemplating the Contemplative Path: Learning to Clap in Amazement

This weekend I attended a retreat on “Attentiveness” at Richmond Hill that was conducted by my friend Joy Heaton, who is working on her Doctorate in Ministry with a focus in spirituality.  During the retreat we looked at the poetry of Mary Oliver as a lens through which we could connect with the created world, and through the created world connect with the creator.  Mary Oliver claims her only call in life is to be amazed by the world, particularly nature.

My friend Joy put it this way, when we stop and notice the beauty of a flower or a butterfly or a tree, in a way we are stopping to clap for God.  This is a beautiful picture of worship.  As a part of the retreat we were given two hours to sit in the garden and clap.  Our assignment was simply to pray and ask God to get our attention and then to deeply focus on one thing and to notice whatever it was that God would have us notice.  In other words, we were to be open to being amazed.

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Filed under missional church, Theology

Are You A Contemplative Activist?

I want to thank everyone who responded to my post, “Why Don’t More Christians Respond to the Needs of Those on the Margins?” I think we would all agree that a desire to respond to the needs of others grows out of some kind of relationship.   I would like to delve a little deeper into the responses so far and see where it might lead us.

My co-worker Qasarah helped me gain the greatest insight into this question this week.  She asked, “What is in it for me?”  Whether we admit it or not, we all ask this question when presented with new opportunities.  We are all driven by inner motivations, some conscious and some not.  As Qasarah and I probed deeper into her question, we came to the conclusion that only those who are motivated by a desire for personal or spiritual growth enter into these types of relationships and are able to sustain these relationships for the long haul.  Any other motives, such as a desire to “make a difference”, “win people to Christ”, “obey God”, “feel good about one’s self” all break down rather quickly in the face of the hard realities of true authentic friendship.  However, it is those who enter into relationships with a desire to learn from their new friends who are able to navigate through the tough times.

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Filed under missional church, Unity Works Reading