Friday, March 30, 2007


William Stringfellow's reflections on the church in the city in 1963 are both piercing and potentially redemptive. I hadn't read them until them at this Theology Today link. I am still reeling from his stinging criticism and working through his spot-on analysis and offering of challenge for prophetic ministry. If you're not used to Stringfellow, brace yourself. Even if you are familiar with the Harlem street lawyer and lay theologian, hang on to your heart. Here are a few excerpts of his piece titled "The Church in the City":

SOLD OUT AND SATELLITES. "Little can be said about the present estate of the churches in the city which does not sound as if the churches are ridiculous. Some churches, for example, have physically quit the city- closed down, sold out, and moved to the suburbs, only to find out that the problem of the mission of the church to the city still plagues them. For suburbs are satellites of the city and commuters spend much, if not most, of their time in the city. Perhaps the churches which have remained physically in the city have eluded the church's mission to the city more effectively-by virtually full-time preoccupation in ecclesiastical housekeeping, in massive indifference to the excitement and conflict of the city, or by plain malingering."

HIDING OUT? "Some churches have fled the city, but the churches that have remained, for the most part, have been hiding out."

ANEMIC IDENTIFICATION. "Consequently, of course, the city pays little attention to the churches, save for some patently absurd or innocuous event in which the churches manage to call attention to themselves. Recently, a clergyman convened a press conference in New York to announce the discontinuance of pew rentals. If that is all that the churches have to report to the city, it is probably shrewder to suppress the news. But that is just the sort of thing by which the churches are normally, albeit not yet exclusively, identified in the city."

IMMERSION AND DISPERSION. "The notorious fact about the churches and the city at the present time is that the churches do not know the city. And yet the rudiment of the mission to the city is the immersion of the churches in the common life of the city and the dispersion of Christians within the turmoil and travail of the city's existence. The rudiment of mission is knowledge of the city because the truth and grace of the Incarnation encompass in God's care all that is the city. Mission for the church, and hence for the churches and for Christians, in the city means a radical intimacy with every corner and every echelon of the city's actual life in order to represent and honor God's concern for each fragment of the city."

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