Dear Superfriends and Blogofans,
I have a great big announcement to make.
As many of you already know, this blog was born as the theological reflection component of our Community Chaplaincy ministry at St. James Mission in Utica, New York. I wanted a forum to meditate on and discuss the theological issues that arose from doing street-level ministry with people in the margins of urban society.
Ever since the Community Chaplaincy program was ended in 2011, this blog has become a much more generalized theological reflection post for Christians from the liberal/progressive end of the church spectrum. During these past couple of years, I have been serving as the part-time pastor of a small rural congregation in Boonville and teaching in the philosophy department at Utica College.
My announcement today is that the shape, scope, and location of ministry is about to change again, this time in a much more drastic way. As of this morning, I have received a call to serve as the pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
North Church is a small congregation in the Northside neighborhood that has focused all of its energy for the last generation on building community and doing ministry with mentally ill people in the greater Kalamazoo area.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally be moving into full-time pastoral ministry with people on the edges of society. Once again, I will be “taking to the streets” as a pastor in this ministry of solidarity, care, community, and advocacy.
North Church is a unique congregation in that it is primarily funded by other churches who believe in this vision of ‘ministry with’ rather than ‘ministry to’. My learning curve will be steep, but all parties are going in confident that the Holy Spirit has called us together and will light the way for our common future.
Look for changes in the blog as it returns to its original purpose as a forum for theological reflection and discussion about ministry in the margins.
Once again, the Street Pastor is heading back to the streets…
Here is a bit of background about the history and vision of North Church, borrowed from the website of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan:
History: Kalamazoo North was founded in 1864 by four young women of First Presbyterian who began a Sabbath School for people settling in the north east side of Kalamazoo at the corner of what is now Gull Road and Riverview. From the beginning those who came to the weekly gatherings included low income immigrants from other parts of the United States coming north for opportunity and to live in freedom. The Presbytery of the time officially chartered the congregation in 1878. From its founding days, the congregation has placed itself in the midst of residents who are poor and struggling with all the issues that poverty exacts on people. It has been a congregation whose members represent many caring professions: social work, nursing, teaching, community based work such as feeding the hungry. The congregation with its pastors has been instrumental in establishing a wide array of community ministries including Ministry with Community, Habitat for Humanity, Housing Resources, Inc., and now a ministry of accompaniment, inclusion and support with people living with severe and persistent mental illness. This ministry, The Togetherness Group, began in 1988 under the pastorate of Rev. Fred Cunningham. Facing the end of state support for community based programs of social support, several members of the congregation asked Rev. Cunningham if it would be possible to begin a social group for members of the church dealing with mental illness issues. With consultation and support from the Session, the congregation embarked on what has been a life changing journey for the congregation and a life affirming ministry with people living with mental illness and other disabilities.
Vision: From the beginning the vision has been to exhibit the Kingdom of heaven to the world (Great Ends of the Church). That vision includes all people but especially those traditionally seen as outcasts and people to be feared. The congregation has created a place of welcome and caring and a framework of normalcy as people share together in worship, participate as deacons and elders in leadership roles, join together in book groups and bible studies, and serve as leaders in the community organization, I.S.A.A.C., which North Church helped found in 2002 with 17 other congregations and partners in Kalamazoo county. The congregation engages in special projects such as creating banners for the worship space, and participating together as interpreters of our ministry in a variety of settings. North Church means faith and community.
The Togetherness Group is an outreach of the congregation to all of Kalamazoo County. Members of the Group and the congregation are united in believing that life can be well lived and filled with hope when a community of support exists that creates opportunities to see one another as God sees us – people of promise living founded on God’s promise. Our ministry takes us into relationships with Community Mental Health programs, the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), college social work classes, and the Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network (PSMIN) in which some of our members have participated.