Just Down the Road

It must have been a strange day for the players of the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox. They played a game on Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore’s Camden Yards without a crowd.  In the immediate aftermath of the riots on Monday night following the funeral of Freddie Gray, two baseball teams, for the first time in Major League history, had a game without a fan in the stands.  Just down the road from us . . .
            I’ve seen a few games in Camden Yards.  I’ve spent a bit of time in Baltimore.  My wife, Leslie, was born there, as was her mother, Ruth. It’s a great city, which is why the images from this week have been so unsettling.
            Newspapers and social media have been filled with opinions on the riots and looting. Judgment and blame have poured forth predictably.  I’m not here to weigh in.  I have been thinking, as I tend to do following this kind of event:  what’s the church’s response?
            I was encouraged to learn of clergy from Baltimore and from other places who sought to bring a different presence to the angry streets.  That’s a start for addressing the wrongs and frustrations and rage.
            I’ve always loved something John Perkins said, “Jesus relocated.  He didn’t commute to earth one day a week and shoot back up to heaven.  He left His throne and became one of us so that we might see the life of God revealed in Him.”  All missions are most effective when we seek to move into the neighborhood.
            That’s a problem for us because we live a distance from Baltimore, or closer to Philadelphia.  A friend of mine, who was a Pastor in Olney section of Philadelphia for a number of years, made this point once, “Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week in America.  Why is this so, apart from legitimate differences in traditions and worship styles?  My observation tells me that the differences are geographic and economic, and they are geographic because they are economic.  Money creates social distance between people, and moneyed people create geographic distance from other people . . . Ambrose Bierce, a 19th century American humorist, defined ‘distance:’  ‘distance – one thing the rich are willing for the poor to call theirs and keep.’. . . Doesn’t anyone seem to notice?  In America we segregate two groups more strictly than any other in our society, behind walls and guards.  One, convicted criminals.  The other, the very rich.”
            I am thankful that, as a church, we have an opportunity to be present in a community not dissimilar to the neighborhoods in Baltimore where there has been unrest this week.  Trenton is less than 30 minutes away.  Since 2012, the Thompson Church has been deeply and significantly involved in the ministry of Urban Promise/Trenton.  Visit their website: http://urbanpromisetrenton.org/.  Thompson Church members serve on the Board of Directors. One TMPC member has become a coach and mentor for the Director, Carl Clark.  Many of our people are working with the children that Urban Promise serves by teaching music or tutoring them after school.  In the summer, some 70 people, including college and high school students, lead a summer camp.  Last year, through direct contributions from our church budget and contributions from our members, we provided 40% of the financial support for this organization.
            Our people want to be involved, and I hope that our presence will expand.  If the possibility of rioting is just down the road, so is the prospect of peace and hope.