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Shalom comes to city's streets


Issue Date: 
Wed, 12/19/2007

BY MELISSA LAUBER
UMCONNECTION

Three days after Ty'wonde Jones, 13, was stabbed to death last month, his blood still stained the grass and dirt in Northwest Baltimore.

The police identified Jones as the 268th of 269 homicides in the city this year, the 28th under the age of 18.

Jones' family remembers him as a boy who loved to read Harry Potter and who had begun to hang out with different and uncertain friends in his seventh grade class this year.

For nearly 400 United Methodists who gathered at John Wesley UMC in Baltimore Dec. 7, Jones was a name read and honored by Bishop John R. Schol. He was a child of God.

Jones, and the others who join him in their early graves, are the reason United Methodists have committed to moving outside of the church doors and into the streets of Baltimore.

"What worth are we as a church if all we can do is sing and pray?" asked the bishop, who challenged those

present to practice authentic discipleship. "God doesn't want us coming to him crying, ‘Lord, Lord.' God wants to see us in the marketplace, in the streets and with the children of God."

Baltimore has the second highest murder rate in the nation. Historically, it is the birthplace of American Methodism. But today, it is also a city "struggling to keep its head above the water," said the Rev. Patricia Johnson of Ames UMC, who offered the opening prayer Dec. 7.

The 61 United Methodist churches in the city exist to give people hope, Johnson said.

That task isn't always easy, admits the Rev. Wanda Duckett, pastor of Monroe Street UMC, located in a neighborhood with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and heroin addiction in the country.

At summer camp this year, Duckett listened as the children of that neighborhood poured forth their sorrow, fascination and fear about their 15-year-old friend whose throat was slit July 10.

"Violence is a symptom of spiritual disease," Duckett said. "I'm excited about the people of faith coming together with this common focus."

Several of the community and civic leaders from federal, state, and local governments agreed with Duckett and spoke out at the worship service about the importance of the church partnering with others to bring about meaningful change.

"You know where the answers come from. You're looking up to the right place" said Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who encouraged churches, as "the rock on which the city stands," to be in partnership with the city.

Bishop Schol and other church leaders have already begun to forge this partnership. "The United Methodist Church commits to a long legacy as partners with the residents, businesses, social institutions, government and other denominations in bringing an end to violence and creating zones of shalom where hope emerges out of the ashes of violence and the destruction of property," he said.

To illustrate the urgency of their plans to transform the city, nine churches met with national instructors to receive training for the creation of six Shalom Zones within the city of Baltimore. The zones will address issues of community development one neighborhood at a time.

In addition, the Board of Child Care and the conference's camping program announced they would provide free camping experiences to children who have lost family members to violence.

Pastoral counseling for those affected by violence will be offered, gun turn-ins are being planned, and prayer is being sought in all United Methodist churches to undergird these ministries.

These measures are being implemented in conjunction with a comprehensive 10-point action plan titled "Hope for the City: Adventure Pathways towards Transformation."

This urban strategy enumerates several long-term initiatives including the creation of seven new churches in Baltimore, partnerships with local schools and the creation of a $15 million fund to invest in Baltimore's future.

The foundation for all of these new ministries, said Bishop Schol, is the passage from Jeremiah 29:7, "Seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you, for in its shalom, you will find your shalom," he read.

"God's shalom is the life-changing work of the Spirit, transforming people and neighborhoods into prosperous, healing, safe communities in which all become one and one becomes all," the bishop said. In God's shalom, when one is hungry, all are hungry, when one is homeless, all are homeless and when one is murdered all lose life.

"We are all interconnected. We have the power to join together with God to cast out the darkness," said the Rev. Joan Carter-Rimbach of First UMC in Hyattsville, whose nephew Jamelle Carter, 18, was murdered in Baltimore in September 2006.

Jamelle was remembered during the worship service and later that night, when Bishop Schol and a handful of others traveled to the site of his and other murders.

"I hope we're moving beyond words now," Carter-Rimbach said. "My prayer is that we will make a difference. Each of us needs to do whatever we can to be the light."

Shalom Zones to be created
"I’m holding out hope for the city, that the Lord will use us," said the Rev. Bruce Haskins, who will lead the conference’s Shalom Zone efforts.

Haskins, a resident of Baltimore, was shot in the hand many years ago during a robbery. He lost his brother, also a Balt-imore resident, to drugs. But even amid the desperation, he loves the city and has a passion for its renewal.

“Too many things have made us immobile,” he said. But fear should not limit us. A lack of resources can limit us. We must move out boldly in Jesus’ name.”

Nine United Methodist churches in Baltimore are doing just that.

On Dec. 7, they began training, led by Michael J. Christensen of Drew University and Jean-Pierre Duncan, a communities of Shalom trainer.

Communities of Shalom, a United Methodist initiative started in 1992 in response to the violence following the Rodney King verdict, stress asset-based community development.

They are grounded in principles of collaboration between the church, businesses, government, schools and civic groups and focus on systemic change to bring healing and wholeness to communities, Christensen said. For more information on Shalom Zones ...

Contact Haskins at bhaskins@bwcumc.org or visit http://new.gbgm-umc.org/about/us/cim/programs/shalom/

Reaching out to victims
Free camping experiences at Baltimore-Washington Camps will be provided for the children who have lost family members to violence. Coordinated by Laura McCrae, these experiences will allow children who have experienced a great loss to participate in a week of swimming, fishing, hiking, boating and fun.

There will also be a counseling and violence-prevention component, said Tom Curcio, executive director of the United Methodist Board of Child Care, which is providing its expertise and a $50,000 grant to this initiative.

In addition, Deborah Haskins of Loyola College, is seeking churches and pastors willing to provide pastoral counseling to all those affected by violence within the city. For more information on counseling and camping ...

Counseling information: Deborah Haskins at 443-691-2536 Camping scholarships: Laura McCrae at lamccrae@gmail.com or Andy Thornton at 800-922-6795

Handgun turn-in
Handguns are used more often than any other weapons in homicides. Many of the guns used in homicides are taken during a bur-glary. This fact makes any gun a potential threat to the lives of innocent people.

The Rev. Nathaniel Green of Brown’s Chapel-West Liberty Charge in Marriottsville and a former Baltimore City police officer for more than 30 years, will coordinate this ministry. He is excited about the potential of what churches can do when they begin to take action. For more information on handgun turn-ins ...

Contact the Rev. Nathaniel Green at 410-207-6019 or greennat@netzero.com.

Be hope
In a four-block radius around Ames UMC are 174 abandoned and boarded up houses, which have no electricity or running water. “People call them ‘abandominiums’ and they live there because they have nowhere else to go,” said the Rev. Patricia Johnson.

The church keeps its door open to provide food and a place where people can use the bathroom or get a blanket.

“Our light is the only one on, we must keep it on,” said Johnson. “It’s about being able to give people hope.” To get involved in ministry in Baltimore ...

Contact the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt at ahunt@bwcumc.org or Joyce King at 410-290-7311.