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.”