There is a “big change on the horizon that is taking place in cities” as evangelicals increasingly focus their attention on urban ministry, according to Common Place, (March 26-27), an urban affairs blog published by the University of Virginia’s Institute for the Advanced Studies in Culture.
Both figuratively and literally, American evangelicals “are coming back to the city . . . Some have even moved out of the suburbs and into areas of the city where they would not have imagined themselves living just a few years ago. Much of the urban turn among evangelicals started in Portland, Ore., a few years ago with a program known as Season of Service, where evangelical congregations fanned out across the city to provide a wide range of social services, with a “no-strings” attached approach that downplayed proselytism. The Season of Service was so well-received in Portland that it has been replicated in Anchorage, Little Rock, Phoenix, San Diego, Sacramento and even in the state of New Jersey.
Another sign of the shift toward cities among evangelicals is “Movement Day,” an event which started in 2010 and has since become an annual gathering of leaders to catalyze evangelical movements in their cities. At the forefront of this effort has been New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Andrew Sharp writes that “the Season of Service and Movement Day are just a couple among numerous examples that signal a shift, at least among a segment of evangelical Christianity, away from the kind of engagement with society epitomized by the Christian Right and similar movements toward the end of last century through the past decade.” The new urban focus has led some evangelicals, such as Joy Allmond of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, to speak of the next “Great Awakening.”
The recent book The Fundamentalist City? Religiosity and the Remaking of Urban Space, edited by Nezar AlSayyad and Mejgan Massoumi, suggests that “fundamentalist” strands within many of today’s world religions have also shown new interest in engaging urban life. Whether or not evangelicals will have an impact on American cities will hinge on whether they can partner with other Christians—such as Catholics and other Protestants—who, unlike evangelicals, stayed in the inner city and consistently maintained ministries to the urban poor.
A larger question will be whether religious groups will be “taken seriously as a force for positive, lasting change in cities.” A study by Cardus, a think tank in Canada, has recently shown that the key to success in dealing with a city’s problems is to “improve structural engagement” between “faith-based organizations and city planning departments.” Sharp concludes by asking, “will city leaders in the U.S. be willing to take faith-based organizations seriously? Will religious leaders among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others be willing to together to share common goals for their city and speak with one voice if city leaders give them a seat at the planning table?”
(Common Place, http://iasc-culture.org/THR/channels/Common_Place/.)