“So Jarrett, why do you want to come to Worcester?” Or, “How did you decide to start a church a Worcester?” Underneath these questions is the surprise that someone would pick Worcester. In the eyes of many, Worcester is not seen as a desirable place to live. People end up there for work, because their family is there, or because they don’t have other options. There are some instances in which people take pride in the city, but this has been more of a minority voice.
As we lay the foundations for a new church in Worcester we want to be a church that appreciates, respects, and loves Worcester, consciously committing herself to the good of the city. Here’s a little bit of why and what it will mean practically:
Why care about Worcester?
First, there are so many people there. It is common to judge cities based on their economies, social life, institutions of education, cultural activities, livability, or any number of factors. In God’s sight, the most important thing about Worcester is the large number of people (181k) living in close proximity. In the Bible’s account of creation and the origins of life, humanity is the pinnacle of God’s achievements. We are the grand finale. So, God cares deeply about the city of Worcester because it is full of people made in his image. And what is interesting about cities is that they tend to bring out both the best and worst of humanity. Cities are known for poverty and crime as well as being centers of work and culture. God is fully aware of both the good and bad in Worcester but his concern for the city is not based on the proportion of the good or bad. So we care about Worcester because God does.
Second, in the biblical story line the final scenes of restoration, salvation, and peace all happen in a city. The new Jerusalem descends from heaven and transforms earth so that people from all times, places, and cultures unite in worship of their common savior Jesus Christ. The original elements of the garden of Eden are present but enlarged in a garden city of beauty, wealth, and joy in which God is fully present. This overarching story should shape our perspectives on cities, filling us with great hope of what God can do in urban centers and ultimately will do at the end of the age. We want to be a church that longs to see a reflection of the heavenly city in Worcester.
Third, statistics and wise analysts tells us that cities matter. Check out these two quotes
In 1900 only 14% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. The number was 30% in 1950. In 2011 the world became 51% urban. By 2050, the world will be 68.7% urban. Why Cities Matter
This much is clear—the cities are where the people are. In the course of less than 300 years, our world will have shifted from one in which only 3 percent of people live in cities, to one in which 80 percent are resident in urban areas. If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.
With the increasing urbanization of our world it is important for Christians to engage all sorts of cities whether it is global cities like New York, London, and Tokyo, or rust belt cities like Scranton and Cleveland. So Worcester matters. For more, read here.
What will this mean practically:
First, we’ll neither despise Worcester nor set our hopes on it becoming the next hip urban playground for adults. The grace of God helps us love people and places just as they are, so that’s where we’ll start with Worcester. Our hopes won’t be dashed if the next efforts in renewing downtown plummet. Worcester’s worth isn’t in the things most people see and the city won’t “arrive” even if there is urban revitalization. Worcester has its own unique identity and whether development comes or goes there will be wonderful and hard things about the city.
Second, we’ll pray for the city. We will pray for the people and the institutions. In church, bible studies, homes, and wherever we find ourselves we will ask God to bless the city. We want to see spiritual renewal and believe it is of ultimate importance. We also want Worcester to be a better place for the many who live there. So we’ll pray for a growing economy, wise governance, excellent education accessible to all students, decrease of poverty, a health environment, healing in families and much more. This all matters to God because all of these factors affect the lives of people. We want Worcester to flourish because we love our neighbors.
-Third, we’ll work for the good. This will come out in a variety of ways, but will be clearly seen in our service to the people of this city. My guess is that we’ll have one or two formal avenues that really fit the strengths of the people God brings together and then there will be all sorts of informal ways we care for our neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Furthermore, we want to equip Christians to do their work with excellence and for the greater good. This can be complicated but we’re going for it.
-Fourth, we’re going to live there. (We actually just found an apartment in Worcester!!) This is not for everyone but our family is committed to living in Worcester. It is hard to be disinterested in the city when your life is caught up in it. While we will reach and serve all sorts of people there will be a particular focus on those who live in Worcester.