On Saturday, April 27, 2013, more than 100 people, who represented 37 different churches and ministry organizations from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, met together at South Church in Hartford for a workshop entitled Reaching Our Community: Strategies for Community Impact, which was presented by Urban Alliance in partnership with the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). The primary purpose of the workshop was to help attendees gain understanding about Christian Community Development (CCD) and how, when used effectively, it will help communities, like Hartford, to be renewed and flourish. Further, it provided an opportunity for connections – some new and some continued – to bloom.
Both Urban Alliance and CCDA are committed to seeing people and communities restored, and to training and connecting Christians who “seek to bear witness to the Kingdom of God by reclaiming and restoring under-resourced communities.” This workshop provided a platform that equipped participants with knowledge and skills, and also provided opportunities for relationships to be nourished – two of the keys to “wholistic” community restoration.
As CCDA explains, “Christian Community Development is constantly learning and evolving in response to what God is doing in under-resourced communities.” This workshop was a reflection of the large, diverse group of people who are working throughout the Greater Hartford community at churches, transitional-living homes, after-school programs and other ministry programs, who are committed to working collaboratively towards community renewal and building not only community development strategies but community relationships, with Christ as the cornerstone.
Workshop attendees, including representatives from Urban Alliance network participants Valley Community Baptist Church, Wintonbury Church, Glory Chapel International Cathedral, Youth Challenge of CT, House of Praise and Worship, Calvary Church of West Hartford, Rehoboth Church of God, Hartford City Mission, Citadel of Love, FaithCare, Phillips Metropolitan CME Church and Trinity Covenant Church were challenged to consider the effectiveness of their own ministries. The ideas of “community development” and CCDA’s core philosophies, that originated with “the demand for justice by a fourth-grade dropout dispensationalist pastor” named John M. Perkins and are now the basis of a movement of thousands, were introduced throughout the workshop.
CCDA workshop speakers Derek Lane, Executive Director of CornerStone Initiative and Ruth Arnold, Executive Director of 2nd Mile Ministries, presented the “8 Key Components” of Christian Community Development, which included discussions around reconciliation, leadership development, empowerment and listening to the community.
Attendees experienced different activities that helped to explore some of these components, including an interactive game that used “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and cups of dry beans to illustrate the imbalance of access and opportunity that exists in many communities. Further, it helped base a discussion around resources – and not just monetary resources – such as skills and talents, that can be redistributed to help benefit community growth.
Lane and Arnold shared different fundamental ideas of CCD that help shed light on the reality of some unintended damage that can be done by certain charities or ministries, when “relief” – rather than “empowerment” – takes place. The workshop helped attendees to reflect on the outreach programs and ministries that their churches and organizations were involved with, to see if they were planting seeds of Shalom – defined as a state where nothing is missing – or rather, if they were simply laying down artificial turf, so to speak.
Themes of listening, building relationships, sharing and creating opportunities were interwoven with attendees’ written reflections on colorful pieces of paper that filled large areas of the workshop room’s walls and included “[having] open-ended, not personal agendas,” understanding that “the resources needed to transform the community are found in the community,” “being effective rather than efficient,” “doing with, not for” and that we “are not as far along as we thought we were.”
As the day-long workshop ended, new relationships were formed and many seeds were planted; seeds of hope, collaboration and Shalom. In the months ahead, the Urban Alliance network, which is currently comprised of 28 churches and Christian ministry organizations that are helping neighbors in need in the Greater Hartford community, will work to address health needs in Hartford through an initiative called Revitalize The Hartford Project (THP) Ascend Mentoring and will continue to develop Charis, a network of Christian counselors and emotional support service providers.
It is only a matter of time before these beautiful “seeds of Shalom,” with proper nourishment and tending, will bloom, as more and more people come together to seek community restoration and renewal in the Greater Hartford area.
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