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Posts Tagged ‘city’

overflowing-cupI like to go to church
I like to go to church.
I like the happy songs we sing,
I like to go to church.

I don’t know when I learned that song but I was humming it as I walked home from church yesterday. It had been a good morning in worship, with an emphasis on prayer that pervaded the entire service and made me want to say, “Amen!”

And speaking of prayer…

Since I started talking about the missional church at First Baptist five years ago there has been some discussion about where that mission takes place—inside or outside the building. Sometimes the people who are on mission inside the building—teaching Sunday school, working with children’s choirs, serving Wednesday night supper—complain that all the attention is being focused on the mission outside the building—helping the homeless, building Habitat houses, and tutoring in the elementary schools.

Well of course it’s not either/or, it’s both/and, but in an effort to get us thinking outside the walls of the church and get us working in the community I have necessarily drawn attention to that part of our mission, and the church has responded enthusiastically, so enthusiastically that in my less faithful moments I begin to wonder if there will be anybody left inside the building to sing the hymns or teach Sunday school.

So, here’s the prayer I’m praying these days:

Lord, I want you to fill up the pews of this church until they are overflowing with people who love you and love to sing your praises.

I want you to fill up the offering plates until they are overflowing with gifts given back to you in tearful gratitude.

I want you to fill up the classrooms with disciples who are eager to learn, leaning forward in their seats, open Bibles on their laps.

I want you to fill up the hallways with people who greet each other with hugs and laughter, where every Sunday feels like a family reunion.

I want you to fill their hearts with love, fill their souls with faith, fill their minds with truth, and fill their lives with every good thing you have to give until it overflows this building and spills out onto the streets of this city and into every surrounding suburb.

I want you to pour yourself out through your people until your Kingdom comes, and your will is done, in Richmond as it is in heaven.

Now, that’s the kind of prayer that gets at the “both/and” problem, and gets at it in a Kingdom way.  There is no lack of abundance in God’s kingdom.  We don’t have to choose between being on mission inside the building or outside.

We can do both.

Amen?

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greetings-from-richmond-virginiaThe second thing on my agenda on Wednesday mornings is “Ecumenical Jogging” at 6:15. It’s a fancy way of saying I go for a morning run with my friend Wallace Adams-Riley, Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.

We talk about a lot of things while we’re running. This morning I talked about something I had read in Ben Campbell’s book, Richmond’s Unhealed History, and since nobody says it quite like Ben, let me quote:

While metropolitan Richmond’s leaders were busy over the last forty years fighting among their fragmented jurisdictions, vying for businesses, abandoning and opening massive shopping centers, trying to keep poor people in other jurisdictions, struggling to build four identical balanced sub-economies, and worrying about race and income levels of citizens, other middle-sized cities in our region stole our entire banking industry, built light rail systems, renewed their downtown areas, acquired major league sports teams, and developed public education systems far more competitive than either metropolitan Richmond’s suburban or urban systems. They built the same highways, suburbs, and shopping centers as metro Richmond, but the resulting common wealth was much greater and the larger city prospered (pp. 211-212).

campbell-headshot

Rev. Ben Campbell

It’s that “common wealth” Ben is concerned about. He argues that metropolitan Richmond doesn’t have it because it’s divided among Richmond City, Hanover, Henrico, and Chesterfield Counties. He often talks about how in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city and county governments merged to form a single jurisdiction, and were therefore able to attract major industry and professional sports teams.

I was telling Wallace about all this (or trying to while huffing and puffing along Franklin Street), and that’s when he said, “We should start a movement called ‘One Richmond.’”

“One Richmond,” I repeated. “I like it.”  And a few steps later I said, “Let the record show that ‘One Richmond’ was born on February 6, 2013, during a morning run.”

Sometimes I get criticized for talking about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, even in my own church. Some of our members tell me they don’t live in Richmond: they live in Henrico County, or Hanover, or Chesterfield. And so I have to say, “You know what I mean—Metropolitan Richmond.” But what if I didn’t have to say that? What if Richmond weren’t divided up into “four identical balanced sub-economies” as Ben Campbell says? What if it were just one, big happy city?

I’m sure that the people who work for the county governments could give me lots of reasons why we shouldn’t become one, big happy city, and maybe they will, but the vision remains compelling. Why not One Richmond?

Wouldn’t that bring heaven a little closer to earth?

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running_legsWhat would it take to make Richmond the healthiest city in America?

A group of clergy and physicians got together yesterday to talk about that very thing at the Richmond Academy of Medicine. This was the second conversation in an ongoing dialogue with Dr. Terry Whipple, founder of the “Physician Within” program at First Baptist Church. Terry’s dream was to go on a medical mission trip that never left the city of Richmond—an educational mission—that would help people understand their bodies and how they work and how to keep them healthy. We talked yesterday about how that mission could expand to include more physicians and more congregations and began to get excited about the possibility that Richmond really could become the healthiest city in America.

“We’re already number 12,” I said.

“What?”

“According to Forbes magazine, Richmond is the 12th healthiest city in America,” I repeated. “I found it online.”

It’s true. And although Forbes doesn’t explain why Richmond is Number 12, it does give some information about our nearest rival, Virginia Beach, which came in at Number 9:

The lucky denizens of Virginia Beach (which includes Norfolk and Newport News) are rich in parks, tennis courts, playgrounds, ball diamonds, and golf courses, boosting the activity level of this region above much of the South. A relatively affluent area, Virgina Beach benefits from excellent access to medical care, with a whopping 89 percent of residents having health insurance. The result? Lower than average rates of angina and heart disease, despite the fact that 20 percent of area residents smoke.

One of the clergy at yesterday’s meeting was Joel Morgan, hip young pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church at the corner of Monument and Malvern and a former personal trainer. He asked, “How many of you have a regular program of diet and exercise?” Several of us raised our hands, but even as he asked the question we understood: Richmond won’t become the healthiest city in America simply by keeping people out of the emergency room. We’re going to have to push back from the dinner table more often, get up off our couches and move.

That wasn’t so hard for me to imagine.

I already see people walking and jogging on Monument Avenue, riding mountain bikes on the Buttermilk Trail, and playing tennis in Byrd Park. What if the whole city began to get out more, exercise more? What if they started paying attention to the calorie counts now posted in so many fast food restaurants and began to choose the 400-calorie burger over the 800-calorie one? It may not be the most urgent item on our agenda as we work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, but there is something heavenly about the idea of people being healthy and active and able to enjoy the life God gave them.

In January, I’m going to announce the formation of this year’s Monument Avenue 10K Training Team at First Baptist Church. Maybe 2013 will be the year you decide to run, walk, or crawl 6.2 miles on Monument Avenue as one of your New Year’s resolutions.

Maybe this will be the year we move from number 12 to number 11.

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Last week I had lunch at the Richmond Academy of Medicine.

It’s not the kind of place that usually comes to mind when you think of lunch, but it turned out to be perfect for what was on the agenda—making Richmond the healthiest city in America.

Dr. Terry Whipple, who founded the Physician Within program at First Baptist Church, has bigger plans. He wants to see the program expand to other congregations in the city, to other neighborhoods, until everybody in Metropolitan Richmond “understands common health issues and adjusts their lifestyles for longer, safer, healthier existence.” He asked me to reach out to some of my fellow clergy and invite them to lunch, so he could tell them about the program first hand and invite them to participate.

If you’re not familiar with the Physician Within, take a moment to skim the video above, from a session called “Chest Pain: Is It My Heart?” You’ll see that it’s not a complicated concept: a respected cardiologist talking to lay people about heart health and how they can stay out of the emergency room. You can also see that a good many people were interested enough to come out on a Tuesday night and hear what he had to say. It didn’t hurt that the program was—and remains—absolutely free.

My colleagues were interested. They could see how welcome such a program would be in their own churches. But when Richard Szucs, president of the Academy and member of First Baptist Church, began to talk about the 1,700 medical professionals who are members of the Academy and how they might participate, we all began to see the potential. Hundreds of congregations, hundreds of medical professionals, coming together to make Richmond “the healthiest city in America.”

When Terry Whipple first said it I thought he was just being grandiose, but now I don’t think he was. I think he simply has Kingdom-sized dreams, and he’s waiting for the rest of us to catch up.  We took a small step forward last week.  Maybe, by the time this year-long, every-member mission trip is over, we will have taken giant strides toward that ambitious goal.

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Please see my posts about churches working with hospitals to keep people healthy from Day 45 and Day 46.  It feels like momentum is building.

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It’s going to be a tough day to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia.

High wind warnings from Hurricane Sandy are in effect from Noon today until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow in Richmond.  Church Administrator Billy Burford and I made the decision at 6:30 this morning to close the church, at least for today.  The staff is dedicating itself to prayer for those who will be most directly affected by the storm.  I pray that you are not one of those.

But if you are, instead, one of those who is having a “snow day” today, delighted to find yourself with an unexpected day off and time on your hands, you might want to read the article below, forwarded to me by Gerry Ozmore, who thought it was relevant to our year-long, every-member mission trip right here in our own city.

Thanks, Gerry!

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MAKE WAY FOR THE METRO-EVANGELICAL

By ANDY CROUCH

Downtown Seattle’s Daniels Recital Hall, with its soaring Beaux Arts dome, intricate woodwork and stained glass, is about to become a church again. The developer who saved it from the wrecking ball has signed a long-term lease with Mars Hill Downtown Seattle, a resolutely evangelical congregation that has been worshiping in a former nightclub since its founding in 2008. With 1,500 members, the congregation outgrew its old, less-than-ideal quarters, where for a time the congregants used exotic dancers’ cages as coat racks.

Christians in Seattle aren’t alone in wanting to reclaim the heart of their city as a place for worship. Though the American evangelical movement is often stereotyped as rural and provincial, it has actually had its greatest success in the suburbs and exurbs, where entrepreneurial pastors found cheap land and plentiful parking to build the “megachurches” of the past generation—think Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., seating capacity over 7,000.

But a new generation of church founders believes that city centers will be the beachhead of a new evangelization. While U.S. cities aren’t growing as fast as overseas metropolises like Lagos or Shanghai, their renaissance since the crime-ridden 1970s is one of the cultural headlines of the last generation, and it has been accompanied by burgeoning urban congregations. On a Sunday morning in any American city the signs of change come in literal form: placards on sidewalks and corners announcing church meetings.

The growth in city-center churches is in tune with the times, summed up by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser’s book “The Triumph of the City.” News outlets like National Public Radio have aired numerous stories on the boom in urban studies. And my own employer, the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, has embarked on a two-year series of cover stories and documentary films about the urban Christian revival called “This Is Our City.”

New York City pastor and best-selling author Timothy J. Keller helped spearhead the movement more than two decades ago. In 1989, he moved from rural Virginia to Manhattan and founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church. With several thousand in worship every week, Redeemer Presbyterian is perhaps the most celebrated city-center church story of recent years.

“You go to the city to reach the culture,” Mr. Keller tells his congregation. This, he explains, is as old as religion itself, and points to what New Testament scholar Wayne Meeks called “the first urban Christians”—the first-century churches founded in provincial cities all over the Roman world, and very quickly in Rome itself.

From a missionary standpoint, cities have always been centers of cultural activity and potential congregations. Mr. Keller’s followers see the challenge to influence the culture as a neglected calling for evangelical churches that have become too complacent on their suburban campuses. And given the pervasive secularity and competing temptations of a city like New York, if Christians can make it there, they can make it anywhere.

Growing even faster than city-center churches are immigrant churches in places like Los Angeles and Brooklyn that serve new arrivals from all over the world. And urban ministry, targeted at the physical and social needs of residents (housing, recreation space, education and the like) has been an emphasis of U.S. churches—both Protestant and Catholic alike—for generations.

That emphasis continues in the new generation. Redeemer Presbyterian’s nonprofit affiliate, Hope for New York, gave more than $1.1 million in grants to community development, counseling and youth organizations in 2011.

But city-center pastors are starting to pay as much attention to the spiritual needs, and social influence, of residents of penthouses as those in public housing. This shift from “urban ministry” to what some call “metropolitan ministry” seeks opportunities to connect the up-and-in to the down-and-out.

Mars Hill Downtown Seattle, for instance, not only offers a wide range of services to the needy, but its pastor served a term as president of the neighborhood business association.

And like other new arrivals, evangelicals are finding that the city has more to offer than just the advancement of a cause. Jon Tyson, 36, founding pastor of Trinity Grace Church in New York, says the culturally strategic nature of New York was “the determining factor” that brought him there in 2005. Now, he says, “We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Our children are thriving here. We love the city.”

As these city-center congregations expand and thrive—from San Francisco to Houston to Manhattan—expect a lot more sidewalk placards to turn into permanent signs at corners like Fifth and Marion, the new home of the Mars Hill Downtown Seattle congregation.

Mr. Crouch is an editor-at-large at Christianity Today and author of “Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling” (InterVarsity Press, 2008).

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