Thursday, December 16, 2004

Urban Visions

One of the many hats I wear in this job is that of “district superintendent.” That’s United Methodist jargon for “supervisor of the local churches and pastors in a specific area.” District superintendents are charged with pastoring pastors, assisting local churches in their ministry, and representing churches to the bishop. (Since we don’t have a bishop yet, I represent the churches to the General Board of Global Ministries.)

I made my first big decision wearing the “DS” hat this week. I decided to close the two churches which meet in the city of Yaounde (Bethlehem UMC and First UMC Yaounde), and create one new congregation.

The lease at Bethlehem’s location had expired, and the landlord wanted to raise the rent; meanwhile, First Church has been meeting in Pastor Billong’s home with unsatisfactory results. We found a large space in an industrial park to rent, for less than the two rents combined.

Closing churches is never fun, but the two congregations seem to be generally happy about the prospects of combining resources and ministry. I have named the two pastors, David Sen and Rosalie Nzie, as “co-pastors” of the new congregation. The first service at the new location will be this Sunday, December 19; the official, “grand opening” won’t be until January 2, 2005.

There are still some unresolved issues and concerns; for example, the new congregation doesn’t have a name yet. (Any suggestions out there?)

Please add this new, unnamed congregation to your prayer list in the coming days. And pray that the Mission will have a vision for urban ministry in Cameroon. Our churches in the villages and towns are thriving, while the urban centers seem to be struggling. In Yaounde, in particular, we wrestle with the high cost of rental space, numerous competing churches, cost of transportation around town, and competing loyalties.

But I am convinced that God loves the city … I have recently been reading City of God: A Biblical Theology of the Urban Church by Robert C. Linthicum. Here is Linthicum’s vision of the city:

What God wants most for the city is that God’s people – the church – will be
humble of heart, contrite, and cognizant of their own sins and therefore not
condemning of those in the city who are marginalized, who are poor or powerless
or without hope. God wants a people who can tremble in awe both at the work God would do in that city and at the recognition that they are called to be a part
of that great work.