Development happens. Sometimes it is for the good. Much of the time it is the same old injustice in new clothes. Regardless, the church needs to develop along with it.
All weekend I talked about development — and I am not just talking about the in-town retreat the Leadership Team held with the discerning group to map out 2011 for Circle of Hope! No, I live in the Philadelphia region and we talk about development all the time: what’s happening in the casino district in Fishtown — the amazing speculation going on from Washington to Wharton in Point Breeze — the big ideas happening in southwest Germantown exemplified by the Kroc Center and the eviction notices given to the people in the tower at Queen Lane — the changes on 52nd St. with the influx of new home owners pushing out from University City. What’s more: south of Temple is not what it used to be! — the Riverfront Prison site in Camden might get used well! — the South St. bridge reopened! It is exciting.
I was talking to a new friend in the Kimball St. Garden this weekend who said visiting St. Peter’s in Rome was the straw that broke the camel’s back of his faith. He gave it up when he saw that piece of church “development.” I understood. When I was there a few years ago I asked God for an earthquake to take care of what must be the worst piece of advertising for Jesus in history. God becomes a baby to meet us person to person and the church advertises him with an overwhelming building designed to make you feel small and powerless in the presence of God (and the pope)!
In most of Philly’s neighborhoods there are further shrines to the church’s pride and power housing congregations who are trying to figure out how to stay afloat and become useful in their developing neighborhoods. I told the man I was getting to know that he could come see us in our room over a check-cashing store if he ever felt like experiencing an alternative. He said he might show up. But I am not too heartened that Circle of Hope’s big contribution might be to provide a corrective for something done in 1626! We have our own development to consider!
This weekend we were considering our development in our developing region, and it wasn’t that easy. The pastors put out some ideas that seemed to come from the best parts of our discernment process including slight changes to our basic identity statements. We needed a lot of dialogue! Change is not easy! There were two ideas aired, in particular, that must feel like tearing down the Queen Lane public housing tower feels for some people. They want it gone, but they aren’t sure it doesn’t mean something important is going to be lost.
Being a developer
I guess I am like a “developer,” God help me. I don’t need change for change’s sake, but I think things can improve. When it comes to developing Circle of Hope, for instance, I think we should admit that we are diverse in race, class, background and location and stop talking about ourselves as if we are trying to become that. We became that. We can always become more, but we became that. Now let’s keep the heart of who we are and move on to what is next. Personally, I am not going to give up on any aspect of the work of reconciliation until I die. I want to keep overcoming the racist divides of our country (as were easily seen in the last election when Obama got his white backlash, even if no one will admit that), and I will keep being a proactive peacemaker (the need for such was also evident after the election when not one candidate on election eve mentioned the war in Afghanistan as a big deal to them). I think reconciliation is basic Christianity and I am not aspiring to it, I am it. I think we worked reconciliation into our DNA; we have it in our proverbs and mission teams. Let’s not talk about doing it as if it is still in question. Lets be it.
For another less tangible thing, I think we, as Circle of Hope, should admit that we met all our goals for development as an institution and now we should act like we are developed. We are four congregations, nearly 50 cells, four pastors, lead by 20-person leadership team, served by three staff people. We have two profitable thrift stores and a counseling center. We have compassion teams that many people consider radical. We need to get our minds around that and imagine what is next as that new entity. Let’s express ourselves as who we are now and stop dragging ourselves back into some nostalgic small thing. For anyone who just tuned in, we are just about what we were dreaming about becoming when we were a small thing. Let’s have the dreams of what a Circle of Hope that exists now would dream! This requires some maturity, of course. It is easier to just keep doing whatever was happening before. The people getting pushed out of North Philly into the lower Northeast and out of West Philly and South Philly into Southwest are just moving with the flow. They don’t create much flow. A lot of churches in town (like some churches on the street with BW) seem to be holding on as long as they can to what used to be great as the world changes around them. We were not created for that.
I am not up for not developing. Jesus is the source of a renewed imagination. Jesus continually renews our strength so we can face what is, now. I think he finds it exciting to work for redemption in the latest thing that has developed with the latest church he has developed. Let’s keep up.