Resisting gentrification is like trying to hold back the rising ocean tide. It is surely coming, relentlessly, with power and growing momentum. Young professionals as well as empty nesters are flooding into our cities, buying up lofts and condos and dilapidated historic residences, opening avant-garde artist studios and gourmet eateries. If market forces alone are allowed to rule the day, the poor will be gradually, silently displaced, for the market has no conscience. But those who do understand Godâ€™s heart for the poor have a historic challenge to infuse the values of compassion and justice into the process. But it will require altogether new paradigms of ministry.
The urban church that seeks to minister in disadvantaged areas faces the eventual disappearance of lower-income renters from their communities. Such urban ministries are approaching an inevitable T in the road. If they remain committed to the poor, they must decide to either follow the migration streams as they gravitate to the periphery of the city, or get involved in real estate to capture affordable property in their neighborhood to ensure that their low-income neighbors retain a permanent place. â€œMigrant ministriesâ€ move with the people, establish ministry centers in the affordable suburban apartments, remain flexible. â€œCommunity development ministriesâ€ on the other hand remain rooted in the parish, purchase housing and land, form partnerships with builders and developers that enable their members (neighbors) to remain in a reviving community that has a healthy mix of incomes. Either strategy is legitimate. Both require significant retooling.
Gentrification brings to the suburban church an altogether different challenge. The poor are now showing up in the classrooms and bus stops and grocery stores of homogenous neighborhoods once thought to be safely beyond the reach of inner-city troubles. Mission-minded churches that for years have been journeying down to the ghetto to serve those in need now find these needs at their own door step. The new hues, the unfamiliar languages, the unintelligible signs on new businesses in the strip malls â€“ these are the sure indicators that gentrification is reaching the suburbs. They also signal a new era of opportunity for the suburban church. It is a divine invitation to the church to extend a welcoming hand, to start new congregations, to share facilities, to hire new workers, to teach ESL classes, to acquire and manage housing that insures a hospitable environment. It is a unique time in history to “let your light so shine before others [in your neighborhood] that when they see your good works they will glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
This is Part 5 of a 6-part series on community development, justice and gentrification by Bob Lupton. Stay tuned to Verge Network every Friday for the remaining parts of this series of articles.Â
Bob Lupton has invested almost 40 years of his life in inner-city Atlanta. In response to a call that he first felt while serving in Vietnam, he left a budding business career to work with delinquent urban youth. Bob and his wife Peggy and their two sons sold their suburban home and moved into the inner-city where they have lived and served as neighbors among those in need. Their lifeâ€™s work has been the rebuilding of urban neighborhoods where families can flourish and children can grow into healthy adults.