Building Bridges in the Global City
By: Christina Adrien
Global cities such as New York are filled with dense and diverse populations of people that live right next to each other, in the same neighborhood but hardly make any interaction with one another. These cities are highly divided and often communities exclude many who are not of their kind in terms of race, ethnicity, class etc. Religious institutions have always played a crucial role in shaping social and cultural attitudes. Unfortunately, these faith communities are also segregated; divided according to race, ethnicity, sexuality and class. They sometimes fail to adequately reach out to others in the community that may not look, talk, act, or live like them.
Building Bridges is a New York Theological Seminary (NYTS) project in intercultural ministry funded by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Mark D. Hostetter and Alexander N. Habib Foundation. The project is led by the Center for the Study and Practice of Urban Religion (CSPUR).
This grant funded program has taken 10 supervised ministry students and placed them in churches not only to do supervised ministry, but also to do research. Normally for supervised ministry the students get to pick their sites because this is the church they will be ministering in for the last 2 years of their study in the Masters of Divinity (M.Div) Program at NYTS. However, for the building bridges program, CSPUR faculty and administration choose the sites for the students.
Why? Because the main point of the program is to put each student into a church of a different culture than their own. For example two African American students (one being myself) have been sent to Korean churches, European American students to African American churches, some went to an Hispanic, LGBT church, and…you get the idea. Therefore, the students were placed in congregations where he/she could be considered “the other”. This gives the students the opportunity to learn about different congregational cultures and practices and study the conditions that promote or inhibit inclusiveness in these congregations.
As Supervised Ministry Researchers (SMR), we have to research their beliefs and practices and also share our own church practices and beliefs with the churches we are assigned to. We will also have the opportunity to preach, teach, lead worship and/or bible study at our assigned churches or do whatever else the pastor may assign us to do. In a nutshell, we will;
1. Research, observe and learn about a new and different culture by gathering information, resources and strategies helpful for theological, racial, ethnic, and economic inclusiveness within religious communities
2. Promote a culture of inclusivity beyond the bounds of the seminary community and see how inclusive the congregations would be to us and us to them.
3. Become more inclusive in our ministries and also gain the basic skills of doing research.
4. Then after all that, hopefully, through our research and experience we will build a bridge between these cultures.
Now regardless of how great, nice, warm and “we are the world” this may sound and feel. Sometimes what you will get from an experiment like this is not nice and warm. People may get or receive some attitudes and of course a whole lot of questions, like “who are these people?”, “what do you want?” and “who do you think you are?” Tensions may flare and personalities and cultures will clash. So this makes me wonder. Is this whole inclusivity idea just that…a good idea? Is it realistic or idealistic? And can something like this really work, and if so, how? Or is segregation in any form the way we will always be and the way we will always live?
What do you think?