You are about to read the story of an inner-city congregation in the midst of poverty and crime. My own story, a similar situation, is one that looks wonderful in a magazine. To see a huge turn-around in a struggling urban congregation and renewal in a neighborhood, that is, indeed, something to rejoice in. And a story of revitalization, we pray, will be one that is repeated over and over. But if this is your expectation of this story, then you can stop reading right now. Because I’m about to tell you the story of the hiddenness of inner-city mission.
Let me start first with my introduction of Pastor David Boisclair, a very unassuming man whom I doubt would refer to himself in any grandiose way. He would be the first to tell you that other pastors are better lead characters for a story. He welcomes me into a small brick office that has mold on the walls and later shows me to a study where his library is made up of bowed wood planks held up by cinder blocks. And yet hidden in this inauspicious setting is a library of books that is nothing short of phenomenal. And hidden away in this unassuming man is a vault of knowledge. This learned scholar is no slouch in his understanding of Lutheran doctrine and practice, and he is certainly a faithful shepherd to his flock, apart from much earthly glory or fanfare.
But the love that this pastor has for his congregation and community is anything but hidden. He quickly takes me on a tour of his sanctuaries, the thrift shop and the day care that is housed in one of the church’s buildings. The child care struggles to keep up-to-code with its limited resources, but it serves nearly 100 beautiful children in the city. And when you walk into the thrift shop, you might think it’s not so different from the Salvation Army or other charitable organizations. And yet, spend a few minutes with the volunteers from Faith Lutheran Church and you will quickly find what is masked among the huge assortment of items that others were willing to discard. Because for the struggling family or the single mom losing hope: clothes, food, appliances, furniture … nothing costs more than a dollar. It might not seem like much to the world, but to these folks it is a veritable treasure trove. It brings tears of joy to know that, yes, someone in this world cares. Hidden in basic items is the love and mercy of Christ.
So, too, here is where community is to be found, where relationships are developed. One young man from the neighborhood, who was introduced to the LCMS through a thrift shop, has been receiving intense catechization from a brilliant pastor and now has an interest in studying for the ministry. So yes, to the world, this congregation may seem weak, despised, humble. But meet the members, watch their eyes light up as they tell you their stories, hear the passion in the pastor’s voice as he speaks to his distinctly Lutheran approach to church and ministry, and you will see masked within – the glory of Christ. And this why I would say, we in the LCMS need to find new and creative ways to support our urban missionaries and their ministries.
Here at the tables of our city churches are the extremely poor, the homeless, the addicted, the prostitutes, the struggling single mothers. And so, too, the Wall Street tycoons, the wandering sports stars and the lost Hollywood starlets. They are outside the door looking for something. We cannot afford to lose any more ground in our cities. Hidden in bread and wine, hidden in the cross, hidden in a weak prophet attacked by the world, hidden in misfit sinners who gather at the table as the very body of Christ, hidden in our city churches that fight to stay open, hidden in our pastors who can only cover their most basic living expenses, I invite you to see our hidden gems masked in humility.
I am truly humbled to see the tenacity of our urban churches. I put my pastoral and business acumen to work in the city with all the love and passion I could muster and saw it come to visible earthly fruition. But would I have stayed and fought for 20 years apart from any great earthly glory? And now I ask, “Will you?” Will you join us in our fight to keep Christ in our cities? Pray, give, go. Will you become a street fighter today?