Steadfast in the City…

February 13th, 2012 Post by

Assoc. Editor’s Note:  BJS is expanding and will be bringing on a number of new authors who will all be writing about being “steadfast” in a given situation in life.


As the urban missionary for Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, I spend my days walking the streets of Philadelphia, under bridges, in tunnels and homeless camps, preaching, teaching and praying.  I will introduce my work to the BJS readers in three installments, following the new synod focus on “Witness, Mercy and Life Together.”

First, we are a steadfast witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among a thoroughly diverse, intensely urban culture, while maintaining confessional integrity.  I believe our cities and our times to be a ripe harvest for authentic Lutheran evangelism.  While many may consider the condition of society to be a liability to the evangelism of impacted communities, it is my opinion that now is the time to engage our cities in intentional witness, mercy and life together from a distinctly Confessional Lutheran perspective.  As it turns out, pure doctrine isn’t nearly the turn-off its opponents claim it to be.  In fact, since the groups I work with get very little Creedal Christian teaching, much less pastoral care, the fact that I hold back nothing from them has been my greatest asset.  I don’t believe in giving my hearers scraps that fall from our table.  They want to sit at the board, without being tricked into church, or pandered to by a watered-down theology.  To give them less would mean we fade into the background of the religious social clubs they abhor, the kind who only spend enough time in the city to pitch a religious product.

Most of the fringe cultures that populate our cities will never set foot into our churches.  Homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes, the homeless and destitute feel no place in the church, as do many anti-Christian social liberals, adherents of other religions and the like.  But they spend ample time with me, listening as I preach and pray.  They won’t come to church, but they do hear the Law and Gospel when they are around me.  They don’t yet believe what the church believes, yet they will volunteer to help me in doing what the church does—in our case, that includes feeding and clothing the homeless and very poor—and in the process they hear the church’s confession.

As a result of the Word received, the homeless bring other homeless to where I happen to be in the course of my day, sometimes with the words, “Tell him what you told me.”  Even Occupy collected shoes for our use.  Non-Christian groups have supplied us with food and asked to tag along, watching and listening.  I am shown respect among people who don’t respect pastors.  There are dozens of Christian groups who help the homeless, but it is our steadfast witness that identifies us.

Small worship services are held in homeless camps, catechetical instruction is underway, and the physical needs of the poor are being provided.  I also hold events for the homeless in downtown Philadelphia’s Love Park, in the shadow of City Hall, to feed and clothe the needy every Saturday night.  Hundreds of sandwiches are distributed, as well as many blankets, hats, socks and other items.

In future posts, I will describe how this translates into our planting of a Confessional Lutheran congregation in Northeast Philadelphia with transitional housing for the homeless, as I cover the remaining topics of “Mercy” and “Life Together.”




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  1. Lumpenkönig
    February 13th, 2012 at 18:36 | #1

    I am glad that you are wearing your street clothes instead of formal pastor attire. Wearing a pastor’s collar outside of a church service tends to erect barriers between pastors and non-Lutherans who are not yet comfortable with the Lutheran understanding of “Church.”

    I wish LCMS pastors who do video podcasts would understand that.

    Blessings to you and your ministry, Pastor Gale!

  2. Joshua Gale
    February 13th, 2012 at 18:56 | #2

    Actually, I almost always wear my collar. Clerical attire is a great asset on the streets; the collar leaves no doubt as to why I’m out there. It’s also not strange to people when I turn the conversation to spiritual matters when im dressed like a pastor. Furthermore, many of the conversations I have are from others who see me in my collar and strike up conversation. In short, pastors, stay in uniform. The reason why I’m not wearing the collar in this picture is because I was out to dinner with Pastor Fisk, the guy who took the picture. Even though I was off the clock, I’m always on duty.

  3. February 13th, 2012 at 18:59 | #3

    Lumpenkoni: I hear what you’re saying, but I think a man in a Roman collar getting down into the streets with hurting, lost, and often terrified people is a perfect witness to how the church is not irrelevant, even if many believe “religion” is. Also, a Lutheran pastor will often be mistaken for a Catholic priest, and that opens an opportunity to talk about the important distinctions.

  4. Mollie
    February 13th, 2012 at 19:04 | #4

    God’s blessings on your ministry, Pastor Gale.

  5. February 13th, 2012 at 20:16 | #5

    Faithful. Faithful. Faithful. We are called to be faithful to who God has made us to be. Looking forward to hearing stories from the faithful trenches.

  6. February 13th, 2012 at 23:19 | #6

    Welcome onboard! Glad to have you writing with us. Sorry it took so long to post this.

  7. Rahn Hasbargen
    February 14th, 2012 at 07:59 | #7

    God’s blessings on your ministry, Pastor Gale. I can see how writing about your experiences can bring a whole new perspective to this web site.

    One suggestion: As a transplanted small town boy now living in the heart of the Twin cities, I think it would be most helpful to include in your writings how the LAYITY can be involved in ministries such as yours. I admit it is very uncomfortable for me (and others like me) to become involved in outreach programs to the types of people you meet in your ministry (homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes, the homeless and destitute, anti-Christian social liberals, adherents of other religions and the like). The Great Comission asks us to do this, but it can be VERY unnerving and uncomfortable to do so. You are doing a great service to be leading such an outreach, but it would be most helpful to give us guidance on how we can be like Aaron holding up your hands and those of leaders like you….

  8. Rev. Dustin Beck
    February 14th, 2012 at 10:23 | #8

    “BJS is expanding and will be bringing on a number of new authors who will all be writing about being “steadfast” in a given situation in life.”

    BJS going contextual? (Like, real contextual…as opposed to less-than-Lutheran contextual?)

    Thank you for your ministry, Pr. Gale. (And for dressing like a pastor as you serve)

  9. February 14th, 2012 at 21:57 | #9

    @Rev. Dustin Beck #8
    I wholeheartedly enjoyed your comment about BJS going contextual. Thank you for a good laugh.

  10. helen
    February 15th, 2012 at 11:55 | #10

    Thank you for including Pastor Gale in the roster of writers.
    I look forward to hearing more about his missionary efforts in Philadelphia.

  11. Pastor Brad Zerkel
    February 15th, 2012 at 17:12 | #11

    Great article! I was called to Our Redeemer, an inner city congregation in Kansas City over 10 years ago and have found out that being Orthodox in appearance and works is the only way to go for effective street ministry. When I got here, we had an afternoon service for the extreme poor and homeless that was nothing more than a sing-along with some prayer. Since then we have brought in an altar, follow an elemental Lutheran service and sing songs only from CPH sources. I wear a clerical always (like a bullet proof vest in the hood) and teach Lutheran tradition (in your mercy…hear our prayers, etc) as well as preaching Christ Crucified. We now have had over fourteen of “these people” go through adult instruction using the Small Catechism and become members. I don’t how many time I have heard, “thank you pastor for treating us with respect by not dumbing down the service.” Most mission executives, including most in the LCMS that I have met, seem to think that only by being “open and easy” can we attract new members in new mission fields. This is simply not true and is part of the reason we are not of “one mind.” Orthodox theology is in such low supply in the inner city that when it is proclaim, it truly stands out among the social gospel that is everywhere.

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