Category Archives: Asset-Based Community Development

Should I attend the Congress if I’m not into Urban Ministry?

Susan Rans MASJCD

Susan Rans, director of the Master of Arts in Social Justice and Community Development program, encourages those who are interested in creating peace in neighborhoods, cities, and between nations (but perhaps not interested in urban ministry) to participate in the Congress and to be a part of the myriad of groups working for peace from diverse contexts and perspectives.

As apart of this continuing work towards peace, SCUPE is pleased to present the finalized workshop offerings for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry.

Faith and Racism in Chicago

Hallett Lecture Father Michael Pfleger and Robert McClory

February may still seem like quite a ways away but, remembering how quickly the holiday season flies by, we want to make sure that this great event got onto everyone’s calendar.  Especially if you are locating in the Chicagoland area, you will not want to miss this reflection upon the role of faith in combating racism.

The 2011 Stanley J. Hallett lecture will look at the life of Father Michael Pfleger through the eyes of award winning journalist Robert McClory and his new book “Radical Disciple”.  The title of the lecture is “Faith and Racism in Chicago: the Fight for Social Justice” and it will take place at Loyola University on February 3, 2011.  Both McClory and Father Pfleger will be present and offer perspectives on how the church community can change the face of the city.

Robert McClory and Father Michael PflegerAs we continue preparations for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry (of which Father Pfleger is Co-chair along with Rev. James A. Forbes) we here at SCUPE are pleased to see people of faith reexamining the church’s role in addressing major societal issues like racism.  For too long the church has ignored its calling to name, confront, and resist the evils that do not reside primarily in the individual but within systems, cultures, and institutions.  While the majority of the church has become highly attuned to addressing sin and salvation on an individual level we have relegated this calling to wrestle with Powers and Principalities to small groups at the fringes of the church who engage in an increasingly isolating struggle.

It is people such as this that the Congress on Urban Ministry has served.  The Congress is a crucial gathering for leaders, students, and churches who are responding to a call to serve the forgotten parts of the city, to speak Gospel with a spirit which we have stifled, and to dismantle persistent societal ills like racism, poverty, xenophobia, and violence.

Our 2011 theme, Peacemaking in a Culture of Violence,  reminds us that to be disciples of Jesus, the one whom we claim as the Prince of Peace, is to be actively engaged in the struggle for peace for all peoples.

We look forward to this Hallett lecture as it will certainly help us to wrestle with the meaning of this Christian vocation to peacemaking.

February 3, 2011 Hallett Lecture

MA in Social Justice and Community Development

Community Leader at Lake And PulaskiSCUPE’s newest degree program is designed for those aspiring to affect faith-based, social transformation in communities as well as to those committed to restoring economic equity, social justice, and ecological health, especially with regard to underserved, marginalized, or exploited populations.

The degree is the MASJCD, which stands for the Masters of Arts in Social Justice and Community Development.  This cross-denominational program engages students through a faith- and values-based perspective and provides:

  • an interdisciplinary foundation in justice theories and religious social teachings
  • a comprehensive, integrated curriculum, useful for various career paths in community development and social justice
  • practical tools in community organizing, social analysis and change, communication and non-violence, advocacy in public policy, working with volunteers, grant writing, and fundraising

The best way to learn about the possibilities of this degree in your life is to attend the upcoming open house hosted by our partner institution the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.  Here are details on this opportunity:

Loyola SCUPE IPS Open House

You can read more about the connections between social justice and community development in a recent blog posting here by MASJCD program co-director Susan Rans.

Also, stayed tuned for an upcoming SCUPE podcast with the other co-director for the program: Mary Nelson of Bethel New Life.

Social Justice and Community Development

A partnership between SCUPE and Loyola University
combines Social Justice and Community Development
into one graduate level program (MASJCD).  Susan Rans writes
about how SJ and CD are not unusual bedfellows.

Dr. Mary Nelson' s Restoring Urban Communities Course

Many current and incoming students have asked for a description of the differences between the Social Justice and Community Development tracks of the MASJCD.  In the past, I have answered this question in a kind of shorthand:

Social Justice ‘thinks globally”; Community Development “acts locally”.  Here, I will attempt to put more meat on those bones.

The biggest idea behind the creation of the MASJCD was to join the theoretical and theological study of social justice to a place-based practice and policy approach to change in urban communities.  While the study of social justice leads toward action, the study of community development provides effective and proven tools for action.  So, another formulation might be that the study of social justice reveals why we must act and the study of community development shows what we can do.

It can also be said that community development is a form of social justice.  Our religious traditions speak clearly about the injustices of poverty, of war and of oppression of the powerless.  Answering this call often leads students to involvement in justice issues like eliminating poverty and hunger, ending wars, empowering women or welcoming immigrants.  Community development–building strong and liberating communities in which the economy is available to all, in which every member is a valued contributor, and in which access to health care, education and secure housing is a mandate–fulfills the social justice vision.

Community development also concerns itself with systems—their analysis and the ways in which they must change to become equitable and sustainable.  Understanding housing policy and the details of housing production are essential to changing the housing system.  Knowing the economics and politics of food production is necessary to work to provide local communities with access to healthy food.  As one Chicago community developer often says, “We need to discover ways to make big systems work for small places.”  Studying community development leads to that discovery.

In the end, an argument can be made that significant knowledge of both areas is essential to real and lasting change, and that’s why there is an MASJCD.  And toward that end, we do not require students to declare a track until one full-time semester has passed (one year for part-time students).  And we highly recommend that students take courses in both tracks early in their studies and even after they have chosen a track—a sort of major/minor arrangement.  The best mix of theory and practice, of global issues and local systems will produce to the best agents of social change—the goal of our program.

For more info and discussion of the program, feel free to contact me.

-Susan Rans
MASJCD Graduate Program Director

Summer Discoveries in Chicago

Holy Family Lutheran Church in Chicago, IL

Hosting out-of-town ministry tour groups has become one of my side-lines here in Chicago.  While ministry tours involve a good bit of scheduling and patience, they also provide me with great discoveries!  I get to see how God and his people are meeting the needs of many Chicagoans.  Here’s a sample of my “discoveries” during summer 2010.

  • The Greater Chicago Food Depository distributes food items to more than 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters serving 678,000 people. From its enormous warehouse on Chicago’s southwest side, the Food Depository distributed enough food last year to serve 135,000 meals every day!
  • While some local churches have closed or moved away, Chicago’s Holy Family Lutheran Church continues to carry on a heroic ministry in the city’s former Cabrini Green Community. Rev. Leslie Hunter, youth director and assistant minister at Holy Family Church, carries on an intensive ministry through preaching, teaching, community involvement and spoken-word poetry.
  • When 25 teenagers and sponsors are hungry in the middle of a busy day of urban discovery, there’s no food better than the “dogs and polish” at Jim’s Original Hot Dogs on Maxwell Street (actual location is 1250 S. Union Avenue, but who’s counting street numbers!) You get the most and best dogs and fries in Chicago for $3.50!

    Roger Johnson

  • Chicago’s Lawndale Christian Health Center provides optometric, dental, fitness and general medical care for over 119,000 patients each year at three sites in the city’s Lawndale neighborhood.  Lawndale Health Center maintains a staff of over 50 healthcare personnel who provide the comprehensive, quality care.
  • Breakthrough Urban Ministries conducts an intensive array of ministries in Chicago’s challenging East Garfield Park Community. Founded in the 1990’s by Dr. Arloa Sutter (, Breakthrough is now serving men, women and children in areas of job training and readiness, tutoring, child care, food distribution, Christian counseling and Bible studies.  Their two west side shelters meet housing needs for nearly 1,000 Chicagoans annually.

Want to be surprised by what God is doing in your city, or your neighborhood?  If so, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at: roger(at)  I can lead or go along for the ride.  Chances are that I’ll be able to suggest a few good places for you and your group to start!

– Roger Johnson
Church Relations Coordinator, SCUPE

Restoring Urban Communities

Mary Nelson teaching at Lake & Pulaski

Last weekend I spent some time in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago with Dr. Mary Nelson’s “Restoring Urban Communities” class.  If you haven’t heard about Mary Nelson you’ll want to – especially if  you’re involved in community development, community organizing, or just live in a neighborhood you care about.  Just as Dr. Nelson’s approach to C.D. (everyone in this field loves acronyms) is firmly rooted in the context of the community so is her May SCUPE/Loyola class.

Downtown From Rooftop Prarie on Eco-building

On the particular day I visited with the class Mary had us all cram into a 15 passenger van as she zoomed around the neighborhood.  At every corner of every block there was a story about a struggle the neighborhood had faced and how the community overcame, or at the very least challenged, the issues.  In 30 years of existence, Bethel New Life (the non-profit started by the Bethel Lutheran congregation) has joined the neighborhood in its joys and its struggles and has provided a model for the way church should be.

Two key elements of the way of church-life which Mary teaches are listening and an asset-based approach to looking at communities.  Listening is probably the more difficult of the two while Asset-based community development (ABCD) is the more counter-intuitive.

Reflection Back in the Classroom

The reason for this is that we are all quite used to going into communities and situations with our analytical minds probing for deficits and deficiencies.  Actively seeking out assets and proficiencies is hard-wired into the human brain.  From the dawn of conscious thought ancient humans analyzed their environment in search for the “wrong” factors that might prove dangerous: a sharp sudden cliff, a structurally un-sound cave, a bog stiff with lurking log-like snouts of crocodiles.  Our very survival has for centuries, and does still, depend on our ability to scout out what is wrong with a situation or an environment.

Looking for assets thus goes against a natural grain in our thinking.  This, I believe, is its wonderful offering to us though.  Looking at a community through asset mapping allows us to think in a different frequency and to see things that we would have otherwise ignored or written off.

We must learn to listen, to ask the right questions, and to look forward our neighborhoods walks, to unexpected conversations, and even community changes as chances to see what jumps out at us.  Maybe that lion is also a source of food!

Learning amidst the Rooftop Prairie and Solar Panels

Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger

A couple nights ago Roger and me from SCUPE went with our Swiss friends to Columbia College for their screening of the new documentary (10 years in the making) about Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger.  The 58 minute film, entitled “Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger“, was begun under the vision of David Axelrod (yeah, the White House Senior Adviser) who passed the helm on to Evanston filmmaker Bob Hercules in 2005 when attention was turning to a young presidential hopeful by the name of Barack Obama.

Father Michael Pfleger

Pfleger is the pastor at Saint Sabina’s Catholic Church in Auburn Gresham, a church with a long history of fostering urban transformation within their community as well as working toward policy change on the city, state, and national level.  As Father Pfleger has worked on various movements during his 29 year tenure at the church he has become a public figure of sorts, love by some and reviled by others, particularly through his fearless use of the news media in the church’s campaigns.

The stakes for the event were heightened by the fact that both filmmaker and film-subject were present at the screening and afterwards would take questions.  Even having met and worked with Father Pfleger I must admit there is a certain level or oddity when watching someone’s life story with them present.  Especially, in tense moments that dealt with some of the controversy that has surrounded Father Pfleger there was an odd sense of his presence being misplaced at a viewing of his own life.  Still, the film dealt quite evenhandedly with the controversy that undoubtedly follows public figures and, to its credit, the film often sought to get beneath these issues to a sense of what compels and inspires Father Pfleger in his drive for social change.

This is the real heart of the story: uncovering the inner spiritual fire that fuels the activist priest who is consistently ambitious enough to believe that real change is possible and then to work towards it.