Shalom comes to city's streets
BY MELISSA LAUBER
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
Reaching out to victims