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Urban Ministry
in the Episcopal Church

In speaking about urban ministry in the Episcopal Church, one is reflecting on several perspectives that are informed by the variety of contexts that our urban culture manifests, and the state of mind of the persons engaged in the ministry. Ministry in the city takes place primarily through neighborhood-based congregations that must contend with an increasingly varied demographic reality and, most often, an aging physical plant. There are also major downtown churches that reflect a metropolitan consciousness and encompass a multi-cultural constituency. There also exist congregations that are based on race and/or ethnicity. All face in common, however, a variety of social issues which impact their members and affect the climate in which the ministry must take place.

There is no boilerplate urban ministry, but there is the reality of crime, poverty, inadequate low-cost housing, and troubled educational institutions among other issues, which they all must face. The difference in perspective depends upon the degree of affluence that a given congregation may have been blessed with through past bequests and a booming membership or, a struggling marginalized congregation whose endowment is either inadequate or non existent. In either case, new forms of collaboration between urban and suburban congregations and/or ecumenical and interfaith coalitions have enabled service and issue-oriented ministries to continue effectively.

Similarly, chaplaincies to educational, medical, and criminal justice institutions comprise a significant arena for non-parish based ministry in the city. Depending upon the urban area, specialized ministries in the areas of housing, death and dying, and social service delivery (e.g. soup kitchens and shelters) can find a locus for engagement in either city mission societies or coalitions between churches and community groups. All of these combine to create a mind set that is focused on serving the needs of the people in the city while, at the same time, developing appropriate advocacy mechanisms to challenge public policy priorities.

There also exists regrettably, in some cases, a mind set which refuses to acknowledge the above noted approach, and has quietly closed its doors to the world outside and seeks to be a chaplaincy to a diminishing ethnic constituency which no longer resides in the community. Unfortunately, few dioceses have found creative means to fully support the former, or appropriately admonish the latter. For urban ministry like any other must find its place in the list of priorities of dioceses who, too often, have adopted a suburban orientation. Currently, there is no national church office or strategy for urban ministry, and the advocacy for it must come from unofficial organizations such as The Episcopal Urban Caucus, the last remaining voice for urban ministry with the demise of The Church and City Conference and the Urban Bishops Coalition. Finally, it should be noted that for many the term “urban ministry” is a code word for “ethnic ministry” rather than a rallying cry for mission.

The Rev. Canon Ed Rodman
Phone: 617 482 5800, ext. 301