‘Stay in the City’?

LondonduskSteven Johnson, who wrote the fabulous book ‘Emergence’ [USA | UK] which inspired so much of ‘Signs…’ has a really interesting post on his blog about Leaving Brooklyn.

It seems two friends of his were the victims of crime in the area and have decided enough is enough – they are moving out. Johnson’s post is a plea for them to stay, backed up with some great thinking.

Connectedly, in preparation for the release of ‘Signs…’ in the US, I’ve been going through the UK version with the fine people at Baker, with them suggesting amendments and clarifications. One of the trickier points has been whether to tone down the deliberately city-focused UK text and generalize it to ‘wherever you live.’

In many ways I’ve been doing my best to resist, partly because I feel that while humanity has urbanized massively – over half of the world live in cities now, whereas only 15% did 100 years ago – the church has failed to respond to what a city is really about. Its theology and ecclesiology have thus remained ‘pastoral’ – from the countryside – I am convinced that we need to rebalance that.

But for that to happen do Christians need to ‘stay in the city’? If the grand sweep of our faith is the movement from a garden to a city then what impact ought that to have on how we live? If a city is simply ‘where humanity and divinity gather to co-operate and co-create’ then does it matter if this is in London or Chipping Sodbury, as long as we connect with people?


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6 responses to “‘Stay in the City’?”

  1. After a couple of years of living here, I feel like in large part the church in the US has responded to urbanization but it has done so by following the suburban and ex-urban exodus. In Grand Rapids, at least, the majority of the churches are part of the sprawl, surrounded by huge car parks and encouraging people to drive their gargantuan vehicles out of their neighbourhoods to attend church. And there’s not been much evidence that anything going under the “emergent” banner is changing that.
    I suspect that a good chunk of the right-wing, anti-poor bias of white, evangelical churches can be connected with that retreat from the urban (Jeff Sharlet’s piece “Soldiers of Christ” in Harpers Magazine is worth a read on that topic). Driving from the (predominantly white, relatively affluent) suburb to the strip-mall church you’ll rarely be alongside anyone even marginally different from you. The church in the US really needs to hear a strongly pro-urban message.

  2. I agree James. I hesitate to make any real “concrete” judgments as I have to allow the Spirit to guide people where they are meant to follow. But one thing I sense is that city living is not consistent with the “American dream” that so many strive for and what so much of “churchianity” encourages people to attain.
    Here’s the basic expectation in America as I have seen it. You live in the city when you go to college then maybe stay when you get your first job and MAYBE when you’re married…but before you have kids, you buy a nice house in the ‘burbs, close to a “good school” and the you work your tail off to keep moving up the homeowner ladder, improving your lifestyle and subsequently your home quality and size.
    So, living in the city is not consistent with that ideal. We personally have abandoned that idea completely for our family so we have answered the call to the city (although, right now we live as close to “urban” as one gets around here but it’s more “town living”)… yes, even with kids in tow.
    anyway, those are just some rambling thoughts.

  3. Same thing in London… It’s a sort of cocooning impulse. Strange how around that age Jesus went to the city. And got lynched. It’s not an easy model to follow.

  4. Maybe the pastoral church is right for a season, each family making a choice. I think we need, as those emerging from what has been to what church might become, to keep imploring each other to make a choice not just based on preference, but with intentionality toward our community.
    My family has the freedom to decide. We are deciding to move ‘into town’. We are downsizing, locating within walking distance of church and market to be more integrated. The kids are grown, We have more of ourselves to offer.
    Are not many in the emerging group typically younger and just now starting to raise families?

  5. I think it’s also worth noting the difference between UK and US suburbs. I know things have changed in the past few years, but I think the US is either several years ahead of the UK or moving in a different direction with the ex-urb direction of its suburbs.
    Most new suburban developments I’ve visited in the UK do still have some notion that a housing development needs access to shopping, often schools, and sometimes churches and community centers. In the US there is a recognition that with more people you’ll need more shopping facilities, but there’s usually a greater distance between the housing and the shopping.
    The suburbs people move out to in the UK to raise kids tend to be a little more walkable (and hence a little more open to chance encounters, if not a thriving sidewalk culture) than those in the US.

  6. That’s doubtless a function of space. I wonder what proportion of US ‘suburbs’ are new build. It’s minute compared to the UK. However, there are new builds I know of – around my parents’ home about an hour out from London – that have been built with no facilities at all. And are a disaster.
    When people move out in the UK, it’s often to a village… Something olde worlde and romantic about that ideal… Ironically, most still want to be within easy reach of a big city for work. Which is doubly depressing: they take, but do not give. In my less forgiving moments I wonder if that’s tantamount to pillage.