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(How ‘City Mission’ was Born, Part 2)

Editor’s Note: K. Craig Moorman is an NALC pastor of River’s Edge Ministries in Maryland and is a member of the board of Lutheran CORE. Pr. Moorman encourages you to read Part 1 of his article as background for Part 2. Click here to read Part 1 which was published in July of 2022.

Amid our first City Mission in April of 2014, the temperature dropped dramatically and unexpectedly to a bone-chilling 19°. Our base of operations was a 30’ x 50’ tent—we were not in the comfort, warmth, and familiarity of a church setting. This is how City Mission was born. It was an important moment of discovery, more of a blessed eureka moment, when we stumbled upon a basic truth: Renewal is ignited through mission. Now I am inviting you to engage in a missional experience that could reinvigorate the life of your congregation and bring you a season of refreshment and renewal.

Although I’m sharing a first-hand account of one such experience, City Mission, many of you have also been immersed into the mission field. You might recall how it revealed the heart of Jesus and His Gospel, a face-to-face encounter with the Cross. Oftentimes, there is a severe shaking from the core of our being when a reprioritization of our living takes place—new Christ-centered values emerge, a greater hope is gained, and renewal of body, heart, mind, and soul settles in.

These past two and a half years of navigating through a global pandemic and utter cultural turmoil have diminished our emotional capacity, made us more prone to discouragement and vulnerable to despair. And, if that’s not enough, let’s pile on the usual daily grind and throw in more critical personal matters, some unresolved and unattended to. All of this leads us not to “green pastures” and “still waters” but, instead, a wanting and a desperate longing for peace and a renewal by the Spirit.

Therefore, I humbly invite you to engage in Gospel-centered mission. My hope is that it will serve as an antidote for what is ailing each of us individually, our churches/communities, and even the nation. I believe making such a commitment and engaging in Christ’s Kingdom work will be the catalyst for this reprioritization that I spoke of previously. It can move us out of our lethargy, pre-occupations and distractions, misappropriations, and missteps, etc. AND gently (and graciously) push us in the opposite direction. Might this be repentance? I believe mission can significantly help us to get unstuck and experience such a metamorphosis … renewal! A calling back into the mission field will place us right at the foot of the cross, from death to resurrection. What a gift.

In my earlier article, “How ‘City Mission’ was Born, Part 1,” I wrote of how City Mission developed from another missional outreach ministry called Cross Country Mission. You may remember that CORE is an acronym for (Lutheran) Coalition for Renewal and bringing elements of ‘renewal’ to the broader Lutheran community has long been a part of our vision. Practically speaking, I pray that this article will bring you personal renewal and help reignite your passion for mission and bring it back to the center of the conversation.

Again, amidst our first City Mission in April of 2014, the temperature dropped dramatically and unexpectedly to a bone-chilling 19 degrees. Our base of operations was a 30’ x 50’ tent—we were not in the comfort, warmth, and familiarity of a church setting. This is how it all began. It was cold, uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and a little chaotic. Believe me, it was neither perfectly planned nor executed! We have since unofficially adopted a guiding principle, “Expect the unexpected … and see what God does.” This has been freeing on so many levels!

Later that same day and into the evening hours, after all our 50-60 participants/leaders retired for the night, either commuting back to their homes or to their scattered tents, Brother Ray and I moved back into the quiet of the big tent and sat down on a couple of bales of hay. I’ll never forget my dear friend looking up, with tears in his eyes and saying, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” There we were, both in our late fifties, tired, worn down, cold, etc., but completely content and at peace. And yet I couldn’t help but wonder why Ray had spoken those words. I’ve been thinking about Ray’s statement for the last eight years. Something miraculous had happened and Ray knew it but at the time could not articulate it.

But what was it—what made his statement true? In a nutshell I believe we witnessed the Church operating as Jesus intended. He gave us a foretaste of the feast to come.

In the following paragraphs I talk more about City Mission and what we have learned from each event. These ‘take aways’ have morphed into lessons learned that are the building blocks for how City Mission operates and lives out its mission. I believe these lessons are transferable to others pursuing and engaged in mission in other congregational settings.

First, since our original disaster relief mission to Biloxi, Mississippi (post-Hurricane Katrina), in November of 2005, it’s been a priority of River’s Edge to help those who have been through the storm, be it a hurricane, flood, tornado, human-generated catastrophe, or just the difficulties of life. Our initial efforts came through Cross Country Mission and then through City Mission. City Mission was designed to engage the local parish in its own back yard.

Our City Mission base of operations is a 14-acre landbase situated just 20 minutes from downtown Baltimore. I would describe it not so much as ‘disaster relief’ but ‘urban relief’ because it involves cleaning up trash and litter, building out construction-related projects, landscaping, clearing of land, painting, gardening, and preparing meals. Your base of operations may be in your church building/campus or elsewhere.

One benefit of City Mission is that little traveling is needed. We intentionally identify and engage in mission on a regular and more localized basis. Too, it’s typically less costly and feels more like a camp, retreat, workshop, and worship gathering all rolled into one. Another unique characteristic of City Mission is that its ‘success’ does not depend solely on River’s Edge Ministries, nor does it look just like our church. This is most obvious during the evenings as we gather a large group for a meal, fellowship, and worship. In that gathering, a multitude of individuals are involved in food planning/prep, music, and speaking/preaching. This, then, is a gathering of the larger Church.

Second, our ‘take aways,’ now reflecting our core values, enable us to remain faithful and effective in establishing a Kingdom-oriented, repeatable, missional experience called City Mission. Establishing, implementing, and fine-tuning the following three specific components has been critical in contributing to the development and effectiveness of City Mission:

  1. Networking with Local Community Organizations and Leaders—We have been intentional in networking with community organizations and leaders who are based in the mission field we serve, thus reflecting a more authentic heart, mind and will of the community.
    • One of the unexpected blessings of this decision is that it allowed us to work more interactively with many different groups/folks, crossing racial boundaries. This foundational core value has revealed the power and efficacy of working directly with those who already have ‘boots on the ground,’ moving us beyond the familiarity of just our building and resources to work cooperatively with others who are well established and respected in the region.
    • This bridge-building has created ‘natural’ relationship development with a vast array of people from many different backgrounds intimately involved with City Mission (i.e., the Baltimore Ravens, Towson University Gospel Choir, Helping Up Mission, Baltimore City Community Organizers, etc.) gathering together, literally, under one tent. The outcome of such intentionality has been nothing less than miraculous!
  2. Building an Alliance of Multi-denominational Churches—Certainly, there is a place for Lutherans doing life/mission together; after all, this is what many of us are most acquainted with. But there is an even greater place and need to invite and gather the broader Church to do life together and share in the mission of Christ’s Church, especially in these challenging days. City Mission has been a highly effective and faithful conduit to bring the body of Christ together. This includes many different speakers, music, denominations, etc., from many different backgrounds, all bound up in ‘orthodoxy’ and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s all about His work, His justice, His compassion, and His mission … with no other agenda! Let us, as the Church, carry the narrative for the day and not allow others (with a radically different agenda and cause) to fill that void!
    • After nearly a decade of building out this mission, it is a joy to share that we’ve had dozens of different churches from the various streams of the Church (Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal) participate in City Mission representing many denominational backgrounds including River’s Edge Ministries, GraceWay International Community Church, Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church, The Transformation Center, Mt. Union Lutheran Church, East Baltimore Graffiti Church, Baltimore Rescue Mission, Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Timothy’s Ordinariate Catholic Church, and many more.
    • As a result of such broad-base missional effort, we have become much more united and effective as a ministry. In the High Priestly Prayer found in John 17, we hear Jesus praying to the Father, specifically that we—the Church—may be united, “… that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me” (v. 23)As a ministry, we are committed to pursuing such a vision for this hour.  
  3. Creating a Base of Multi-generational Participation—Quite often it seems that youth ministry ‘programs’ are built on dynamism and the personality of a particular youth leader. The problem with this model is that everything hinges on that leader, including the availability of time and resources. Over the past decade or so, and as a lead pastor in at least three different congregational settings, I have taken a much different approach in overseeing/leading youth ministry/young adults. It has never been centered on the charisma of a youth leader. There is always a component of intentional discipleship and participation in mission. And even more importantly, parents and other older adults are almost always involved in this process. It seems that the presence of the older generation has produced a younger generation that is much better equipped and more deeply grounded. This model has been especially effective in City Mission.

Finally, on a more personal note, an unexpected (and invaluable) outcome from both the Cross Country Mission and City Mission experiences has been the immense even life-changing impact upon my children. I’ll never forget interviewing for a call with about twelve adults present, nearly all of them parents, telling me that none of their children were attending church and certainly not in any type of relationship with Christ. I remember feeling extraordinarily sad. Then they asked me about my children, church life, and God. They were shocked when I expressed to them that all five of my kids were not only involved ‘in church’ but had a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. And, almost without hesitation, I said this was due to exposing them to the mission field beginning with our time in Biloxi, MS, after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and beyond.

Over the years, City Mission has impacted many hearts and minds for the sake of the Kingdom. If you’ve ever witnessed the catastrophic devastation in the aftermath of a hurricane, flood or tornado, you’ll understand that the sights, sounds, smells and stories get in your belly—take up residence in your heart and minds—and never leave you the same. A calling to step into the mess inevitably surfaces and mission ensues. I suppose this is called compassion. Compassion seems to be that thing which drives our mission, which allows us to participate in events much larger than ourselves and our own worlds. Our lives are forever altered!

Our next City Mission is slated for May of 2023. It would be our honor to welcome you to our Missional Life Center and to host and house you for this event. It’s an opportunity for you to ‘test the waters’ surrounding City Mission. Or we’d be privileged to head in your direction to provide training at your base of operations.

The essence of this communique is to encourage you anew, as a brother or sister in Christ, to simply engage in mission … to at least do something regarding mission … and then make it a regular part of the ebb and flow of life. This is how renewal can be ignited and your life restored. May your life be renewed … for the living of these most challenging and historically significant days.

Just this past spring, I asked our young adult, post-high school group (many of whom have participated in City Mission since their middle/high school years) to describe City Mission in just a few words. Ben, one of our ‘veterans’ who is now 24 years of age said, “City Mission is a raw and unfiltered experience of what it means to be the Church.” Truly such a youthful and unspoiled understanding of the nature of the church can replenish and enable us to embrace how mission can spark renewal. 

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