As 2017 comes to a close, I took some time to write a letter to members, attenders, and supporters of River City. Our church is organized around three pillars (worship, reconciliation, neighborhood development), and I shared some highlights of the year under each pillar:
At the center of the “Church” is Jesus Christ, and we believe the most important thing we can do is help people come to know Jesus, to grow in their relationship with Jesus, and to learn how to follow Jesus as his disciples, living out the daily prayer of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In a word, we call all this worship. And we feel excited about some of the ways we collectively experienced God on this front in 2017.
From the lens of studying Scripture together, we had a banner year in how much we were able to tackle: we studied the first 11 chapters of Genesis in the winter/spring; the parables of Jesus in the summer, and the first 7 chapters of Acts in the fall. To augment that, we had a great year of midweek Bible study, which is consistently attended by a combination of English-speaking adults, Spanish-speaking adults, and a large contingent of youth. We also have seven, vibrant community groups that focus on everything from emotional health to intercessory prayer, and we are excited about the deep bonds being formed there.
There are many other arenas of spiritual growth worth celebrating as well. We have a rapidly growing youth ministry, with over 30 junior/senior higher’s regularly engaging God through their own Sunday morning curriculum, Wednesday Bible study, and other various mentoring opportunities. We also have over 100 young people in our Kid City ministry, and watching them learn and grow together on a weekly basis is a source of ongoing joy. And our worship team took us to new depths not only in the Sunday service, but in a variety of special worship nights throughout the year (including a fantastic worship night in collaboration with other churches in the neighborhood).
The Apostle Paul tells us that not only are we reconciled to God through Christ, but that we are sent into the world as ambassadors of reconciliation. Incredibly, the Apostle Paul says that this is the means by which Jesus makes his appeal to the world (2 Cor. 5.20).
We have always been clear at River City that the reconciliation pillar goes beyond race, but we have also sensed that one of the clearest adversaries to the work of Christ in this day and age is indeed the system of race. To that end, we had an important year with the release of the book White Awake, which shared some of our collective thoughts around a.) The importance of integrating cultural identity into the larger Christian vision of identity in Christ at an individual level; b.) The importance of identifying the evil origins of the system of race, and learning to locate the dehumanizing narrative of racial difference at a corporate, structural level. We are prayerful that God will continue to deepen our own journey of being reconciled to Christ, and of becoming a more powerful witness to the world as we fight against the principalities and powers of darkness.
2017 was also the year in which the ministry Rooted REPS was birthed, an acronym for “Restorative Engagement in Politics and Society, rooted in our faith in Jesus.” It has been great to watch followers of Jesus learn to take concrete steps in learning how to express their faith in the realm of political engagement.
One of the defining, Biblical traits of Christian community is a heightened care and concern for the vulnerable and marginalized in society. In the Mosaic Law, God commanded the Israelites to care for the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan, and flat out said there should be no poor among them (Deut. 15.4). In the book of Acts we see this vision actually came to fruition, as the early church nearly eliminated poverty for a period of time (Acts 4.33-34).
This has always been an important emphasis for River City, and the Humboldt Park neighborhood is the place where we believe God has located us. We have stressed since day 1 that God was already working in powerful ways in this neighborhood long before we got here. We were not coming with a spirit of saviors, but instead as ones who would listen, learn, and love alongside of our neighbors – particularly our neighbors living in vulnerable and marginalized spaces.
With that being said, 2017 was an important year under this pillar. One of the most tangible signs comes through the efforts of R CITY, the nonprofit we work in close partnership with. The mission of R CITY is to bring together the best of our city to build a path for families to walk from cradle to career to the glory of God, and we accomplished significant aspects of that vision this year. In addition to building on the programming launched last year (top-notch afterschool programs; in-school tutoring at Cameron Elementary; development of a healthy, extended, adult support system; leadership development opportunities for youth) we also made huge strides with our apprenticeship program. Through a combined effort with Harambee ministries, we are now training youth in the art (yet hard work!) of tuck-pointing. Crews of 15 teens are learning important job skills while also earning much needed income for their families. We feel really excited for what the future holds!
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Wishing you a blessed 2018!