Partnering with Urban Churches

May 09, 2010

Twelve years ago, Proclamation Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, PA situated on the affluent Main Line began partnering with Greater Exodus Baptist Church in the heart of Philadelphia, PA (just off Broad Street) with joint projects and sharing pulpits. The Amachi program – Mentoring of Children at Risk – is only one example. This is part one of an interview with Rev. Paul Karlberg, WTS MDiv 1975 and outreach pastor of Proclamation Presbyterian Church.

(1) From your vantage point, what has God brought to the Philadelphia community via Rev. Herb Lusk and Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA?

Herb has been a model of a faithful shepherd as well as a civically engaged pastor. His church leadership, preaching effectiveness, missions concerns (especially for Africa) and his community involvement in welfare to work programs, youth mentoring, Charter School direction, Crisis Pregnancy Center, Credit Union and various ministries have touched the city and the nation in impact and recognition. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, he was considered by the President to be one of his pastors and visited his church twice.
(2) Why do you personally like working with the brother and the church, as a whole?

Herb inspires and yet is down to earth and personable. Peter Lillback and I have had a special regard and relationship with Herb for more than a decade and Westminster has awarded him an Honorary Doctorate.  

(3) Highlight George W. Bush’s visits to Greater Exodus Baptist – what was accomplished?

What have you seen spring to life as a result?  President Bush visited Greater Exodus on two occasions, the first to host a Texas Barbecue on Broad Street in front of the church to focus on the Mentoring of Children at Risk – the Amachi program which means in West African – “Who knows what God can bring from this child?”  This program has grown since 2000 and has become a national outreach to youth at risk.

The second visit was a formal conference held at the top of the People for People Building that focused on the HIV pandemic in Africa; as a result of that conference and the leadership of Dr. Lusk, the President launched an $18 billion program to aid those in the HIV pandemic in Africa.   

(4) Why should suburban churches partner with urban churches?

How do both benefit? Suburban churches have much to contribute to city congregations in the way of resources and volunteers.  If they follow the leadership and direction of the city congregations they can discover the needs of especially poorer communities and children and learn how to be and receive a blessing in so serving. It is a win-win for both suburban and urban Christians.  This has been our experience at Proclamation as I have been privileged to lead our USA! Committee and Urban Suburban Action! Committee.

(5) What are some steps that suburban churches can take to partner with urban churches and ministries?

Simply find a city congregation where there is a willingness to work together – to exchange pulpits, to have joint services and then to enter into joint ministry together – this can be accomplished with Anglo, Black, Asian, Latino churches and more.

(6) What do we risk by ignoring ‘children at risk’ today?

Children at risk are identified by sociologists to be children whose parents have been incarcerated or who have themselves been involved with the juvenile justice system in some manner – these are at great risk of following a path of crime and poverty, up to 70% will do so.

Currently, I mentor three Latino teens, two of whom have already been involved with juvenile justice….the hope is that even an hour a week could make a difference in the life and direction of these youth, with the opportunity to naturally share our Christian faith with them.  In the case of these three Latino boys, it has taken a year of relationship for me to recently offer a Bible lesson that they listened to!

(7) Tell us a story or two about what it was like to mentor a child at risk? Why would you do it again? What would you do differently?

Mentoring children is powerful because they grip your heart as you learn of them and their need; and then they respond over time (sometimes with their families) to your love and caring.  In fact, mentors often testify that they receive more than they give in this ministry.  Mentoring is a powerful way to cross racial, class and denominational barriers.  Years ago it was Christians who began The Big Brother, Big Sister organization with this all in mind in Philadelphia.

Today, Christians have so much to offer through the Gospel and Spiritual values to these needy children that will truly change their lives.

Even the National Government under the Community and Faith Based Initiatives of President Bush and Obama have endorsed this strongly.

A number of years ago, I was matched with an African American boy who was seven at the time. I had to learn of his world over the years of our relationship which included his willingness to sing in our Church Youth Choir in Latin, only if I in turn would take time to learn and listen to his hip hop music!

I did and as a result learned why, culturally, Michael Jackson’s music has become so influential that Sony just paid the largest sum ever for the rights to his music!  Go see “This Is It!” to see what I mean!