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The Spirit and the Prophetic Church, Part 2, by Antipas L. Harris

A Way Forward: Examples of Ecumenical Ministries

Several rationales emerge with the attempt to justify isolation among the churches. There are equally as many theologies that disagree with ecumenical approaches to ministry. It is disheartening when these theologies interfere with the potential for a collective witness to Christ amidst a wide range of urban ills. Nonetheless, there are several exemplary models that are making a difference through creative ecumenical approaches to urban ministry. Two examples are the Ten-Point Coalition in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Dream Center in Los Angeles, California.

How similar is the ‘thing’ we call ‘church’ to what the Bible tells us about?

First, the Ten-Point Coalition testifies to the strength of ecumenical urban ministry. The organization is comprised of several churches. The interdenominational consortium of churches works together as one, forging a partnership with community and city organizations. Their objective is to apply a unified ministry mechanism for the purpose of alleviating gang-violence and other crimes, and to rectify education disparities among urban youth in the greater Boston area.

Prior to 1992, community activist and minister, the Rev. Eugene Rivers, was a lone ranger advocating for a practice of ministry beyond the walls of the church. The religious tenor in the Boston area was not bent towards ecumenism and prophetic ministry. With the exception of the Center for Urban Ministerial Education of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, prominent theological institutions all-around—Harvard, Boston University School of Theology, Andover Newton Seminary, and Boston College—styled a religious culture that was not bent towards incarnational ministry.57 The culture of theological education seemed distant from the lived realities in the urban streets of “hoods” and “ghettos” nearby.58

God is working in the city because God cares about the city.

However, in 1992 gang-violence was at an all-time high. A funeral for a young man, who was murdered during a drive-by shooting, was held at Morning Star Baptist Church on Blue Hill Avenue. Violence broke out in the church among gang members attending a funeral. A shootout and multiple stabbings in the church disrupted the service and threw the congregation into utter disarray. The brazenness of this attack, taking place within a church sanctuary, deeply concerned many of Boston’s black clergy and provoked them to do something about the violence among the youth in Boston.

In an article on the impact of the Ten-point Coalition, Jenny Berrien and Christopher Winship point out, “They [the ministers] realized that they could no longer effectively serve their community by remaining within the four walls of their churches and ignoring the situation on the street. Instead, youth and others in the surrounding troubled neighborhoods needed to become extensions of the church congregations.”59 Three ministers—Reverends Eugene Rivers, Raymond Hammond, and Jeffrey Brown—collaborated to mobilize an ecumenical consortium of Boston Churches in a prophetic ministry to end the violence in the community. It was not enough for the ministers to contrive an armchair ecumenism. They saw a need in the community for what I have called “grassroots” ecumenical ministry to transform young people’s lives and end the violence on the streets of Boston.

More than we can apprehend, God wants to bring about the transformation of our cities through the full presence of a unified Church.

Berrien and Winship explain two notable outcomes in urban Boston that are direct results from the ecumenical prophetic work of the Ten-Point Coalition. First, the homicide rate has been the most significant in the entire nation. Between 1990 and 1996 the Boston rate reduced 61.2%—from 152 homicides to 59. Between 1996 and 1999 the rate dropped even more—only 43 homicides in 1997 and 35 homicides in 1998. This represents a 77% drop from 1990 to 1999.60 Perhaps even more impressive, for the 29-month period ending in January 1998, Boston had no teenage homicide victims. During 1999 there were only four. Second, Boston is unusual in that a group of ministers, the Ten-Point Coalition, is credited with playing a key role in reducing youth homicides.61

Sufficient to the thesis in this paper, the Ten-Point Coalition during the 1990s is an exemplary ecumenical prophetic ministry with direct impact on the stark decline in homicide rates of Boston. The power of unity as expressed among the ministers involved was so powerful that the actual time invested was modest compared to the impact achieved. So then, urban churches need not work harder as they seem to often assume. The Ten-Point Coalition is an example of how urban ministries working ecumenically as a “prophetic unit”—rather than isolated units—can have maximal impact with less stress on a given ministry.

Second, the Los Angeles Dream Center is another example of a ministry both formed and sustained through the cooperation of an ecumenical coalition of ministry support. The Dream Center’s mission is “to reconnect people who have been isolated by poverty, substance abuse, gangs, imprisonment, homelessness, abuse, and neglect to God and to a community of support to meet their physical and spiritual needs, and to help them develop a support system that will encourage them to make positive, long-term, God-honoring changes in their lives.”62

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: Antipas L. Harris, D.Min. (Boston University), S.T.M. (Yale University Divinity School), M.Div. (Emory University), is the president-dean of Jakes Divinity School and associate pastor at The Potter’s House of Dallas, TX, and the founding dean of the Urban Renewal Center in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the Criminal Justice System Director for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and president of the Global Institute for Empowerment & Leadership Development, known as GIELD. He has additional experience as an educator, academic lecturer, itinerant preacher, pastor, youth director, motivational speaker, and Christian musician. He is the author of Is Christianity the White Man's Religion?: How the Bible Is Good News for People of Color (IVP, 2020), The Holy Spirit and Social Justice: Scripture and Theology (2019), Holy Spirit, Holy Living: A Practical Theology of Holiness for Twenty-first Century Churches (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and Unstoppable Success: 7 Ways to Flourish in Your Boundless Potential (High Bridge Books, 2014). | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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