Ministry Context or What I Learned about Portland Last Week — Bridges!

Where we live affects how we live. Everyone must negotiate the unique matrix of terrain, climate, population and technology of your particular locality. I mastered manual transmission on the hilly streets of Morgantown, WV. I learned to walk many, many miles in Manhattan.

Portland, Oregon sits on the confluence of the Willamette (It’s wil-AM’-it dammit) and the mighty Columbia rivers. So bridges abound. I cross these mammoth structures everyday. My favorite so far is the I-405 bridge. It is huge, high and arched. I have a thing for arched bridges. There are draw bridges and vertical lift bridges, pedestrian bridges and a new light rail bridge is being built. It is so beautiful.

I took a day last week to walk the bridges. Never was I alone walking the bridges. They are always busy transporting pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, light rail and Amtrak passengers.

I also met Susanna from New City Initiative. Her office is inside the JOIN Center. JOIN is not an acronym, but an invitation to join them in the fight against homelessness. They offer immersion experiences to help people understand the plight of homelessness in Portland. They then escort people and families out of homelessness. They are an impressive organization. (See videos on JOIN here, here and here.) I want to be that useful.

New City Initiative is faith-based program that does the same thing, empowering churches to be involved in the fight against homelessness. They create teams of people to support families climbing out of homelessness. They also offer opportunities for church groups to engage in spiritual practices that empower people of faith to live compassionately and actively.

JOIN builds bridges between the homeless population and the rest of society. New City Initiative does too, while also building bridges to the faith community.

Bridges and Ministry

I was reminded that ministry is bridge building. We are good at putting up divisions. We are good at pointing out why someone isn’t good enough for our love, attention, compassion and affirmation. Even in the church, ‘No’ seems to be our story and our song. Praise God for bridge builders. At the heart of the gospel is reconciliation: the act of reuniting those entities that were always meant to be together. We are meant to be together as people. We are meant to be at one with God. Jesus is a bridge builder. The Holy Spirit is a bridge builder, too. Moreover shame, guilt, disappointment, sin and grief can split us from within. The gracious, merciful love of God helps reconnect us to our true selves. As a Christian and as a minister, so too, my purpose is to build bridges…or at least ready the land that divisions can be conquered. I see divisions economically in Portland. I see political divisions. I see theological divisions. I see generational divisions. Can these be overcome?

Other things last week:

  • Learned about Coaching
  • Met with a great parishioner whose back yard is a community garden.
  • Thought about contemplation and the church
  • Learned more about the history of Sunnyside UMC.

Bridges Slide show:

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