Review: Making Neighborhoods Whole

Making Neighborhoods Whole

Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development, Wayne Gordon & John M. Perkins, forward by Shane Claiborne. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Summary: Two of the founders of the Christian Community Development Association recount the history of this movement, weaving a narrative of their own and others stories into a summary of the eight key principles that have defined this movement.

Wayne Gordon, at Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, and John Perkins, at Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi, and later Harambee Ministries in Pasadena, were two of the key founders of the movement that became known as Christian Community Development and were founding members, along with other key early leaders like Glen Kehrein and Bob Lupton, of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA).

This book, self-described as a “handbook” actually does two things. One is that it tells the story of Christian Community Development from its early beginnings. It is honest, celebrating both the growth of a work of God and human failings from poor planning to burnout to the deaths of key figures like Lem Tucker, who in conversation with Wayne Gordon in his kitchen, conceived the idea of CCDA. Gordon and Perkins share the narrative but also include in chapters enunciating the eight principles of Christian Community Development, the narratives of many other leaders in this movement around the country.

As mentioned in the last sentence, the book also lays out the eight key components of Christian community development and what these leaders have learned about their practice. These include:

  1. Relocation. Perhaps even more important than those who relocate are those who remain, and those who return.
  2. Reconciliation. This chapter emphasizes how this is indeed the only cure for our racial and ethic divides, depends upon Christ, and involves the hard work of listening to things we’d rather not hear.
  3. Redistribution. The recommendation is not a handout but the opportunity and resources to work–education, micro-finance, and a justice system that doesn’t create a permanent underclass of those who make bad judgments and break laws.
  4. Leadership development. This invariably means a long-term commitment in the lives of young people from childhood through college and back into the community.
  5. Listening to the community. Sometimes ministry leaders have ideas of what a community needs that are not what the community thinks it needs. Gordon narrates a situation where he wanted to build athletic facilities when community members were telling him they needed a washer and dryer and a safe place to wash clothes. He asked them to pray–God provided the washer and dryer and transport to move it to Lawndale!
  6. Being Church Based. It is easy to operate independently of churches or for churches to relinquish responsibility for communities but the church is central in God’s redeeming purposes and the best situation is churches doing this ministry with a strong sense of “parish” ministry.
  7. A Wholistic Approach. The authors believe it can never be an either/or approach of gospel or community work but both must work hand in hand.
  8. Empowerment. I appreciated two questions in this chapter concerning avoiding dependency: “What will it take for you not to need anything from us in one year’s time?” and “What has to happen over the next year for you to get to a place where you can help others instead of needing help?”

As you can see, this short book was full of practical help, perhaps more of a “primer” than a “handbook” yet immensely instructive. I also appreciated the stories. That of Sami DiPasquale, an Anglo talking about reconciliation particularly struck me. Here is an excerpt:

“For people of privilege, reconciliation begins with sinking to our knees before God. We can choose to build relationships with those outside traditional power structures, with people who are ‘other.’ We can listen to their stories, paying careful attention especially when we hear a pattern emerging. We can put ourselves under the authority of someone from a different cultural heritage. We can choose to live in a setting where we are the minority. We can study history and theology from the perspectives of those who were not invited into the process of creating the standard textbooks–history can sound so different based on who is telling the story. We can grieve the tragedies that our forebears were a part of and try to figure out how they factor in to how we live today. We must ask God and others for forgiveness, and we must forgive ourselves. Finally, we must move forward, always listening, always striving to embrace voices from the outside with a resolve to confront the sin of injustice at every opportunity” (pp. 73-74).

It seems that this is a book that could be helpful to any church seeking to take its community seriously and to see it as their parish. Poverty is not just about money and development isn’t just about economics. And poverty is often hidden. I live in what may be considered a suburban community, yet at one of our nearby elementary schools, nearly half the children are eligible for subsidized lunches. Our church’s food pantry served 200 families this past weekend. While some of us may indeed be called to re-locate, it strikes me that some of us do need to remain, and open our eyes. This is a book that helps us to begin to understand how we as a church might live and act in light of what we see.

2 thoughts on “Review: Making Neighborhoods Whole

  1. Interesting book. My relative is working on a Phd from MIT (and also has a Masters from MIT) and his study has to do with community development. When he talks about it, it goes over my head. haha. But your post reminded me of it. He has said that too often when a community is “revitalized”, the poor of the area were not helped, but pushed out and forced to relocate – rather than raising the poor up with an approach and resources to better themselves long term. Interestingly, my relative worked high-end commercial real estate (research end) for yrs and was wealthy from it. He got disgusted by the meaninglessness of what he did, and wants more meaningful work to make a difference and improve communities in a holistic way.

  2. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: March 2016 | Bob on Books

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