When Central moved from Kansas City, Kansas, which had been its home for 105 years, some critics (and faithful friends) thought this meant we were turning our back on urban life. Some suggested that we did not care about minority populations. Granted, we did move to western Shawnee, a growing suburb on the southwestern side of the metropolitan area, which is hardly a white enclave.
Intentionally, we lodged the seminary within the Central Region of the ABC, our historic and faithful partner. Deferred maintenance and innovative mission required us move to a non-residential model of theological education, and we were able to find a new home.
Yet our love of the city continued. We first addressed this institutional move by beginning the Urban Core Initiative that met in churches in Kansas City, Kansas. It was a way of declaring that Central has not abandoned its concern to prepare ministers who would serve in this challenging context where density, diversity, and discouragement prevail.
This was not enough, however. Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Wallace Hartsfield II, Central recast its perspective and developed the Urban Missional Institute. Research, deep conversations, and thoughtful symposia would invite varied voices to engage critical issues cities face. Dr. Terrell Carter has brought organizational expertise to this initiative, and he now serves as the co-director of this arm of Central’s outreach.
On Friday evening, local pastors, educators, students, and community activists gathered in Central’s chapel to hear the prophetic encouragement of Dr. John Perkins. Long in the fray for civil rights, Dr. Perkins suggested that we are at a wonderful time. He remarked, “I am beginning to hear the same words in prayer in both black and white churches.” At 87 year of age, he is the harbinger of hope.
Strongly he reminded us that this racial divide cannot be solved unless friendship and shared purpose emerge. He believes that his “long longing” is being fulfilled as white churches begin to understand that the black church emerged as a result of white oppression. As we acknowledge our shared brokenness together, he observed, we have the possibility of getting back together as one people of God.
We all have a stake in caring for our city, especially when the suffering is so great. Dr. Perkins reminded us that if a black child lies on the street, we have all failed. Compassion comes from touch, from drawing near one another and igniting common cause, which should produce joy. Making friends that lead us to touch one another is essential.
“Joy should be the energy of the Christian,” Perkins proclaimed, noting that there is far too little joy surrounding the greatest story of the coming of the Christ. This is the story, we all agree, that creates the condition for transformation of our fractious history.
Dr. Perkins is eager to anchor this generation back into the Gospel and the church, for he rightly fears the intrusion of individualism. Our understanding of salvation has neglected that we must participate in God’s justice-making enterprise as a sign of our faith, for Christianity is ultimately a behavior.
It has been a good weekend at Central, and once again we have demonstrated that we care for our city. I trust we will engage in the incarnational presence needed to serve and learn in our dense diversity.
Molly T. Marshall