Surveying God’s Truth in Chicago

Posted: March 31, 2009 by Scott Kistler in Urban Ministry...Concerns

Yesterday, I took a bus tour through some different neighborhoods of Chicago: Austin and Garfield Park on the West Side, the Gold Coast closer to downtown, the Prairie Avenue area that boasted the homes of some of the richest Chicagoans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bridgeport (the home of the Daley dynasty), and the former site of the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing complex massive in both size and in its failure to meet its stated goal of decent housing for the poor.

(Actually, the Chicago machine’s goal with the Robert Taylor Homes and the other projects along State Street seems to have been to find a place to put poor blacks and perhaps even to build a wall of huge projects right along the boundary of white and black Chicago, strengthening the dividing line.  So perhaps they really succeeded.)

We were guided in our tour by Glen Kehrein, head of Circle Urban Ministries, and Abraham L. Washington, the pastor of Rock of Our Salvation Church.  They are partners in the Austin neighborhood, which flipped from white, Catholic, and middle-class to what Glen called a “throwaway community” (one on which society at large places no value) as poor black migration from the South triggered white flight in the 1960s.  This was a pattern that played out all over the West Side in the 1960s, as unscrupulous dealers in real estate used white fears of black neighbors to profit from white flight and those who profit from poverty ran the real estate down.  Personal responsibility of the residents of poor neighborhoods of course must be addressed, but too often the big forces that helped to create the conditions that we see today aren’t understood.

But as John Piper noted in the article that I referred to in the last post, knowing the truth is incomplete if we don’t use it in God’s service.  And Glen and Abraham have made it their business to understand their community in order to serve it.  They focus on both evangelism and the improvement of the neighborhood, unabashedly sharing the gospel with their neighbors inside and outside of church, connecting them to a supportive community of believers to help them to deal with the temptations so prevalent in the community, and offering the neighborhood education and other services.  Here’s how the website describes it:

Circle Urban Ministries and the Rock of our Salvation Church have been joined in a faith-and-works partnership since the Rock Church began in 1983. While the Rock proclaims our faith in Jesus Christ, Circle reaches out with practical acts of service to show our faith is real.

Pretty simple, I suppose, but hearing from the leaders was inspiring.  I hope to learn more about their ministry.

By the way, here are two great books about urban issues:

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