This past weekend I was down in my hometown of Chattahoochee, FL for my 40th high school reunion ... Class of 1977 ... the Yellow Jackets of Chattahoochee High School. My hometown isn't really thriving these days. The high school closed down several years ago and the elementary school will shut down operation after this year ... hard to have a vibrant community without any educational opportunities. The downtown business district is about half deserted. A number of homes are for sale. I preached Sunday at my home church to a crowd (including Anita and me) of 15 people. The town is so run down the closest grocery store is now 5-7 miles away. You may be asking the logical question ... "What happened?"
The whole economy of the town has been largely based on the Florida State Hospital ... Florida's oldest and largest mental institution. In it's heyday, FSH had around 10,000 or more patients ... now it's down to around 1,000. As a result many, many jobs have been eliminated. The nearby prison, Apalachee Correctional Institution, is also smaller than it used to be, thus also contributing to the lack of job opportunities. The Corps of Engineer's station that used to employ a number of families doesn't exist anymore. The railroad station, that in my grandparent's time was the big deal in town, is closed. So as you can see, the economic base that used to support the community has disappeared. It's sad to see the old places I knew and enjoyed as a child slowly vanish. What's left is a community that is wounded, hurting, and struggling for its survival. Those at my reunion who still live in Chattahoochee are discouraged about their future and have little hope. They shared reports of rampant drug abuse and other such activity in the town.
This sounds like a situation where the Gospel could have a major impact. Both OT and NT give special focus on God's care for the weak, suffering, widow, poor, broken, fatherless, hurting, disenfranchised, etc. Certainly in Scripture we observe our Lord Jesus caring for such folks. It would seem that the church, in our desire to follow Him, would have this same desire to care for these people. But what I've both seen and experienced is the church retreating from such communities. I've been told those places can't adequately "support" a church ... at least not like the church from which those people who say that come from, typically a fairly wealthy congregation with lots of staff and programs.
Let me clarify a bit. This is fundamentally a commentary on my own denomination. Actually, the "church" is prominent in Chattahoochee and in many poor, dying communities throughout our country. The "church" is doing quite well in places around the world that are characterized by poverty, suffering, and persecution. I fear that we, the PCA (and other prominent, conservative, evangelical denominations) have bought into something rather un-biblical and problematic.
I realize I'm rambling a bit here and apologize ... but just wrestling with some questions after being back in Chattahoochee for a weekend. Will you join me in wrestling with these same questions about the ministry we conduct here at Community Presbyterian in Moody? God loves hurting people ... messy people ... broken people ... discouraged people ... poor people ... lost people. Pray with me and let's ask our Father to align our hearts with His and use us to move toward the people for whom He has a unique love.