As I scroll my various social media timelines, it is evident that our country is divided. There is division between Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, and the Eagles and everyone else. Everywhere we look there is division and hostility between groups. Sadly, division is also frequently seen in the church. Classism and racism are all walls that divide churches from working together to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation, wholeness, and unity.
Several years ago, I felt the call to plant a church in the inner city, motivated by Psalm 69:3, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” We want to see the glory of God proclaimed and felt among all the peoples, particularly those in the inner city. With the scriptures as our motivation and wisdom as our guide, we sought training all over the country, but we kept hitting walls. I couldn’t afford a seminary education; neither did I have the cultural savvy to work within certain denominations. We felt we were at a loss, and would never receive the training needed to thrive in the inner city.
Ephesians 2:4–5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” This text of scripture is held in high theological esteem by us Reformed Christians. We hold firmly to Sola Gratia that by grace alone are we saved. But, Ephesians 2:4–5 should also hold high esteem because it emphasizes the intervening nature of God on our behalf to make us alive together through Christ. The grace of God saves us and unifies us. We are united to Christ and one another through the cross of Jesus.
This is astounding! I have seen this divine reality lived out during my residency here in Camden. I am an African-American Southern Baptist, a licensed and ordained elder, being trained by an African-American Presbyterian pastor. We are a living witness of the unifying power of the gospel. Ten months ago my family and I moved 1000+ miles north from Fort Myers, Florida, to Camden, NJ. Everyone thought we were crazy for leaving the “City of Palms” for the worst city in America, Camden. For us, the call of God to reach the ‘hood’ was greater than our denominational affiliation, our comforts, and our personal safety.
Since arriving here, my family and I have witnessed unspeakable horrors that are all too common within America’s inner cities. Just weeks ago I went to the funeral of a 13-year-old boy killed because of his gang affiliation. I watched as a mother and father tried to console one another in the wake of such a tragedy. The church was filled with men, women, and children all seeking hope in the midst of utter darkness. I watched as Pastor Doug cared for this grieving family, coordinated resources and presided over the funeral, all the while sharing the goodness of God.
I would never have had this level of in-depth training and coaching had the walls of hostility between our denominational camps not been broken down. The team here at Epiphany Fellowship Church in Camden is about spreading the gospel and training leaders no matter the cost, because lives are at stake.
I have come to realize that Epiphany Fellowship Church of Camden is only continuing in the legacy that they have been handed. When I hear the stories of Tenth Presbyterian Church training and investing in Pastor Doug years ago, I see glimpses of Ephesians 2:4. When I hear the stories of how Tenth, a cosmopolitan Presbyterian church partnered together with Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, a Southern Baptist inner-city church, to co-commission Pastor Doug and his team, I see the unifying power of the gospel at work.
Now, my family and I are turning our gaze to Baltimore, Maryland. We feel the call to plant our lives in that city to proclaim the gospel and plant a church. Baltimore is a divided city. There is open hostility between blacks and whites, the police and the poor, the rich and the impoverished. But we go there hopeful, knowing that the power to make men and women alive in Christ is also the power that can unify a city in Christ. We pray that the baton that was handed from Tenth Presbyterian Church to Epiphany Church will continue to go forward in Baltimore and beyond.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Charlie Mitchell. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org