After tonight’s first session of the Urban Forum, I talked with Roy Horton of North Toronto.

Roy is responsible for his corps’ community services, of which a major part is a daily hot meal offered to whoever walks in the door.  It’s a program like so many of our Salvation Army programs that serve people who are in need, something we are not too bad at.  But tonight’s message from Bob Lupton challenged Roy, who mused that it might be a real stretch for us in the Army to move toward community development from our primarily service based approach.

Bob Lupton is a guest speaker for the first couple days here in Toronto.  Bob will be familiar to many of you as a decades- long practitioner of Christian community development in Atlanta.  Especially housing, affordable housing, or as he told us tonight, workforce housing.  Bob says that it sounds nicer.

Bob also said that the Christian helping community is now at a “T”, an intersection where we can decide to go in one of two directions.  To the left is the current approach we largely practice.  We serve the needs of the poor, and that means wherever they are being pushed around these days in North America.  In many of our American cities the poor are being pushed out by economic forces as the ‘gentry’ is rediscovering the beauties of urban life.  As the more affluent want it, economic forces will ensure they get it at a much higher price than the poor can afford.   Especially housing.  Those of us who serve, and Bob rightly identifies the Salvation Army as perhaps the one entity doing the most good with the poor, then follow the poor wherever they may end up.  In many of our places we are discovering it is the suburbs.

Lupton is suggesting to the Salvation Army, turn right at that intersection.   Help the cities to continue to be home to the poor alongside the rich.  Bob shared the story of how that became a reality in his involvement with developing workforce housing alongside housing for the affluent in Atlanta.  Service is important, it is an exercise of mercy.  But community development is an exercise of justice.  That the city be home to the less affluent right alongside the affluent.

Mercy and justice.  Left and right.  Service and community development.  Roy picked up on the tension that’s being created this week here in Toronto at the Urban Forum.

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