Archives for category: St Louis

Yesterday morning several Salvation Army leaders gathered in the first floor front room of 2753 Arsenal.  For Gail and me, that’s a two minute walk from our home.  For others it meant a few hours of driving from Peoria, Chicago, Kansas City.

Urbana Temple Houses

This is vintage (2009).  The first promo material put together by Steve Diaz and John Aho.  Temple Houses have grown and developed but it all started with this.

We came together to share about the experience of life together in the missional community we call Temple Houses.  TH is one part of the Urban Mission Center based in St Louis.  The Center prepares missional leaders for the Urban Millennium.  This takes place in opportunities for formation here in our St Louis Benton Park West neighborhood.  Gail and Sara are also part of a team developing the distance-learning component for Olivet Nazarene University‘s urban ministry program.

Yesterday inaugurated the Center’s first innovators forum.  We expected five or six individuals.  17 came together for six hours of presentation and discussion.

With coffee and John’s Donuts Sara started with a virtual tour of Benton Park West neighborhood. She used the six postures for missional living, a model Jon Huckins has taught us and found in his book Thin Places.  Then, questions about the nuts and bolts of creating and sustaining our particular Temple House community.  Sara did a fine job of leading us through the day, and feeding us; she makes a great chili.

Gail and I walked home and talked.  What next?  We agreed that it will be seen in Peoria, Chicago, Kansas City and other cities as God’s people find innovative ways to join His mission in this amazing Urban Millennium.

So, what is the Urban Millennium?

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It is a 100 degree day on our street.  I say to Gail ‘let’s walk to El Bronco‘.  We go.

We walk down Iowa.  A mother and her young daughter coming out of their home smile and greet us.  We return the greetings.  We each know not the other’s name.  But we know we are neighbors.  Neighbors walk in their neighborhoods.

Across the street three young men yell greetings to us.  We smile and I give thumbs up.

At Cherokee we turn west.  Cumulonimbus overhead arriving from the west.  Are we going to get wet walking home?

Our usual.  A chimichanga for her.  For me the two taco lunch special which you can order anytime.  Not fancy, but simple goodness.  The place quieter than usual.  Heat has people down.   Not us.  We have to eat.

Tonight Gail tells me that she wishes she knew the names of El Bronco staff.  Our waitress.

When she comes to collect our bill I ask ‘what is your name?’  She always has a warm smile for us.  But now her smile turns beatific, more intensely warm.  As if ‘I’ve been waiting for you to find out’.  As if we just gave her a gift.  Her name is Maylee.  I introduce us.  ‘Phil and Gail’.  That smile is with her as she leaves our table.

During my first taco (steak, onions and cilantro wrapped in two warm corn tortillas drizzled with lime) I happen to look up and notice that Pastor Dave is with the group of men that had entered a few minutes earlier.  We catch each others attention, wordlessly exchange waves.  After paying our bill we go over and Dave introduces his three guests.  The men are visiting from Springfield MO, Denver, and Kansas City. We chat a little.  They ask about our Salvation Army work.  Pastor Dave asks what Salvation Army people think about Sara Johnson’s Democratic Party committeewoman campaign (enthusiastic).  He also asks about our son, John.  John introduced us to Pastor Dave a couple years ago.  John knows everyone in Benton Park West and everyone knows John.

We leave El Bronco.  The sky has grown darker with clouds.  We start up California.  Thunder.

I say to Gail ‘show me the grapes’.  She told me about them a few days ago, grapes that finally have appeared on a vine John put up a few years ago behind the Salvation Army Temple Corps.  Rain sprinkles, but I want to see the grapes.

We turn east on Juniata and jog to the left down an alley to a trellis.

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Will they survive?  When some unknown passerby notices that they are starting to look good …

Across the street Miss Gigi sitting outside at Booth Manor, keeping cool, notices us.  We cross the street to talk.  We all agree.  The grapes look promising.  For now Miss Gigi is keeping an eye on them.  She will put up a little fence with a sign.  She tells us that should be enough to help people respect the grapes.  We believe her.  Miss Gigi has authority.

The rain starts to fall.   Miss Gigi sends us off.  We pick up the pace.  The wind has too, the air cooling.  But before going inside I need to inspect Gail’s flowers.  She noticed today that the black-eyed Susans she and Sara planted a few weeks ago are doing well.

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Inside, before the heavy rain begins, ends, leaving a quiet St Louis sky.

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I tell people that this is the first time in a long time that I have lived in and felt like part of a neighborhood.  The experience of walking to a restaurant.  Of meeting and visiting with people I know.  It makes me feel rich in the Holy Currency of relationship.

I like being a neighbor.

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Here on Arsenal Street I am observing our Temple House candle and prayer hour.

Each Wednesday our Temple House community lights a candle in a window at 8 PM.  For an hour we take time to pray for peace in our St Louis neighborhood.

This week I pray with the memory of 4 evenly spaced gunshots two nights ago.  The day before, Miss Gigi shook her head at our Sunday evening meal when we talked about how warmer weather means more shooting.  She pointed to the alley behind us.  They shoot back there.  Yup.

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Last week I took this photo walking home from Sara’s place.  We had finished our Tuesday meal together hosted in her home.  Over plates of enchiladas Stephen, Jessica and I had discussed how individuals who are people of color (Stephen and me) become the spokesperson for all those who look like us.  At least in the eyes of people who are not of our color.  I don’t mean just white people.  All of us tend to this simple-mindedness.  Our conversation made us more aware of our tendency.  More aware of what to overcome.  Then it was time for banana bread and fresh strawberries with whipped cream.

The weather has been great here in St Louis.  I’ll soon begin my fourth summer here and after years of Chicago summers can’t say that it’s any stickier, hotter here.  The sky over St Louis can be dramatic with cumulonimbus clouds and storm fronts that rush through.

Drama.  Living in a neighborhood with gunshots a regular feature causes a person to take the shooting a little less seriously.  A few months ago during an early Sunday morning run I heard gunshots, listened carefully, gauged them to be from one direction several blocks away, and corrected my running course in another direction.  Simple.

A little less serious.  Cavalier?  That, among other reasons, is why on Wednesday evenings we light a candle and pray.

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Sunday evening in Temple Gardens for a grand cookout and potluck.  Behind us to the right is the alley about which Miss Gigi just shakes her head.

Last night we met on the back porch.  Jessica had warm chocolate chip cookies and a home-made pizza.  We talked, again, about the same thing we had discussed last week at Darren and Char’s place.  What to do about the shooting in our neighborhood.

Last week someone was shot to death in front of Darren and Char’s building.  It’s the first shooting death this year in our neighborhood.  But many gunshots have come before that one bullet.  At times we hear them as we lie in bed on an otherwise quiet night.  Or we happen to glimpse out the window just as someone falls, writhing in pain.

What do we do?

Last week we agreed.  Prayer.  And a candle in the window.  Last night, more logistics.  Today, Gail posted to Temple House Dwellers Facebook:

“Last night we decided to light a candle every Wednesday from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM and pray for an end to violence in our neighborhood. We hear gun shots but acknowledge that there are other acts of violence as well. We want our neighborhood to be a welcoming place where hospitality is practiced. Shooting at each other is not welcoming or hospitable…(yes, I often state the obvious, can’t help myself). We know that there is more to do on this but we are going to start with the lighting of candles and ask God to help us hear and see what the next step will be. We still have not come up with a ‘slogan’ but feel it will come.”

One more thing we agreed will help us to pray for our neighborhood.

When we lie in bed on a quiet night or are out walking and hear ringing in the distance on the hour the church bell of St Francis de Sales Oratory we will pray.

So, here we go.

St Francis in the distance

Gary Busiek sent me a link to this St Louis Post-Dispatch story on the work called NightLIFE which the Reverend Kenneth McKoy leads in North St Louis.  Reverend McKoy is the pastor at Progressive AME Zion Church in St Louis’ Hamilton Heights neighborhood.

Reverend McKoy leads a small group that walks neighborhood streets for three hours each Saturday night.  Their focus is on young people, the young people at risk for violence.  NightLIFE shares sandwiches and prayer.  The point?  “They’re building relationships. Spreading hope. Spreading the message that they love the city’s young people more than they fear them.”

An excellent story.  And Reverend McKoy expressed what is at the center of what and why he does this.

“Hey, man, every time we pray for someone, God blesses them. That’s why we’re out here for you all. If you all don’t make it, we’re not going to make it.”

Texas looking east on Pestalozzi

Last night we headed west on Arsenal Street to Linda’s place.  Sweatshirt.  Light sweater.  December with no coats.

Has the weather this month where you live been warm, remarkably warmer than usual?  It’s been so in St Louis.  Yesterday may have set a record high with temps in the low 70s.  Our December weather is acting as backdrop for the global climate summit just ending in Paris.

We have now lived 14 weeks in Benton Park West.  Am I noticing what is going on in my neighborhood?

My morning run.  I run south through several of our neighborhoods.  Benton Park West.  Mount Pleasant.  Gravois Park.  Dutchtown.  Quiet places in the morning.  No crazy stuff other than a rare stray dog who wants to get too close to me.  I see neighborhoods rubbing their eyes as they put children out to wait for school buses.  Men and women returning from night shifts.

I also am beginning to notice changes.  New work beginning on the old yet beautiful St Louis brick houses on every block.  Mansions and humble working class homes built in the 19th century.  I note the portico temporarily propped on Nebraska Street now displaying proper columns.  One of my favorite places at a southwest corner on Ohio that has had backyard cleanup going on for weeks, now there are lights inside.  Is someone planning to fix up and live in it?

All along the streets of my running route I see the same places, and change.

This change, sometimes seen incrementally, other times dramatic (like another house on Nebraska wiped off its lot by demolition), I am learning to see it.

It is part of a larger rhythm, the rhythm of a city.

Here’s the entrance to that Ohio house –

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first morning on ArsenalJust a quick note this Saturday morning.

It’s now come to pass:  Gail and I are on Arsenal Street in St Louis’ Benton Park West.  With help from John and Betsy we moved a mattress and some personal belongings after work and were able to spend our first night here.

After moving I mentioned to Betsy that this would be the first time I’ve lived this close to a Salvation Army corps building.  From in front of our home I simply look to the west and can see St Louis Temple Corps.  I can see into the lobby.

This week Gail and I have moved some of our stuff each night.  We’ve also met and talked with neighbors on this block.  Marlo to the east.  The two men across the street who regularly sit talking at the pickup truck.

Today, more moving.  But we are here.

We pulled up into the Temple Corps parking lot at 3:07 PM today.  We crossed the street.  Sara greeted us at the gate and we walked along the side of the house, past Temple Gardens, opened the wooden gate.  We had arrived for Temple Houses’ Memorial Day BBQ.

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Darren had wheeled the new Weber from his place on Texas Street. Chicken legs and his own Buffalo wings recipe.  Hot dogs.  We all pitched in with salads, fresh fruit, spoonbread.  Plenty to eat.

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Alex and Alyson from Royal Oak MI were visiting this weekend, checking out Temple Houses.  John Stewart was back in town from Colorado to attend a conference; it was good to see him again.  And just about all of the regular TH community were able to come share table fellowship under the shade of the apple tree which has been miraculously restored to health.

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Gail wanted to show Kirsten the house we will soon move into. I needed to come along to open the key lock box.  We walked east a block to 2708 Arsenal.  It’s still under construction but now the shape of the apartment is clear.  Soon we will live on Arsenal Street.

Back under the apple tree it felt good.  Warm weather zephyrs.  Sitting with these young adults who we feel are beginning to form genuine community.  It’s not an immediate, sure thing.  Community cannot be commanded.  But we are beginning to experience it, to sense the connections and relationships, and even some understanding of life together in service to the world God so loves.  The label we choose to use is missional community.  Labels can’t be avoided.  We’ve avoided ‘incarnational ministry’.  We prefer community in mission, life together in service.

I began to feel drowsy.  I ate too much today.  Sitting together, sharing food.  We were pretty content.  Be content with what you have.  That was my earliest remembrance of a scripture recitation.   A Nathan’s hot dog.  Watermelon.  A dab of potato salad.  Together.

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Sunday morning in St Louis we rolled up to this sign.  It’s at the exit from eastbound I-64/US40 at Kingshighway.  It’s a place that often has a man or woman collecting.  This morning no one there.  Just a sign.

October 5 2014 (7)The light turned and we headed north to Euclid Corps, a Salvation Army neighborhood center in north St Louis.   We enjoyed our morning worship with the corps.

October 5 2014 (9)October 5 2014 (3)October 5 2014 (4)Sunday evening we were in south St Louis with the Temple House community.  Sara is leading us now in Don Miller’s Storyline.  In a few weeks I will lead a study of the Gospel of Luke.  Any day now a copy of Joel Green’s great little book on the theology of Luke should arrive.  It will be among material to guide us in seeing the gospel’s place for marginalized persons through Luke’s lens.  Our cities need Christians who also see those who are marginalized, on the fringes.  I hope our study helps us become more seeing in this way.

photo 3 (2)Cheryl, John S. and Elysia.

We also said our goodbyes to John S. who left St Louis this morning, returning to Colorado to be with his family.  For a time.  John’s a multi-talented person.  His plans are to be in the city.  Which city?  He’s yet to decide.  We will miss John S.  In his honor we all went over to the Texas Street house and in solidarity joined him to watch an episode of his favorite show:  Dr. Who.  Darren threw for the chips and guacamole.

John S. was with us a year, as a City Vision College student and intern.  He’s among two recent Temple Houses departures.  The other John left last month for Nashville.  John Aho (our son) has had the longest stay at Temple Houses.  Was the first.  Came alone.  Now there’s a flourishing community of young men and women living near the St Louis Temple Corps on Arsenal Street.

John A. with Kyle D.

John A. with Kyle D.

Temple Houses now has three openings.  Are you a young adult?  Looking for a missional community in the city?  Check out Temple Houses.

 

We agree.  Let’s go see.

First, lunch.  The Hardee’s drive-thru near our office.  Charbroiled chicken sandwiches.  Neal’s driving so I get to eat mine first.  Neal wanted to try the jalapeno something-somethings, which look something like batter dipped french fries.  I try one.  Neal munches while he heads the car onto westbound I-64.

People, some people, around here still insist on saying “Forty” when referring to I-64.  US 40.  It is.  But after a year in St Louis I know it’s the old-timers.  Some of those old-timers really aren’t old.   It’s more a frame of mind.  US 40.  It hints back to a day before the federal interstate system.  Pre-Eisenhower.  I guess that when I was a kid someone was starting to build these interstate roads.

When I was a kid.  That would have been the days of Kennedy, Nixon.  The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

North on I-170.  East on I-270.  Exit and then south on Florissant Ave.  We turn left into the drive for a community center where Salvation Army and a few other agencies set up last Saturday, will again tomorrow, to serve people of Ferguson MO.  Park.  Go in.  Talk to a couple of the staff.  Who commiserate with us about the troubles.  Back in the car.  I drive so Neal can eat his now cold sandwich.

We continue south on Florissant.  It is a suburb that looks like a suburb.  Businesses, not close together.  Just enough space to give them the look of eyes a little too far apart.  We are seeing police cars everywhere.  St Louis County cruisers.  At about every corner.  It looks like the President could come through.  Not today.

We also see homes.  Neat, definitely not ostentatious.  Tidy neighborhoods.  Closer together than Florissant Ave. businesses.  Humble homes huddling together, still.  It’s early afternoon and they look very quiet.

Now, lots of police.  Cars, but now standing, small groups walking.  I notice the older policeman who seems to be represented in each group of county brown.  How they are described, they look, in their uniforms.  Yes, mostly white.

We have joined dense slowly moving traffic.

Somehow it reminds me of the tourists who visit Paris to see Notre Dame at Sunday vespers.  Worshipers sit.  Around them slowly circulate the tourists there to see the cathedral, hear the organ.  Not engaged, not worshiping.  Just came to see the thing.

On the left.  The burnt-out Quik Trip which is a landmark for these times of trouble in Ferguson.  Dramatic, how the burnt front and center is skeleton like, structural metal bare, swooping upward.  Now it reminds me of Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park.  I have an overactive associating mind.

On the right, the McDonald’s which is not burnt but has seen its share of troubles.  Lots of people and dozens of police.  Later in the day we hear it’s because Jesse Jackson was in there.

We see the Schnucks and Target stores and the ominous dark law enforcement vehicles in their lots.  I think Neal said ‘FBI’ and I think I saw SWAT on one.  Here and there, traffic lanes and drives blocked off.  Some shoppers.  All who we see, police and non-police, are in slow motion, not unpleasant.  Even the few protesters with signs seem to have that certain je ne sais quoi.

August night clouds 2014

I’m driving and Neal’s trying to take photos.  When he holds the iPhone up some give us looks.  Not real hard looks, just that squinty ‘hey, what …’ look.

We drive around the Schnucks/Target lots, back to Florissant Ave.  North to I-270.  The yellow then red traffic signal abruptly catches me and we joke about getting pulled over by the police.  We both give little nervous laughs.  We are out of here.

 

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