Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Good Stuff for our Good City

In January of 2000 a small group of men from two churches began meeting on the first Saturday of every month for worship, bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. This would not be unusual except that one church was black and urban, and the other was white and suburban.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Mount Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life evermore. Psalm 133

Within a few months of the first gatherings the Lord directed them to include women.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. Acts 2:17, 18

From the beginning there was something special about this group of believers, young and old, male and female, black and white, Baptist and Christian Reformed. They had all been part of churches, some veterans of numerous attempts at conciliation between ethnic groups and denominations, but there was something different about these gatherings where the focus was on worship, prayer, teaching, and honest and open dialogue. Discussions about the many reasons why Sunday morning at 11am is the most segregated time of the week, and intense listening by the white brethren for the deep struggle that has been the black experience, especially for those that remain faithful to God’s call to remember the poor. In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Acts 13: 1, 2

These gatherings, now in their seventh year continue to be a unique experience for those who attend. From the vibrant worship of a diverse group, to the prayer and scripture teaching that is a part of each meeting, the School of the Prophets is an opportunity to fellowship with other Christians we don’t normally encounter in our daily lives. This past Saturday, over 40 people from at least ten different churches packed into the humble surroundings of Austin Corinthian Baptist Church on the West Side to be refreshed by the presence of the Lord, and to fellowship and dialogue around the issue of conciliation among Gods people from diverse ethnic, racial, denominational, and economic backgrounds.

This week’s teacher/discussion leader was Mike Ivers, president of Goodcity, ===>Click headline to access webiste . . . an organization that discovers, incubates, and supports start up ministries in Chicago and works to network churches and community organizations for the renewal of the city. I encourage you to look at their web site at, to get more information on the great work they are doing and to explore how you might become involved. Mike was a Catholic priest for 27 years, serving most recently as Pastor of St. Agatha Church in North Lawndale from 1988-2000. “Father Mike” is well known in the community because he regularly walked the streets, visiting homes, and worked to build a sense of community among the residents.

Pastor Mike began his School of the Prophets time this past Saturday with an enthusiastic reading of Isaiah 11:6-9. He then reminded us that Jesus saved us, but that we are all going through a constant sanctification. He was very clear several times during his remarks that despite his background he considers himself to be a person of prejudice, and on the road to recovery. Mike admitted that his wife keeps him in “check” and especially so because she is black. Mike grew up on the south side of Chicago at 97th and Throop, his mother German, and his father Irish. His experience with ethnic and racial prejudice began as early as third grade when some other kids from his neighborhood reminded him that he was not as good as they were because he was a mix of German and Irish but they were “all Irish.” As Mike reached his teens during the late 50’s to early 60’s the neighborhood he grew up in changed from all white to all black, yet his family remained. He has a vivid image in his mind of working as a caddie at Beverly Country Club, where the members were all white, and right across the street from the club was Beverly Woods which was all black.

These experiences have given Mike a passion for study and reflection on the problem of racism in America, and prompted him to spend four summers studying at the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. While there, one of his instructors, Thea Bowman, taught him that the United States is millions of islands, and that the work we are to be about is building bridges between these islands. This lesson has stayed with Mike, because that is exactly what he continues to do today through his work at Goodcity.

Mike admitted that he is often frustrated by the way people in economically depressed neighborhoods in the city are characterized by the media, which contributes to continued separation and isolation of people from different racial backgrounds. He says, “It is a very small percentage of people who are causing all of the trouble, the vast majority are hard working and honest.” He also cautioned us to be very careful about passing judgment on poor neighborhoods, because as he puts it, “If you had been in their shoes how would you have turned out? We simply don’t have a clue about what is going on in other people’s lives.” Mike also reminded us that “we must be very careful with what we say.”

The divide between people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, gender, economic level, and denomination continues to be a major problem within the Church of Jesus Christ. Mike believes that the greatest contributor to this divide may be that we simply don’t know each other, we are not in relationship. The School of the Prophets, which meets just once per month, is an opportunity to take a first step toward building bridges between the islands we all occupy. I encourage you to consider this as an alternative to your normal Saturday morning routine, we will continue to strive to have Spirit led teacher leaders who inspire and encourage us. In fact, if you know of someone who we should consider inviting to lead one of our upcoming gatherings please don’t hesitate to send an email my way.

In Christ’s name,
Bro. Bob Marsh
323 West Chicago Ave., Hinsdale, IL 60521

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