CHOG URBAN MINISTRY SPOTLIGHT: BALTIMORE, MD
Christ-centered ministry is needed everywhere—in every place, to every people, and in every culture. One sphere of ministry too often neglected is the inner city. While many have fled urban locations with suburban sprawl, others have flocked boldly to the city to reclaim lives and spaces stolen by the forces of hell. In the Church of God, there is good news coming out of the inner city! Celebration Church at Monroe Street in Baltimore, Maryland, is one shining example.
As reported in a 2016 CHOGnews article, West Baltimore is one of the lowest socioeconomic communities in the state of Maryland. Over 84 percent of Baltimore city residents qualified for free or reduced lunches. The area has too often made national headlines for incidents of violence. Drug abuse and other illegal activity had depressed the area in several ways. But Celebration Church at Monroe Street, and their young nonprofit community development corporation known as Operation Win in Life, have given life and infused a renewed sense of hope to their community. They’ve taken urban ministry to heart, believing that Jesus Christ has done the same thing.
Through Celebration Church at Monroe Street and Operation Win in Life, they’ve already accomplished much for the kingdom:
• Engaged and recruited over sixty residents, city planners, education representatives, and elected officials to develop strategic plans to revitalize a local neighborhood known as Franklin Square.
• Went door-to-door to solicit input regarding community needs, health, and planning.
• Developed a “pop-up” park for the neighborhood’s Health Harvest Festival.
• Secured a grant to maintain vacant lots.
• Established partnerships between the community and elected officials to solve issues of blight, especially dilapidated houses and structures.
• Started the process to help provide affordable housing.
• Created neighborhood beautification plans, partnering with a local architect and universities.
• Held an entrepreneurship conference with over seventy people in attendance.
In a variety of ways, the church and community development corporation has been recognized publicly for their successful work in their ZIP code. Pastor Bob just takes it all in stride. He’s not in it for the accolades; he’s too busy reclaiming what hell has stolen.
“I am convinced that God wants his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven,” he explains, “and to raise up men and women of God, in spite of oppressive blight and social conditions they’re facing. I believe God wants to use the people of God to make a difference, with people in the community they serve, to enhance not only lives, but also whole communities.”
So, what can other pastors and congregations do to reclaim urban areas for Christ, especially those outside of urban areas? Bob Washington offers the following practical pointers:
1. Care about all people as God does, regardless of their geographic area of residence. Understand the context of issues facing urban communities, including underinvestment, racism, neglect and disparities in services (schools, police, housing, sanitation, health care, etc.). These issues lead to apathy, discouragement, and sometimes trauma.
2. Recognize that suburban churches with more resources can not only pray, but develop partnerships with churches in urban communities.
3. Realize that such partnerships mean provide not just opportunities for churches outside of urban contexts to do work camps and service projects, but that these are also opportunities for doing ministry together, on the same team, for the same Lord.