Thursday, January 17, 2008

Richmond--A City of Shalom

Richmond, VA

Thirty members of the Council for Creative Urban Ministries of Richmond met today at Ginter UMC to review the vision, goals, principles and strategies of the shalom model of community development see www.communitiesofshalom.org and committed themselves to work together to build a City of Shalom in Richmond, requiring bold initiatives in health care, affordable housing, job development, mentoring and racial reconciliation.

Representatives from multiple sectors of the city—business, academic, government, non-profit, and faith traditions—each shared their institutional affiliation and strategic role in working with the Council to advise the staff and board of directors of United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond, Inc. (UMUMR) and serve as a stable, diverse, and well-connected platform from which to guide Communities of Shalom.

About four years ago, Marc Brown, District Superintendent of Richmond, called for the revival of earlier “shalom zones” in the city, and supported their re-development. In 2005, he hired David Cooper as Executive Director of UMUMR and coordinator of existing and future shalom sites. Dave had extensive experience and expertise in economic community development, and under his leadership, seven new shalom zones were created and 36 shalom team members completed basic training in 2007. Three more congregations now are eager to start new shalom zones and schedule their training.


The seven Communities of Shalom in Richmond form a synergistic network for creative urban ministry in the city. Their respective and combined projects include:
• co-developing two affording housing units in the city
• collaborative services of affordable health care
• working with local schools and foster homes to create and support mentoring programs and job skills for children and youth
• after school tennis program and activities for community youth
• computer literacy for preschool-aged children
• providing opportunities for safe dialogue toward racial reconciliation and healing
• and organizing to influence public policies related to fair wages

Shalom site coordinators shared with me many 'shalom moments’ in which a spirit of peace, healing or wholeness was experienced in their midst. For example, Rev. Marilyn Heckstall, pastor of Asbury UMC and Site Coordinator of Church Hill Community of Shalom is an African American leader in her community. She shared how her shalom team joined forces with a reconciliation ministry called “Boaz and Ruth” (named after the Israelite man and Moabite (Jordanian) woman who crossed hostile ethnic and cultural boundaries to marry and witness to God’s inclusive love).

The ‘Boaz and Ruth’ shalom team organized and hosted a series of movie and discussion nights in the church last year on the theme of racial healing and reconciliation. They were bold in showing hard-hitting, emotionally-charged, films like “Mississippi Burning” on historic racism in America, and documentaries on mass racial violence like the Rosewood Massacre about mass racial violence in 1923 see http://www.listeningbetweenthelines.org/html/history.html

The films evoked passions and debate, to be sure. But instead of confrontational dynamics, open dialogue was fostered, and honest sharing encouraged in a circle of safety.

“I had no idea” was the common response of many European Americans upon learning that the entire community of Rosewood was burned out by a public mob in search of a black man who was falsely accused of the crime, while the sheriff’s men refused to intervene.

Both African Americans and European Americans came to the film series. But instead of active confrontation, open dialogue was fostered, and honest sharing encouraged in a circle of safety. Many, remarkably, opened up and shared hard times in their own lives when they felt rejected, in danger, marginalized, victimized and oppressed. More incredibly, European Americans asked African Americans for forgiveness in behalf of their race, and steps were taken by all sides toward racial reconciliation and healing. Its hard work, requiring small steps, for a necessary process in seeking the shalom of the city.

This was my second visit to Richmond to give support and encouragement to an impressive team of staff, interns and volunteers that is demonstrating “best practices” in faith-based community development.

Four graduate students enrolled in MDIV and MSW programs are doing a one-year internship with UMUMR. Two interns, [insert names], as part of their project, are performing an evaluation of the shalom curriculum and assessing the pedagogical delivery of the training program in Richmond. The third intern [insert name ] is working on congregational identity formation using the shalom model in relation to various systems and identity-formation theories. And the fourth intern [name] is revising the design of the Communities of Shalom Steering Committee to function as the Council for Creative Urban Ministry—the very group I met with today.

In my short speech to the group, I simply said that Drew is committed to preparing prophetic leaders for community ministries, and that the Shalom Resource Center at Drew was open and ready to facilitate specialized trainings of local interest, such as faith-based community organizing, asset-based community development, effective grant writing and fund development, community mental health promotion, and multi-faith spiritual formation.

There are 45 United Methodist Churches, 1000 other congregations, and close to 5,000 nonprofit organizations in the city of Richmond, I was told. Too many community organizations competing for limited resources. Part of the solution, Dave Cooper believes, is to change the way we understand ourselves as “church.” “A new identity formation,” says Dave, “will require us to stop building church buildings simply for worship and church functions.” Dave’s vision: “Use bricks and mortar for multiple purposes with an eye toward sustaining the building with social enterprise revenue rather than relying solely on tithes and offerings. We could create affordable housing and health care and worship space in the same building for the good of the whole community.”

Given his vision and considerable expertise, I asked the Rev. David Cooper, MDIV, MSW, CPM, to serve as our first Regional Coordinator/Trainer of Communities of Shalom in Virginia, and he graciously agreed.

For further information on Communities of Shalom in Richmond, visit: www.umumr.org