Tag Archives: Ministry in the City

My Cross-Cultural Experience: Final Day

the gang in courtyard

This will be a short post to wrap up the “My Cross-Cultural Experience” series. Yesterday was my last day of the “Ministry in the City” class, and since it was simply one meeting that lasted the morning, a debrief, it will be, well… brief.

Those of us in the class met in the morning with the two pastors who were leading us all weekend, Pastors Jim and Brian. When we arrived at the church, Pastor Jim was ready for us with coffee, tea, muffins and books! As you can see in the picture below, some books that were recommended for the course were laid out on the table so that we could peruse. I have already downloaded “Race Matters” on my Kindle.

Recommended Reads

After we said hello, got our caffeine, and discussed the books a bit, we moved into the Sanctuary where we discussed the weekend. We talked about the parts of the weekend that particularly touched us (there were many given), times when we felt uncomfortable, times when we felt challenged, and how much our host families really touched our lives. We spoke of the style of service, and whether it is accurate or appropriate to call it “black” preaching. The general feeling, at the end of the conversation, is that it is not “black.” There are many preachers (such as our own Pastor Jim) who naturally go to this style, even though the color of his skin is pale. What it IS is verbally expressive, with lots of movement. It is more of a dialogue versus the more typical “Lutheran” sermon that is a monologue. I commented that I felt it was less guarded, more emotional and vulnerable. Another student pointed out, though, that she has seen sermons that are very emotional and vulnerable, and yet still are not like this more expressive and free style that we have been experiencing over the weekend. I think she made a very good point. I have seen vulnerable and emotional sermons that were also more “stiff,” too. It is hard to find the right words to describe the distinction that we all had witnessed and understood.

This new (to us) style worked very well for some, and not so well for others. It works extremely well for me. I find myself opening up more, letting my own guards down, and feeling the community and the community’s love much more directly. I suppose I feel the Spirit more directly. I would very much like to experience more of this kind of preaching, and hopefully have my own preaching influenced by it. I think that, if my guards were completely down, I would be more expressive and emotional myself when preaching. I am going to look into whether it would be feasible to take one more class (beyond the currently full 5-class schedule) in preaching a style more similar to this. I think that if I would be forced outside of my own comfort zone a bit in this way, I may surprise myself.

We also spoke about the assignment that we all have due: a 3-5 page paper where we choose an urban ministry principle to try out in a parish/community setting, and then write about how it goes. We brainstormed principles together (seek out the good news, know the community, know the congregation, enable authenticity, remember history, break bread together, be vulnerable, etc.), and discussed some possible paper topics. It seems to me these principles aren’t really specific to “urban ministry,” but rather fit any ministry. I think I might choose “challenge each other and the congregation towards appropriate change” and see about introducing more inclusive language in the worship at PLTS. But I haven’t decided for certain… we’ll see.

When we finished our discussion, we gathered in a circle for the Eucharist. Pastor Brian led, and I very much appreciated how he said the words of the Eucharist without “citing” them. What I mean is that he said them more conversationally, as if he was just casually speaking with a group of friends, and explaining what the bread and wine are, and why they are given. The words spoken were the scripted words, but said in a more intimate way. It was touching. When the bread was distributed, it was not done by Brian to each person, but rather by Brian to the first person, who then took the bread and gave it to the next person, and so on. I very much like this approach to the Eucharist better than the more “top down” approach that is usual in the Lutheran church, where the pastor is the only distributor. By allowing each person to give the bread to the next person, we are reminded that we are truly a “priesthood of all believers,” and that one of us is not elevated above the others.  The wine was distributed in the same way.

When the Eucharist was done, we shared the peace with hugs and good wishes, to end our session. I insisted that I wanted pictures, and so we then headed outside to take some group shots. Can you tell it was cold yet sunny?

SONY DSC

Then, we split up. The younger generation headed out together to In n Out Burger at my request, as I wanted to get my California burger before heading back to Seattle. We had a good and filling lunch, and then decided to go check out the Venice canals. Although it took me a few tries, I found the canals, and showed them off a bit (this is next door to the neighborhood where I used to live in LA) before rushing back to my car and barely making my flight home.

The gang, standing on a bridge over one of the canals.

The gang, standing on a bridge over one of the canals.

This class has been a huge blessing for me. I am still reflecting upon all that I’ve learned and experienced, and I expect I will continue to reflect upon this for quite some time. In this short time, we have built ourselves a tight-knit community, and I really hope to keep that community going. I am hopeful that I will be able to keep in touch with at least some of these new friends, and enjoy the blessings of that community throughout my path of ministry.

To all of my fellow Ministry in the City classmates: Thank you, Peace, and Blessings.

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My Cross-Cultural Experience: Day 1

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

If you read my previous post, you already know that I am in Los Angeles for a class. Well, the class began tonight, and I thought I would try blogging every night, in an effort to share what promises to be a very interesting experience. First, some context.

One of the required classes for a Masters in Divinity degree from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) is this class, also called, “Ministry in the City.” Although students may propose and complete an alternative experience to satisfy this requirement, the experience that PLTS provides for its students is in LA. It is designed to embed students in a community that is different from their own home community, and hopefully different from any community in which they have previously participated, so that they can learn and experience not only a culture that is different, but also how ministry within that culture is changed. Since most students at PLTS are white, the cross-cultural experience that PLTS provides begins within an African-American community in one of the LA neighborhoods that many people believe is “unsafe,” Inglewood. To illustrate what I mean, within only the past few days, when I told a few friends that I would be living in Inglewood for the weekend, my friends expressed concern for my safety, and spoke of the city as the slums of LA.

This morning, since I had some time, I drove down to Inglewood, and specifically the neighborhood where I would be living, even though I was not due to be here until 5pm. I drove down from downtown LA, and noticed how the nice malls turned to strip malls, and the cute restaurants became fast food joints. I did see more trash in the streets, and the skin color of the people walking around became darker. When I turned into the neighborhood, though, the trash disappeared. The houses were modest, but well kept with nice yards. As I looked around, I wondered… why do people call these the slums?

Actually, I didn’t wonder that. I know why. Because it is a black neighborhood. This is not to say that anyone who calls Inglewood is racist. For example, my friends who think of it as “unsafe” have probably never even driven through here. They think this area is a slum because that is what they have heard from others. It is an image, a caricature that has been passed down from the mid-1900’s, that is racially based. As I learned this evening, in the mid-1900’s, the nicer neighborhoods in LA were “white only” neighborhoods. Many of them had “sundown laws,” that allowed blacks to be in town while the sun was up, but required them to be long gone when the sun went down. And so, these neighborhoods were born. Neighborhoods made up of blacks, most of whom did not have much (if any) financial opportunity. Because they were, and are, mostly black, they were considered to be slums that are not safe places for any respectable person to be. Curious, I even looked up the crime statistics of Inglewood, and compared them to a city that is considered to be one of the safer ones in California, Sacramento. The crime rates in Sacramento are actually worse than Inglewood. But I have never heard Sacramento called “unsafe” or a “slum.” It is true that when I compare the crime rates between LA overall and Inglewood, there is a one point (out of 10) difference in the violence statistics with Inglewood slightly more violent. However, a one point difference does not seem to me to warrant the “slum” reputation.

This class is coordinated through a local Lutheran (ELCA) church, Holy Trinity Church, and that is where the class began. As we found the room in the church, we were greeted with offers of bottled water, granola bars, and coffee/tea, while we introduced ourselves to the other students and instructor. We chatted for awhile, and then were given some information and background about the area. The church invites its congregants to host us, and we were given a schedule of events, along with a list of students and each host family’s names, addresses, and phone numbers. Ideally, every student has a different family with which we live during our long weekend here. After the orientation and getting-to-know-you was done, we moved into the Parish, where dinner (lasagna) was served. Some of the host families joined us for dinner, and we spent some more time getting to know each other while we broke bread. The church’s choir rehearses on Thursday nights, and we were invited to join them. All of the students opted to join the choir, and we enjoyed a couple hours of rehearsing gospel music together.

The rehearsal was difficult for some of us, as those of us who are in choirs in our own home churches (or elsewhere), are used to being given sheet music and following the tune by reading the music. In this choir, though, most participants do not read music, and so instead, we are given sheets with words only on them, and expected to follow along in our respective parts! Although this did not seem to be any problem whatsoever for those who are members of the choir, it was very difficult for me!! I found myself wanting to make up my own harmonic tune to go with what was being played on the piano, but I discovered that we WERE expected to sing a specific line of music. Just because the sheet music was not written in front of us did NOT mean we were not expected to discern the appropriate melody or harmony and sing! Thankfully, my fellow Sopranos were happy to sing loudly in my ear so that I could pick it up and join in with them. This is just one example of how being embedded in a different culture will make some differences more visible and even envious. I am very envious of their ability to pick out the appropriate part in the music by ear!

My host family was not able to join us for the dinner, but the matriarch did join for part of the choir rehearsal. I met her after choir, and she waited for me to finish up some of the logistical necessities, and then led me to her home. I met her husband, and she showed me around her very nice home. Similar to the houses that I saw when I did my “drive-through” earlier in the day, her home is modest from the outside, but quite roomy and well kept with beautiful wood floors, a bit of crown molding, and a nice, large kitchen. I have my own bedroom, and she graciously offered me coffee and tea, and told me to help myself in the morning to any of the breakfast items she pointed out as she gave me the tour. She explained that she will not be here in the morning when I leave at 8:30am for my class day tomorrow, because she works at UCLA. I asked her what she does, and found out that she is a micro-biologist! (So impressive!) She and her husband were very tired, and need to get up early, so after making sure I had everything I needed (including the wireless code, which is enabling me to write this), they headed to bed.

Tomorrow, I have a long, busy day. My schedule begins with meeting up with other students at Holy Trinity so we can carpool over to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. From St. Mark’s, we will be led through a “community walk,” where we will experience and observe another community in Inglewood, including lunch at a local restaurant. At 2pm, we will meet with representatives from UNIDAD (United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement), and then meet someone at a local Family Center. We have dinner at 6pm with the local pastor of that church, and then will attend a Hip Hop Worship at Ascension Church, which is led by the youth of that church. I have to admit… I think the Hip Hop Worship is going to be the highlight of a very full and interesting day!

And so, I am going to head to bed. As I sit here, I take in the silence from outside. No road noises (unlike my own house at home), no sirens (also unlike my house), no disruptions. It sounds and feels pretty safe to me.

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