Gated Communities with Invisible Walls

Gentrification is a loaded term, one that causes rifts between people and remakes communities in the effect of it’s wake. Below is an excerpt from my forth coming book, “Renovate.” In this excerpt I explore, in part, how the church should respond to a very present reality…

The effects of this wave of gentrification are also important to note, because whether you know it or not, it is affecting your ministry, as a pastor or simply as a person, in profound ways.

As young professionals, artists, and hipsters (of which I’ve been called) are moving back into cities, and as gentrification imposes its will on once-depressed areas, there is an adverse effect that is easy to miss if you’re not being attentive to the change. Here in Atlanta we have seen sometimes light, sometimes severe, but always present, culture clash. What Riley described is a heartbreaking, but often more benign form of this. But in more extreme examples, it can be far worse.

Case in point, I live in Grant Park (downtown Atlanta), one of Atlanta’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods. We live near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and everyone I know who doesn’t live here or isn’t familiar with what has taken place here always asks me, “You living in the ’hood now?” Well technically, yes, but conventionally, no. We’ve lived in several different places in this neighborhood, including in what was once an abandoned warehouse turned chic, overpriced loft space with gated parking. So more directly, though others might fear this as “the ’hood,” by all accounts I am living in what is considered a now mostly gentrified neighborhood. And it is diverse by race, ethnicity, culture, and “class.” It amazes me when I see BMWs, Bentleys, and other high-priced vehicles drive past homeless guys urinating in the street, and yet, I see it every day. This overlap has created a culture clash that plays out in everything from conversations about education reform to how we should structure the neighborhood association, and it is starting to spill over in more severe ways.

The shopping center where we do all of our grocery shopping is about three miles from my home. There is a Target, Barnes & Noble, Kroger, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Ru San’s (sushi), Chase (bank), and a Smoothie King, not to mention several upscale shoe stores, shops, and boutiques. It possesses all of the qualities of the “rough” areas of Seattle, so by my general definition, it is no longer a depressed area. Except in Atlanta’s situation, because of the pace of gentrification and trend changes, my definition is blown. Why? The liquor store three blocks from this shopping center was robbed, and the clerk was shot to death in the process. Mere weeks after that incident, a shoot out between two vehicles occurred in the shopping center housing Target, just a few hours after my family and I finished buying groceries there.

Gated Communities with Invisible Walls

The point to this discourse is to make plain that the dividing lines between rich and poor, safe and dangerous, ’hood and hip are no longer so clear. This is a changing landscape that as a pastor to this city I am going to have to carefully examine to understand, so that Renovation can most effectively and faithfully engage and reach this entire area—that does not in any way lend itself to homogeneous ministry. If we’re going to be true to engaging the whole of the community, we cannot allow this to simply be.

This is a changing landscape that as a person, pastor, or ministry leader of any kind, you too will have to carefully examine, and in the process of examination, wrestle with all of its implications so that you too can be faithful to reach your whole community with the whole gospel.

Unfortunately, the church often finds itself in one of two positions related to this quandary of circumstance. Either the church is on its heels in these matters, virtually unaware of the implications of the rapid change taking place around it, or unable to change in a timely manner in order to meet the rising demands. Or, and most dishearteningly, the church is welcoming the changes, even celebrating them, as it postures some churches to more easily facilitate ministry to a segment of people and a portion of a place, because that people and that place provide a homogeny with which they are comfortable. A homogeny that we are taught in seminary is both right and necessary to “build” a healthy church.

It is easy, and seemingly prevalent, for churches who settle into gentrified or gentrifying areas to find themselves welcoming the wave. In turn they become gated communities with invisible walls, subtly hostile to the other cultures, ethnicities, and peoples around them, those to whom they haven’t chosen to minister. These walls are sociological, preferential, linguistic, and class oriented; racial, cultural, and even educational. And this choice, regardless of how we justify it by baptizing it in missional language, lacks the same redemptive energy as many of the gentry themselves.

How then do we do this rightly? How do we diligently work to reconcile the culture clashes? The simple answer is to believe a gospel with enough breadth to call people into the family God is forming for Himself. But fleshing out the specifics of that ideological and theological answer is far more cumbersome. Regardless of its difficulty, for anyone seeking to move into and work for the welfare of any major city, any place at all for that matter, these questions must be answered. And though I don’t have all of the answers, I do believe that a step in the right direction is looking into the wealth of words that is the book of Jeremiah.

Excerpt from Renovate © 2016 by Léonce B. Crump Jr. Published in the United States by WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All Rights Reserved.

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