Archives for posts with tag: Urban Forum

Today was a special day. I returned to see the dentist who performed my most recent root canal.

Waiting. His thoughtful assistant came in carrying an armful of magazines. I picked the February 6 issue of Fortune. Article by Eric Klinenberg caught my eye. In the late 1950s more than 70% of American adults were married. Today that figure is 51%.

Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University. His book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone will be published this month. In it he will point out that 28% of all households consist of only one person. Double the rate from 1960.

Something is happening in America, and many other places in the world. And at the center of this social shift, where it is taking place: the cities.

Last January I was in Toronto at the Urban Forum where Glen Smith talked about the same trend in Canadian cities. Smith told us that the churches need to recognize and find how to minister to the increasing number of ‘singletons’, what Klinenberg uses to refer to single adults living alone.

One trait Klinenberg identifies of singletons is their high social activity, in “urban tribes … social networks that substitute for families … living alone has become intensely social”.

How do we engage single adults living alone in ways that meet their needs? To challenge and help them serve others?

Urban congregations, corps, and ministries will need to recognize the role they can take. In offering to be a place for single adults ready for an intense social experience among those who love God. Some might even call it ‘church’.


You now can listen to some of the presentations made this past January at the Urban Forum in Toronto. 

The audio files are of Howard Olver, Bob Lupton, Glenn Smith and a panel discussion.

A few last observations from the 2011 Urban Forum.

The opening night in the Toronto Harbour Light, Howard Olver shared words of Bill Iverson, a longtime urban minister in Newark NJ: You need a strong sovereign God to work in the city. Your average suburban God isn’t going to cut it. Yes, and no. Yes, because the sheer volume and complexity of cities brings us to our knees. No, because the challenges of America’s big cities are now becoming the challenges of the suburbs. See Linking Arms, Linking Lives by Castellanos, Perkins, Gordon, and Tizon. Later in the week Howard answered a question: is ministry in the city like other places? Ain’t so. There’s no comparison with the city’s intensity and urgency. I find that answer to be so true.

Bob Lupton said we need to shift our focus from betterment to development. By betterment he means service, development means to strengthen capacity. To put it simply it is a matter of teaching a person to fish rather than … I think we all know the rest of the analogy. Bob also contrasted these two poles of ministry as mercy and justice. It’s something to think about.

Howard Olver talked about “a compelling sense of divine appointment” as the basis of a calling to urban ministry. It caused me to think, is it more important to serve incarnationally or to be anointed and sent? Are the two exclusive?

Finally, “why does God always seem to begin with preaching and ministering to people on the margins of society? … transformation begins from the bottom up”, like the permeating work of yeast, unnoticed, so little, subversive. Which is what the kingdom is like, isn’t it?

Real quick post. Dismal wireless service where I am.

This morning I was riveted by Glen Smith’s (Montreal) observation: that in Canadian cities he sees an alarming increase of people who are alone, especially among the poor. Glen cited statistics, etc. Later in the presentation amidst discussion it began to emerge that perhaps in urban places, at least in Canada but I suspect in the USA, people are increasingly struggling at the same time with isolation and lack of solitude. On the surface it doesn’t make sense, but paradoxically it just might be. A growing number of people in cities have fewer and fewer personal contacts while experiencing less privacy. So, does this pose an opportunity for God’s people to serve?

Tonight, Jonathan Bird of Vancouver BC and others talked of charitable food practices; that soup kitchens and food pantries are not helping and actually doing more harm. Instead? The creation of secure food systems such as has become a matter of public policy in Vancouver. This means for instance creation of community gardens and consideration of nutritional value rather than what can be gleaned from donated foods. There was some heat to the discussion tonight, especially in an exchange over food pantries versus community gardens.

The evening ended with a Martyn Joseph song. I’m so terrible with lyrics and titles. But a beautiful performance by the Gateway Band with dramatic use of lighting in the Harbour Light chapel. BTW, the chapel is a wonderfully wood lined room. Very modern, clean lines, lovely.

Jonathan Bird, Howard Olver, Rick Tobias, and Bob Lupton formed a panel for tonight’s question and answer session of the Urban Forum hosted at the Salvation Army Harbour Light in downtown Toronto. Earlier in the day questions were collected for the panel which was moderated by Major Sandra Ryan of the nearby Regent Park 614.

Delegates asked about the panelists’ favorite books (I was intrigued by Jonathan’s The Land by Walter Brueggemanm and Bob’s The Befriending Leader by Octavia Hill), must ministers live in their neighborhood (the panel had mixed responses), healthy ministry boundaries for incarnational living (practice sabbath and attend to care of personal and family needs).

When asked about avoidable failures they have experienced, Rick said when you fail, stay. And that he has fallen into the trap of being full of vision, but only half committed.

But the question I listened most closely to was one that I submitted. If ministry based on Christian community development has greater long range impact, what would you do if you were in an organization which was effectively ministering in a service based approach?

Howard Olver said to encourage appreciative inquiry, dialogue in a non-threatening way for understanding. And above all, seek and pray for God’s hand to be at work, for the Holy Spirit’s work.
Rick Tobias counseled for patience, no quick change. Expose your current staff to training in community development, and grant grace to them as you transition.
Jonathan Bird cautioned that the distinctive of the organization not be lost. Just as in humans there is an imago dei leaving an imprint of God’s goodness so too organizations. Discover that “something irreducibly good” which exists so that it is not lost because of change.
Bob Lupton squirmed as he confessed less patience than his fellow panelists. One needs to take a sharp pencil to the accounting and evaluate programs based on whether or not the community is better for them. Measureably better.
Not fireworks, but there was some “iron sharpening iron” going on between Lupton and Olver during the last minutes of the evening when the final question was given: at the end of the day, how do you measure success? Faithfulness, or what you can measure? We all listened; there’s something thrilling about hearing swords clash.

Closing song led by Dion Oxford’s Gateway Band was a beautiful liturgical approach with a mix of Bruce Cockburn’s “Dweller by a Dark Stream” with Psalms. Soloist, all, responsive reading. It was work of art how the Gateway musicians created it and led us.

So I’m walking this prison camp world
I long for a glimpse of the new world unfurled
The chrysalis cracking and moisten winds uncurl
Like in the vision John saw
The vision John saw
I was a dweller by a dark stream
A crying heart hooked on a dark dream
In my convict soul I saw your love gleam
And you showed me what you’ve done
Jesus, thank-you joyous Son

The theme this week at the Urban Forum is “Dignity or Dependence”.  This morning we gathered in downtown Toronto at the Army’s Harbour Light to hear several presentations including Bob Lupton following up from last night on the contrasting, and perhaps conflicting, views in urban ministry.  Service or community development?  Mercy or justice?  Is it really a matter of “or”?

Bob carefully challenged us, us many Salvation Army folks, to consider the short-term help but long-lasting disempowerment which charity alone brings to persons, families, and communities.  He shared stories and illustrations of well intended initial attempts to serve during his first years of ministry in inner city Atlanta.  He and his fellow workers discovered that giving did not address the root of need.  As a result they have to a large degree given up on giving, at least the kind of giving which diminishes the person helped.

The problem with one-way giving is that it progressively disempowers.  One person receives, there is not provided a way for that person to reciprocate.  This is not healthy.  The one who always receives cannot become what God intended them to become, they do not enter into full life, they are denied the opportunity to care for others in tangible ways.

Bob shared how their Christmas Adopt A Family program, food pantry, and clothes closet were transformed as they figured out ways to empower people, not merely provide toys, pass out food and clothes.  The food pantry became several food co-ops, and then led to a soul food restaurant now in its 28th year across from the Atlanta Braves’ field.

Bob Lupton’s words were inspiring, and sobering to realize that people who work with people need to, and can, examine what are we really accomplishing in helping others.  Are we somehow diminishing the one we are trying to help?  What can we do to act in such a way that people are brought to full value?  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Check out Focused Community Strategies (FCS), founded by Bob Lupton almost 40 years ago.

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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