Our 2018 Community Development conference overview

On November 27th we held an event to share insights from the CCDA conference in Chicago, and to hear how Londoners are connecting into community development.

The theme of the evening was Would Our Neighbourhood Notice?

“If our church disappeared today, would our neighbourhood notice?” This provocative question, perhaps more than any other, linked together the different perspectives shared by speakers at the Churches Together London event on November 27, 2018. Despite freezing rain and slippery sidewalks, about 40 people came out to Good News Christian Reformed Church to learn how highlights from the recent Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference in Chicago could be applied in our local context.

Pastors David Cottrill, Willemina Zwart,
and Beth Fellinger spoke at the event.

Click here to get the Resource PDF created for the evening,
with a list of excellent books and online resources.

12 Neighbours: After an introduction by emcee Dan Morand, a video segment from the new online resource 12 Neighbors gave concrete examples of people making a difference in their communities. Dennis Funk introduced this excellent, free resource, which consists of seven 15-minute video segments with downloadable study guides for either Christian or secular participants. Exploring the link at www.12neighbors.com and discussing this resource with a friend or small group would be an easy and practical next step to learn how to be more effective in our neighbourhoods.

Thin Spaces: Willemina Zwart, Pastor of Good News Church, shared the journey that their congregation has been on. When they realized that God was integrating people in their midst who needed affordable housing, they began to explore a variety of options to use their church space more effectively. As they considered the possibility of building an affordable housing facility, they contacted Indwell ( www.indwell.ca ), “a Christian charity that creates affordable housing communities that support people seeking health, wellness and belonging.” When they discovered that their church was on the “wrong side of the tracks” for this option, they explored other possibilities. Experience with a Collective Kitchen, which sells 25 single meals for $25.00 to people facing food insecurity, led them to begin brainstorming about options for a financially sustainable social enterprise that could build on available space in the church, and the talents of a church full of “foodies.”

Willemina attended the CCDA conference with six members from her congregation. They chose to go to a community “Go And See” called Live Café which was a stimulating opportunity to hear “pitches” from five different social enterprises in a face-off for a $10,000.00 grant. Proposals included building community and job skills through bike repair, a coffee shop and a bakery. Another proposal, called Sacred Space, was a response to the reality that many churches are often nearly empty during day-time hours. Exploring ways that this asset could meet the needs of people to find locations to co-share for on-line work might be one way for churches to impact their communities, and not just themselves. Willemina encouraged churches to get out of their “silos” and create “thin spaces” where they can connect with people in the community. Partnerships with community partners who can do things we can’t do are an essential part of entering into the mess and disorientation of doing church differently. In the context of this journey, Willemina and her group were challenged and inspired by speakers at the CCDA conference from a variety of ethnicities. It was the first conference she has attended in which white speakers were in the minority – a reminder of how much we need to be open to hearing, and learning from, people from other racial and cultural backgrounds if we are going to be more effective.

Privilege: The challenge is that, before we can do things differently, we need to begin to see things differently. For North Park Pastor David Cottrill, the CCDA conference was disruptive – raising questions about privilege and blind-spots that most of us would rather avoid thinking about. In contrast to the good news of Jesus’ incarnation for and with the poor, if we are honest, we often prefer to cling to our comfort with short-term handouts, rather than long-term engagement. David quoted Walter Bruggeman, who talked about the “Pseudotheology” that protects privilege – and the need to face, and question, these false “packaged certitudes.” As David shared transparently how he is personally wrestling with this message, he encouraged listeners to go deeper – beyond trying to “fix” people. If churches truly want to be faithful to God’s command to “seek justice, free the oppressed,” we need to be willing to wrestle – personally and corporately – with these uncomfortable questions of privilege, and the blind-spots that prevent us from truly identifying with those we claim to want to help. The uncomfortable question of course is, are we willing to be disrupted?

A Spoke in The Wheel: Like David, Pastor Beth Fellinger, returned from the first CCDA conference she attended several years ago confronted by the realization that “it is horrible that we never think about our white privilege, and how much we have.” And yet, she is convinced that “our posture of humility is really a teachable spirit.” During her eight years as pastor of Destination Church in St. Thomas, she has learned that we should “never meet people’s needs. Instead, we should add value to people’s lives. I add value to yours, and you add value to mine.” Although many people in her congregation are from a lower socioeconomic class, the challenge is to teach people about loving one another – and about God’s love, not about fixing people.

At the CCDA conference this year, Beth was impacted by a “Go And See” visit to Lawndale Christian Community Church ( http://www.lawndalechurch.org/ ) in an under-resourced area of Chicago. This remarkable church fits the CCDA model of transforming neighbourhoods from within. On the blocks around the church building there were a number of services which were started by the church, including a medical centre with a state-of-the art fitness centre, a community arts centre for youth, a half-way house for men in recovery from addiction and transitioning from prison, a legal centre, a hydroponics facility to grow vegetables as well as a housing development corporation. “Lawndale church has learned to work with people and not for them,” Beth explained. “And someone would definitely miss them if they weren’t there.” During the tour, one of the pastors of the church shared his story as one of the original Titans portrayed in the movie Remember The Titans. When tempted to quit the team due to the abuse he experienced as an African-American on a mostly white team, his father challenged him: “Maybe you need the team more than the team needs you.” Beth was struck by the significance of these words in the context of the importance of partnerships, and did not have to wait long for an opportunity to apply it in a new way.

During the drive back to London, Beth was contacted by a desperate local school board that needed help making school lunches for kids that don’t have any lunch – for the entire school year! Beth’s initial reply was, “We would love to help, but we don’t have the resources.” Despite her initial misgivings, within days, a team of partners had come together to meet the need. Destination Church offered the use of their commercial kitchen, with volunteers from their congregation to make sandwiches – including some ex-prisoners who loved the opportunity to give back to their community. Dempsters has donated bread and Great Lakes Farms offered good deals on vegetables and fruit. Another church has donated meat, and some private donors helped with other items. The Kiwanis club offered to pick up the lunches and deliver them. Together they formed a team – an illustration that community is about coming together in different ways. Churches cannot do it all, but they can be a “spoke in the wheel” of community life – with many opportunities including participation on Boards, such as for the United Way and other organizations that benefit the community. And for Beth, it is also about excellence. “I don’t want those kids to get anything less than what I would want for my own Grandson.” This experience has been a good reminder that “even when we don’t know how we will do it, we will just do it. How do we as churches steward well what God has given? Hold hands and do not be afraid!”

New Insights: A few first-time CCDA attendees shared how the conference has impacted them – particularly the diversity of the plenary speakers, and new insights into a variety of issues related to a biblical and holistic approach to poverty and justice issues. Dr. Patricia Morley-Forster, a member of the Church of St. Jude, also commented on the racial reconciliation modeled by CCDA pioneers such as Dr. John Perkins and Wayne Gordon, an excellent workshop on the opioid crisis, and the impact of participating in the “Go And See” to Lawndale.

Next Steps: In order to encourage participants to take a small action step, a resource handout (see link) was distributed by Leslie Damude of Gateway Church:

Click here to get the Resource PDF

In addition to recommending the 12 Neighbors course, several books were suggested, including Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development by Wayne Gordon and John M. Perkins as well as Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How To Reverse It) by Robert Lupton. And the next step could be to multiply impact through sharing and promoting resources – in person, in small discussion groups or through social media.

Perhaps one small action step would be to spend some time thinking prayerfully about that challenging question: “If our church disappeared today, would our neighbourhood notice? And then, “even when we don’t know how we will do it . . . we will steward what God has given” and take a step forward as we “hold hands and do not be afraid!”

— This ends the November 27th event information. —
— Below are some photos taken in Chicago, where the 2018 CCDA “Roots” conference was held. —

The city photos show the intentional, inclusive and functional approach to Christian community development efforts.

The Chicago skyline

Chinatown (Loan and Lynda)

The CCDA Roots conference

Former fire station now a community center

Lawndale Christian Health Center

Hydroponic veggies

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