Fourth of July in Skid Row

I found, at least for myself, one of the best places to spend a fourth of July Church service at – an African-American Church located in the middle of the hopeless and Notorious Skid Row of Los Angeles. Emily and I went to Central City Community Church of the Nazarene (CCCN) this Sunday and experienced a side of church (and patriotism) that was good for the soul and challenged a white-man’s pride.

I spent this past week with my Urban Mission Models class meeting at CCCN and was intrigued by their “grassroots” approach to the hopelessness within Skid Row. I decided to call it hopelessness as opposed to poverty or homelessness because that is exactly what it is; Skid Row is comprised of Human Souls that have lost all hope. This Church seeks to have small groups of people that it ministers to; attempting to build transforming relationships with each person they come across. This leads them to shutting their doors on some people, but it also means that they are able to be more deeply involved with those they are ministering among. Their style of ministry got my attention and so my wife and I went to visit.

We found this church with its doors wide open, people flowing in and out of the doors, some sitting outside against the walls, showing that the location of this church is very important to their ministry. The predominately black church, was filled with many people, some of other colors, some wearing dress clothes, suits, some wearing jeans and head bands; it was truly a band of misfits which reminded me of Gideon’s army.

There were two significant things I walked away with yesterday: the first was that it is important to hear counter-narratives of our country and Christian faith and the second is that building community must be an intentional act within the church for any community to take place.

First the pastor, Jeff Thomas, gave a powerful message on “Dependent Independence,” the main point of his message revolved around the theme that America within the Declaration of Independence wanted freedom from its oppressor, England, while at the same time oppressed those that maintain the economy of the country – those enslaved by those writing against oppression. This was much more my kind of Fourth of July service, no USA worship, no uncritical talk of the sheer amazingness of America; rather it was great to hear another side to the “the truth.” I was glad to hear, “the other side of the story.” The story not often talked about in those ways, especially not most white churches today.

I can’t help but think of the deaths of the Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans when it comes to America’s Independence, but this is not a popular view-point, and many people push it off as – can’t we move past that yet? I thought about this also, but then I realized something, the African American churches continue to talk about this because the white churches have not collectively owned up to this or talked about it. When one group (or person) tries to persuade the mass population that group or person, often must tug hard the other direction in hopes of raising awareness, this is one reason why I think the black church continues to rehash these issues.

Secondly, history must be retold in hopes of preventing repeats and learning from past failures. Unfortunately America is in the business of oppression, our economy is fueled by sweatshop labors in and outside this country, it is powered by service oriented governmental jobs that create needs in order to create jobs (one example of this is the compartmentalization of much of the educational system – there are many more specialists in the field than every before yet the quality of education continues to drop), and it is powered by resources that we must take from other countries. Bush’s war on terrorism, motivated for a control over the middle east’s oil resources is yet another form of America oppressing others. I realize that some will not agree with this view, some will argue for humanitarian reasons that Hussein had to be removed – I don’t doubt that there was awful cruelties taking place in that country, but what we have done over the last year with our bombs, and warfare machines has created much more destruction and brought the end to many more lives than what Hussein was doing. If we were motivated to rescue the people from his tyranny, why was the war sold as a quest to end terrorism, and why has it turned out to be all about gaining control of Iraq’s oil resources?

These questions need to be asked, leaders need to be questioned, and I think the fourth of July is a perfect time to talk about “what is freedom?” and “how are we freeing or oppressing others? In our country and in the world?” The white evangelical church has for the most part turned a blind eye to the injustices in this country and world, they are not listening to the voices of the oppressed. The cries of the poor, urban and black churches continue to seep forth from the walls of injustice, calling those in power, those educated, those who have turned a blind eye to look up and notice – that our country is not yet “land of the free,” it calls forth hoping to find a prophetic voice from which it can speak.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “Fourth of July in Skid Row”

  1. We visited this church in my Intro to Urban Mission class this last quarter. I really need to go back some time soon to spend time worshipping with them on a Sunday. It would be refreshing to hear a sermon like that as opposed to the one I usually heard at my old church about how all the original forefathers were true Christians and we need to push our country back to that foundational basis of government.

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