Can Christians work together in a truly equitable and collaborative manner across boundaries like denomination, race, gender, geography, political and theological viewpoints? If asked before becoming involved with the planning for the Congress on Urban Ministry I would have easily replied: not likely. Not only is our culture becoming more polarized but we also seem less and less able to engage in reasoned, open dialogue. Maybe it is our stunted ability to truly listen or perhaps a reflexive tendency to see the world in black & white but whatever the cause, our ability to reconcile differences, to understand differing viewpoints, and to compromise seems under real threat. Need evidence? Watch five minutes of a panel “discussing” an issue on the nightly news.
What is stunning then is that dialogue and listening and compromise and mutual understanding do still happen. Overall, my acclimatization to working at SCUPE has been minor as they come from a similar prophetic, justice orientated, contextual, and thus, open paradigm. One significant place where I have been challenged is to see that a part of being truly open is creating space for the other. Collaboration, partnership, and conspiring (literally breathing together) become possible only when our stance of being open to the other is authentic… and authentic openness means that we must purposefully be closed ourselves (usually this involves closing, specifically, the mouth).
The rewards of this process are numerous. As someone who would rather conspire only with those of a similar mind I have come to see how this can in fact be limiting. Having a diversity of perspectives, emphasis-es, and experiences at the planning table for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry has meant that we have been taken to unexpected places and found unexpected connections between concepts, paradigms, and practices which we initially considered disparate.
In another sense, this model of planning is essential because it directs the focus and agenda of a church, denomination, or, in this case SCUPE upon a wealth of needs and assets. Is there a better way to understand the city than as collections of communities that contain both needs and assets? If a gathering is to step away from the top-down, expert-driven, conference mentality it must allow for the a variety and diversity of voices to be heard. As we plan for the 2011 Congress I am proud to become a part of a 30-plus year tradition of striving across differences towards the Kingdom of God.
They city is an astounding place of differences rubbing elbows, quite literally, in confined areas. In a globalizing world in which the world is both getting incredibly small and, most theorists argue, increasingly localized: How would urban ministry be different if we saw our mission in the city as one of creating open spaces where different people groups and ideologies and expressions of life could come together? What if urban ministers saw their charge as being radically open to the other? What if we took seriously Paul’s words that the church now is the body of Christ and that this body knows no divisions or boundaries? I’d like to think that the sort of “getting along” this might inspire might not be just for the kindergarten playground…