Ministry Context or What I learned in Portland Last Week — Ferguson and Portland

I didn’t really learn much about Portland last week. I learned a ton about Ferguson, Missouri. And I recalled things I knew and remembered about St. Louis in general. I remember having a kind and funny landlady who had deep reservations about African-Americans. I remember going to Unity UMC in Webster Groves, MO where I was one of the few white people, then having Disciple Bible Study at Webster Hills UMC with only white people. I recall going down to the Soulard Market and learning that it’s about the only place you’ll see white people in Soulard.

IMAG5108IMAG5107Though I was young and a bit naive, I did have some awareness of the racial divisions that plagued the city. I was told not to stop my car in East St. Louis (I did once, it was fine). With 14 years having passed, I am wiser now to divides, but no more wiser about what to do. I am, at least, more able and willing to speak about these matters. I talked about Trayvon Martin. (Maybe that’s why that church demanded I leave.) And I talked about Michael Brown yesterday (image is of my sermon notes). The image of God was in
Michael Brown. And it is in Officer Darren Wilson. Perhaps the first sin is our failure to see the image of God in each other. That seems too common and too connected to other violations. That was the thrust of my sermon yesterday.

On the way to work today, I heard my predeces
sor at Sunnyside, Rev, Chuck Currie, address violence and policing in Portland. In a place that is quite large, it is also remarkably white. And gentrification is a hot topic all around town, including Sunnyside. This and neighboring districts have gone through a few waves of gentrification over the last few decades. Each time, the poor and ethnic minorities find themselves on the outside. Gentrification seems so colonial, yet it also seems inevitable, like it’s a force of nature. The elements of division that are enflaming Ferguson are present in Portland. Let those with eyes see…

What Does this Mean for Ministry?

The Church has such a weak presence here, it seems. But its prophetic heritage is needed now. Portland’s casual vibe may actually mask what is going on underneath. The Church is called to both wisdom and innocence: being keen to the forces that are driving people apart, being savvy enough to be a force for goodness and justice, and being known and reputable enough to be trusted. That last part is very tough. Our weak presence seems to coincide with a reputation sullied by intolerance, extremism and scandal. What is necessary for the church to emerge from scandal and irrelevance so that our prophetic work can take root? Confessing a few sins wouldn’t hurt. Making amends for those sins would help too.

I guess it was a thinking week.

Other things last week:

  • Fixed my bike and rode up Mt. Tabor.
  • Found an awesome walkable falafel cart.
  • Went to the coast!
  • Horseshoe Lake Park!

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