by Laura J. Seaman
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas. LCMS congregations in these areas have the task of taking the Gospel to people across a spectrum of ethnic, status and religious diversity.
The Rev. Arthur Boone serves as pastor at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Northeast Philadelphia, an ethnically rich community that faces challenges similar to many other urban or inner-city neighborhoods. “Insecurity, poverty … the situation is difficult everywhere, especially in the inner city,” said Boone.
In the nation’s fifth largest city, Boone knows what it means to be a part of urban ministry. Though Nazareth is a mostly Hispanic congregation, it reaches out to a number of ethnic groups with God’s gifts in Christ.
“A lot of immigrants don’t know anything about Christianity,” said Boone. “Through ESL [English-as- Second-language] class, we have seen about every nation on earth and religious sect come through. We had two Chinese teenagers who had never heard of Jesus before.” For some, acts of mercy provide the first exposure to Christ’s saving message of hope for the future.
“Insecurity, poverty … the situation is difficult everywhere, especially in the inner city.”
Urban and Inner-City Mission (UICM) is a specialized ministry within the Office of National Mission that provides expertise and resources to revitalize congregations, schools and special service ministries.
“Lutherans engaged in urban ministry,” said the Rev. Quentin Poulson, director of UICM, “need look no further than within their local church doors and near neighbors to find … urgent need for mercy care.” Poulson added that urban churches often must “keep pace with growing social concerns as they build capacity in expanding God’s kingdom.”
Many people who move to the U.S. migrate toward big cities, where there are pre-existing ethnic enclaves, social services, lowercost housing and low-wage jobs. These immigrants seek the unique support of churches, faith-based institutions and parochial schools.
LCMS congregations are witnesses to Christ’s Gospel and provide a spiritual home for people who are searching for hope and healing. UICM assists congregations in urban areas to bring God’s Word into sharp focus for people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
Summing up his experience as a pastor in a highly diverse urban setting, Boone said, “I’ve seen it change lives.”
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by Laura J. Seaman