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Book Review- Crayons for the City

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Book Review- Crayons for the City

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.

This Book Review was published by The Living Pulpit (eISSN 1946-1771), published quarterly by The Living Pulpit, Inc., 475 Riverside Drive Suite 500, New York, NY 10115, USA. Copyright ©2019 by The Living Pulpit, Inc. All rights reserved. Distributed in print and online with permission of the author and publication. Visit www.pulpit.org for more information, or to sign-up for a free individual subscription.

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(Part 2) Bricks and Mortar Have I None

Bricks and Mortar Have I None (Part 2).

If bricks and mortar are out, what’s in? What is the church to do ?

If there’s no longer any bricks and mortar, how can people go to church (which in North America we understand to mean, how can we go to the building where the community gathers). Here are some other questions worth exploring:

After all, how will people ever meet Jesus like I did if they don’t have a building to go to and hear God’s word preached?

How will children hear Bible stories like I did in my youth if we don’t have Sunday School.

And what about observing the sacraments? Singing hymns? I can’t imagine sitting anywhere Sunday morning if it weren’t in my pew.

It’s crazy to think the days of bricks and mortar churches are numbered.

Bricks and mortar have I none Kevin Yoho 2012b.jpg

Yes, it is crazy talk, so let’s talk about it!

The church is a spiritual organism, and is also an organization as it interacts with the world. Though you may be a bit resistant to this idea, don’t abandon the idea that church is a business, too. We will be unable to deal with the economic structures and discovering new sustainable models if we ignore the challenges.

The church is a spiritual organism, and is also an organization as it interacts with the world. Though you may be a bit resistant to this idea, don’t abandon the idea that church is a business, too. We will be unable to deal with the economic structures and discovering new sustainable models if we ignore the challenges.

Our oldest understanding of organized worship and church always had financial implications. There are numerous examples in Scripture and in history suggesting that ministry can be understood and even critiqued as monetary models.

Example
Do you really think the great expansion of the Church out of Jerusalem was merely an obedient response to a missional challenge? It was more likely about persecution that was experienced as financial stressors. This is why the Apostle Paul asked for contributions to be collected and sent to Jerusalem.

The church as a gathered group of individuals typically offers its services so that average people could have accomplished what they tasked the church with. Churches put in place good enough protocols which led to average performance delivery. Church was good enough for most.

The church and other volunteer organizations and teams are familiar with gathering regularly in a certain place. Frequently, these places are delivery venues for ministry, products, or services of value. Those of us in the institutional church understand there are spiritual components to what we do as we practice our faith, and over time, we have complicated, if not confused, the relationship between the highly valued product (preaching, education, worship, fellowship, mission) and the means the product is conveyed or used (during worship service, at the church, in a class, at a special event like a wedding, baptism, or funeral).

Singing a hymn in church is a wonderful experience, but have we confused where the value is located? Is the primary benefit the singing itself, or the place the hymn is sung? Is the benefit of preaching God’s word found in the listening, or in the venue where it is preached? Considering questions like these help us gain insight to better discern where the primary value is located.

Of course, perceived benefits are complex and hard to deconstruct.

For example, there are spiritually beneficial components to hymn singing. There is also an emotional component. As human beings, we can derive feelings of security and belonging from familiar places and faces. Hundreds of years ago, one could assume that churches and their various forms of ministry and bricks and mortar venues fit the needs of most people. At least that was the assumption. As the Reformation’s radical transformation of liturgy kept developing, the economies of scale and politics literally took shape in our church buildings. Though some got more than they wanted, and others not quite enough, the church was good enough for most people.

As populations rose, it was inevitable that other forms of church organization or business models for ministry would emerge that began to address the particular needs of different segments of the population, and those who were either over-served (church provides more than I need) or underserved (church provides less than I need) by the predominant churches.

In North America, common brick and mortar churches were built on tradition and depended on the persistence of the model in form and function to make economic sense. The church model was built on the assumption that people needed to go to church, and the church’s job was to provide bricks and mortar venues as destinations for the spirit. Those in the church self-differentiated around liturgy, theology, or governance with very little innovation.

The existing models of the incumbent bricks-and-mortar church typically includes one pastor, 100 people, and a sanctuary used a few hours a week. These models resist change and innovation because of the enormous financial implications for those in the system.

We need models for addressing the spiritual aspirations and needs of people. These groups of diverse people today have many more choices yet have jobs to be done that relate to spiritual and deeply emotional aspects of their lives.

The bricks-and-mortar church model considers its best customers to be those who are financially able to support the incumbent system. We must begin to look at the comprehensive institutionalized religion in america system and the components that perpetuate it. Seminaries, pension plans, vocation and call services, publishing and education producers, all persistently resist intervention that could bring change, growth, health, and renewed effectiveness. It’s tough to decide where to start.

Recently at a church leadership team meeting I attended, an elder remarked, “We do get some new people, but unfortunately we need ten new people to make up for one old-timer moving away, retiring, or dying.” This elder was essentially admitting they could not afford to grow, maintaining the same unsustainable economic model.

As we continue to clutch and cling to existing financial income methods, we find that it is not only diminishing, but it objectifies the existing member as an income stream. It similarly objectifies the potential new attendee as an income source. As another elder said referring to new people, “They just don’t give as much as we need.”

bricks and mortar churches must begin to aggressively address their already stressed and crumbling economic models. New models can emerge within our existing structures that are more sustainable. Perhaps the church has the courage to convert unsustainable bricks and mortar systems into more useful assets for mission and ministry.

What would an alternative to the bricks and mortar church on the corner look like that gets the spirit and worship jobs done neighbors across the street actually want done?

Bricks and mortar have I none, but what I have, I give you.

What gifts do you have for your community in the name of Jesus Christ?

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