by Pastor Mike Middaugh
In 2007 I began my vicarage (internship) at a Lutheran church in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. It was a year filled many great experiences and friendships and was also a year that forever shaped my personal calling for ministry. Together, Sandi and I learned about the city – the largest we had every lived in. We explored the community, heard the history, and I personally became very interested in how neighborhoods, and the churches in them, had changed over time. I was told stories by older churchgoers about the “glory days” of the Lutheran churches in that area.
As in other American cities, many of Chicago’s churches were established in the middle to late 1800’s. At that time German and other Northern European immigrants were coming to the city and settling in various neighborhoods. There was such a great influx of people that local churches would send members to wait at train platforms to collect those just arriving. They would help the new-comers secure jobs, find housing, and of course welcome them into the church community. As the city expanded into new neighborhoods, more church buildings were built – tall and strong – in the old Gothic and Classical styles.
During my year in Chicago I was invited to preach at several of those historic congregations. Arriving at the church on Sunday morning I would stand in awe of the beauty and size of the building, both inside and out. But then, I would soon become depressed as 15, 20 or 30 people trickled in for the service. Many of the steeples that had dotted Chicago’s skyline for a century or more, now sat atop mostly unused space. Seeing this phenomenon repeated at so many city churches changed my perspective on American Christianity, and filled my heart with a passion for urban ministry. This trend of decay and decline needed to be reversed!
Last night I gathered with around 30 other people at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hyattsville to discuss urban ministry in this city. I am not alone in feeling that our cities are vitally important, and that God has not abandoned the city, but in fact has great plans for gospel revitalization. You may have heard some mention of this before, but a new movement called LINC (Lutheran Inter-city, Network Coalition) is forming in the DC area to gather resources for new ministry initiatives. For the past several years, leaders from churches in and around the Beltway have been meeting together to discuss how they might partner for this work.
A few months ago in May, we gathered at Calvary for a prayer service. At that point we were not sure how things would proceed, but we knew prayer for the city was an important first step. As we met last night, Pr. Lloyd Gaines from the Southeastern District shared news that a young couple living in the area felt a call to lead and facilitate this new ministry. This couple, Marlon and Deborah, then laid out a plan for planting new churches in the city, finding ways to meet some of the felt needs that are common in urban areas, and gather people together for discipleship and outreach training.
Once again, I am not sure where things will go from here. I am excited that other people share the same passion I have for ministry in and around our cities. I also am aware of the great challenges to this work that exist. I would ask you to begin praying for Marlon and Deborah Yearwood, who are committing themselves to this task. Please keep praying for Calvary and our ministry, as well as the other churches around this city.
My dream is that just as churches multiplied from city center – to neighborhoods – to suburbs in the last 100 years, that we would be able to see a reversal of this trend, going back into the city, in the next.