Planting in Oakland

Christena Cleveland wrote last month about urban church planting plantations.

The urban pastors reported that, in the wake of Governor Cuomo’s announcement, many predominantly white, wealthy suburban churches in the area have expressed renewed interest in Buffalo’s urban center. But rather than connecting with the urban pastors who have been doing ministry among the oppressed in Buffalo for years, and looking for ways to support the indigenous leaders who are already in place, they have simply begun making plans to expand their suburban ministry empires into the urban center. In other words, they’re venturing out into the world of urban church planting.

One older African-American pastor said he’s heard chilling reports of meetings, in which representatives from many of the suburban churches have gathered around a map of the city and marked each church’s ‘territory’, as if Buffalo was theirs to divvy up. The indigenous leaders were not invited to these meetings, nor have they been contacted by these churches. It’s as if they don’t exist, their churches don’t exist, and their expertise doesn’t exist. The suburban churches are simply marching in.

Now, this is a view of most of Oakland (the island to the southwest is Alameda):


The hills in the northeast are peopled mostly by Whites, and the deprived neighbourhoods of West Oakland and East Oakland mostly by Blacks; Asians, in red, are clustered around Lake Merritt, and Hispanics live around Fruitvale. But in this whole area I know of not a single conservative Reformed congregation, whether Anglican, Presbyterian, or continental Reformed, in the magistratical Protestant tradition.

Missouri Synod Lutheran churches minister to White and Ethiopian residents. Among the Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics, likewise, there are other churches working hard to lift up the Name of Jesus Christ. To enter this area, as Augustine of Canterbury entered England to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons, the Reformed churches must recognize the existing work of the Church: they must partner with the congregations that are already in Oakland. There will be differences in rites and ministry models, as there were between the Celtic missionaries and the Roman missionaries, and we should acknowledge that the Christians already in Oakland are equals in Christ, not foreigners.

Reformed Christians can serve the churches in Oakland through after-school catechizings, classical Christian schools, and processions through the streets on feast days and on fast days (e.g. on Easter Day or after the untimely death of anyone in the neighbourhood). We can also carefully form new congregations that help rather than interfere with the work of existing congregations. On the whole, conventicles seem to be a good way to do this work: they can strengthen the piety of the Christians who are already there, day in and day out, with the discipline of Morning and Evening Prayer, grounding worship and building lay leadership, all without competing with the authoritative commissions of the laymen’s ordained parochial ministers. In this way, rather than colonizing the old congregations, the new work would contribute to them and, where needed, supplement their gifts.


2 responses to “Planting in Oakland

  1. these are interesting ideas that point to an additive approach rather than a replacement approach that too often characterises ‘urban church planting’.


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