This past summer, seminarians from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft Wayne, went to the city to do urban ministry. Seminarian Jacob Benson, went to Baltimore and became one of the “Charm City Vicars.” When beginning their vicarage, their questions were many.
“How do you do urban ministry?” “How do you preach at an inner city parish?” “What kind of worship styles are effective?”
As the vicars became engaged from their very first day, they experienced many things that they did at their home churches. In one way, they found that the answers to their questions where pretty much the same answers in the suburban churches that they came from.
The churches that they were assigned to were mostly ministering to immigrants from Liberia. At the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the worship service is very similar to most Lutheran worship services. The acolytes, all donning red cassocks and surplices, remembered to kneel in all of the right places and made sure that they didn’t rattle the glass on the tops of their torches too much.
After service, some of the girls insisted that Vicar Benson go outside to play a game. Then, that afternoon was spent with the youth group on a trip to Artscape, a huge outdoor art festival in Baltimore. Afterwards, they piled in two cars to drive to Shakespeare in the Park. The kids loved a modern rendition of The Comedy of Errors.
When the youth group got back to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, they caught the tail end of a cookout. Vicar Benson was immediately escorted to the grill where he filled his plate with delicious Liberian food. He spent the rest of the day showing a little girl of the congregation how to blow bubbles and discussing Liberian politics with a few of the men.
So you see in one way urban ministry is like any other ministry in the suburbs and out in rural areas. Vicar Benson’s day could have happened in a dual parish in Nebraska or a well-attended church in a growing “bedroom community.” The “Charm City Vicars” have put together a blog https://charmcityvicars.files.wordpress.com/2015 to share their experiences. The blog explores the idea about how urban city is unique, but at the same time the message of the Gospel that is preached and taught in all of our churches in the LCMS is the same.
The vicars did meet the “sights” and “sounds” of urban life. They did see gang activity with drug deals happening not far from where they were, and they heard the sirens of police cars, ambulances, and fire engines as they went down city streets at all times of the day and night.
Often as the vicars wore their clerical collars every day, they were stopped by people and were asked to pray for them. While handing out fliers for VBS, a young bay came running and yelling down the street; he was so excited to see them. The little boy was thrilled to be handed a flier and invited to church. He took the vicars to his grandmother who expressed her gratitude and said that she was looking for a VBS in the area for her kids.
The Liberian food is spicy, but they like that. As the vicars saw so many things that were so unique, but at the same time as they met many friendly people who reminded them of the neighbors in their hometowns, they were ensured they would never have a dull moment with so many opportunities to learn and knowing this would all help them prepare them for when they will be pastors of their own churches no matter where that first call is-in an urban setting or somewhere far from the sights and sounds of the city.
Vicar Kyle Richardson served his summer vicarage at Shepherd of the City Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. Vicar Richardson describes Philadelphia as a “vibrant and exciting metropolis that changes every time you blink, while it chews up and spits out a rotating mass of broken and sinful people.” The LCMS is moving to provide shepherds for this great flock. In the constant ebb and flow, this summer taught him the patient love of Jesus Christ. Through bible studies, sermons, concerts, conversations on the street, various neighborhood crises, service projects, and grounds keeping. He enjoyed so many relationships with whom the Lord Jesus granted him to serve the least of these with the Gospel.
Urban ministry requires patience, maybe more than rural or suburban ministry. Things seem to move more quickly in the cities, and the Church steadfastly reorients its people towards true north, its changeless Gospel. Vicar Richardson left behind relationships shaped by that Gospel, words that brought a hidden peace in the midst of an energetic city, and a small congregation touched by his presence there. Through him and the “Charm City Vicars,” LCMS Urban & Inner City Mission leaves behind a message saying, “You are loved. You are not forgotten. The Church is bigger than your problems, yet small enough to send one lowly vicar to love and learn from you, to preach Christ to you.” The vicars are thankful to have been a part of this effort to support struggling urban churches, and how these congregations showed such humble love to them through all my foibles and hiccups along the way.