When you attend a mostly-white church and live in a relatively segregated community of 78,000 people where eighty-eight percent of the population is white, how do you engage the issues of racism and reconciliation? An intergenerational group from First Christian Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, decided to tackle this challenge by journeying together to inner city St. Louis, ground zero for the struggle with racism in our country. This group of youth and adults spent a week at The Urban Mission Inn, a ministry located at Union Avenue Christian Church. This historic church sits on the “Delmar Divide,” a literal geographic dividing line in St. Louis City between black and white, affluent and poor. The Urban Mission Inn offers not only housing in this urban setting, but also a schedule of volunteer and educational opportunities for groups of all ages.
The St. Joseph team spent their week in a variety of hands-on ministries. They helped with prep work for vacation Bible school at an inner city Salvation Army. They sorted donated items at The Angel Boutique, a resale shop where all the proceeds go to provide social services to youth and seniors. They worked with children at Kingdom House, an inner city outreach to youth, parents, and the elderly. They volunteered their sweat equity at the Washington Park Cemetery. This historically important and racially segregated cemetery, relocated due to an expansion of Lambert Airport, was severely neglected. Most of the graves on the site, many dating back to the 1800’s, are now covered over by woods. The group worked with other volunteers to clear a small portion of the site, helping to make more of the graves accessible to loved ones.
In addition to hands-on work, the team also engaged in educational and awareness activities. They participated in a drum circle, learning about music and dance from the Congo. They walked “The Delmar Divide,” seeing first-hand the economic and racial segregation of the inner city, and discussed the historic implications of racial injustice in St. Louis. They took a special guided tour of the civil rights exhibits at the Missouri History Museum and engaged in a challenging discussion about justice, white privilege and direct action.
At the end of the week, the St. Joseph team sensed a call to share their experiences with the church members back home, looking for new ways to engage in hands-on ministry in their community as well as new opportunities to look more deeply at the racial and justice issues in their own city.
Thanks to FCC pastor Rev. Brian Kirk for this story.