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Doing Christ's work in a so-called 'war zone'

April 08, 2006|By Rev. Don R. Stevenson

Admittedly, I flinched upon seeing the front page, above-the-fold, picture of my church and its milieu in the March 18, Herald-Mail with a featured story entitled "War Zone?" Christ's Reformed Church has been a resident in the downtown area for more than 150 years and has intentionally claimed the area as locale for the worship of God and the service to all God's people.

To my knowledge, no one has ever recalled a single incident at 130 W. Franklin St., where member or visitor safety were challenged. The location is most visible, the evening lighting is good, an able police force serves the area and a large number of community-betterment meetings occur at CRC on a regular basis. The CRC facility is one of the most community-used churches in the city.

The Christ's Reformed membership is not fearful about its premises any more than it is concerned about violence in other and all areas of our community. To be cited in a story that seemingly casts shadows on an institution that has been, is and seeks to be a force for good is perplexing, if not disheartening.

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Like most pastors, I selfishly wish for a press take that brightens, not darkens, the image of the faith community I am privileged to serve. But cameras seldom blink. What you click is what you get. I know that. But I also know that the view one claims can slant a story one seeks.

As always, Ric Dugan's photography was superb. The only problem is the lens angle is not wide enough. We can discuss the implications of this statement at another time.

As Christ's Reformed Church was without representation on the committee that appears to have provoked this "war zone" narrative, I know well that the downtown area is of great challenge and needs the attention of government officials, faith communities, renewal committees, law enforcement, et al.

When these entities come together to seek the "common good," community has a chance to happen. If the 100 block of West Franklin St. and its surroundings is "war zone," then Christ's Reformed Church is an audacious expression of faith within it.

Since 1997, the CRC membership has claimed a vision - to renovate an old shoe factory into a community center where people of lesser means might be received and helped. If you want to know the definition of a real "faith-based initiative," here is an excellent one. Christ's Reformed United Church of Christ happens to believe that the call of Christ is to reach out to the "least of these."

For nine long years, this CRC vision has been alive, buttressed by dedicated minds and prayer-filled hearts, not to mention deep financial sacrifices. The result of this continuing pilgrimage is a beautifully-renovated "Aspiring to Serve Community Center" that dominates the "War Zone" photo.

Christ's Reformed Church has been an early leader in downtown renewal. Ironically, not all have seen our work as renewal. We have held the pain of critics who have looked with disdain at our mission. On occasion we have had to fight to keep what we knew was important important. And even now we remain in that posture.

Confessedly, and in our lesser moments, we have sometimes felt that we were doing for the community what the community had opted not to do for itself. Forgive us.

We are doing and will continue to do the work of Christ by reaching out to the abandoned, no matter their point of origin. Through REACH we are glad to offer 7,000 square feet of space, free of charge, to those who need a bed for the night.

We will continue to be a voice for the poor, the lame, the depressed and the lonely. We will continue to invite the people of our city and country to join our church's work as we seek to help the marginal and be a partner in our city's renewal.

We will continue to endure our critics who imply, if not say, that we are the breeders of degenerative, human infestations. We will continue to declare that Christ has many faces and God's people are in all places, even "war zones."

This concluding question: Why is it that when city crime and degeneration are voiced, the Cold Weather Shelter is frequently referenced?

Do we really believe that homeless shelters create chaos? Shelters hold what is already present and at large in a society. Maybe chaos is better-contained if it's sheltered? However, most of the homeless people I know and have known (and there have been more than a few) are gentle, unwarring, and grateful.

Rev. Don R. Stevenson

Senior minister Christ's Reformed United Church of Christ

Hagerstown

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