The Living Pulpit Book Review- December 2018
By Lisa Jarnot
Crayons for the City: Reneighboring Communities of Faith to Rebuild Neighborhoods of Hope by Kevin R. Yoho. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017. 276 pages. $33.
In the mid-1990s, when consigned to what looked like a termination mission for an underpopulated church in a low-income neighborhood, Pastor Kevin Yoho found instead an opportunity to reflect upon the possibilities for remodeling urban ministry. Crayons for the City is the record of his journey with his church and its surrounding public spaces, and a guide to pastoral leadership and community transformation. This book provides a comprehensive blueprint for a holistic approach to church organizing. It takes into consideration the complex socio-political and emotional factors that intersect to make a community. Wilkey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Philadelphia and the larger neighborhood around it, serve as the landscape for this deep study of what Yoho calls “reneighboring”—discerning and encouraging natural connections between people and organizations, and enabling young people to transform the trauma of social injustice through an identification with Christ. The book’s title alludes to a part of the youth ministry developed around Wilkey Memorial Church that allowed local children to testify to their experiences with a simple hands-on program of art therapy or “drawing intervention,” arriving at what Yoho calls “the power of a crayon to remove stigma.” This is but one of the seeds of a larger project that unfolds through the pages of Crayons for the City. The book gives deep accounts of a complex web of creative missional initiatives developed in the reneighboring of Kensington over the span of a decade. Sports programs, storytelling, summer camps excursions, and collective cross-generational responses to immediate family emergencies all formed the foundation out of which a community found grace in the midst of suffering.
Crayons for the City is encyclopedic in its weave of photographs, drawings, bibliographic references, and study questions. It is also meticulous in anecdotal, scriptural, historical, and sociological reflection, providing pastors, teachers, community organizers, and mental health professionals with a wealth of hands-on information and spiritual inspiration. A thoughtful and insightful vision of mission emerges, reminding faith leaders that success cannot be measured simply in church planting and church building but also in the way in which we support communities in transition—especially those struggling with urban decline, cultural dislocation, and environmental crises. As Yoho points out:
This book is about the leader’s role as an ecclesiastical engineer and social entrepreneur introducing needed disruption by trying to pay attention and reinvent the way ministry engages the greater community. Our neighborhood’s mental map became distorted as a result of stigma and its associated consequences, including impaired family, educational, economic, and political systems. This is a story about a journey to shift the mental map from stigma to hope by realigning the motivations of a church to serve the public good with the good news.
Here, a praxis theology of place emerges and reminds us that the city is crucial to God’s plan. The book is an archival gift of a moment of ministry, but it is also a complete user’s manual for faith and activism in the 21 st Century. In a time when urban churches and church neighborhoods can so often feel like entirely separate entities, Crayons for the City offers faith leaders a blueprint for critical mission outreach and “reneighboring” possibilities. Yoho writes that “learning how to use the tools we developed in Kensington, the reader can embrace their history and neighborhood seriously and experience transformation, too. What we discovered in Philadelphia was that even closed and isolated fortresslike churches could become accessible, street-present, hope-bearing communities of faith blessing the entire community at large.” This in itself makes the book essential reading. Toward the end of Crayons for the City, but very much at its emotional center, are a series of chapters supplying the reader with a picture of the nuts and bolts of the Wilkey Memorial Church project. Chapter 8 (“Engagement Act 1, Reneighboring the Congregation”), Chapter 9 (“Engagement Act 2, Reconnecting the Community”), and Chapter 10 (Engagement Act 3, Restoring Hope”) provide a detailed set of tools so that faith leaders can emulate what was accomplished at Wilkey and expand youth and community focused outreach in urban churches. This added element (with curriculum outlines for storytelling and drawing sessions, sample focus group questions, and charts for tracking project outcomes) makes the book ideal for religious education ministry teams and pastoral community outreach committees. Given its range of implications for ministry, this book is worth circulating throughout the administration of any church.
About the book review author
Lisa Jarnot is a Masters of Divinity candidate at New York Theological Seminary. She is the author of several books of poetry as well as a biography of the San Francisco poet Robert Duncan published by University of California Press in 2012.
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