New Beginnings: addressing the great divide

I believe that the Presbyterian Church’s partnership in the New Beginnings program with the Disciples of Christ can be more than the latest efforts at church growth or transformation.

New Beginnings utilizes more than demographic tools to crunch numbers or provide statistic probabilities of survivability. It offers a personal approach by including facility and neighborhood tours, and most importantly an opportunity to engage congregations in storytelling about who they are.

I attended training for New Beginnings Assessors last week in Los Angeles. It was quite an experience because this was my first “stay” in Los Angeles. Other trips to L.A. were brief stop overs while waiting for a connection to another town. My experience included seeing the city from its streets – noting the diversity of the neighborhoods, hearing many different languages, and encountering people from vastly different social and economic strata. My trip there reminded me just how great the divide can be between us.

My trip included an afternoon and evening in Beverly Hills. It was there that the great divide was most evident. I drove along streets where high walls and strong gates secured multi-million dollar homes. I passed by people who most likely lived in multi-family, multi-generational housing while providing service to these well maintained single family homes. I walked along the shopping district of Rodeo Drive while celebrity tour buses alerted passengers to “keep your eyes open for the ‘stars’ who might be out shopping.” I saw hotels where famous people died and politicians visited. I found myself watching others and felt myself being watched at a different levels of self-consiousness and self-confidence than in other parts of the city or even the country.

The great divide in socio-economic terms was very real in this setting. What was a normal day in Beverly Hills became a field trip where I was able to observe some of the ways in which we are not equal.

Its easy to observe things in a more objective manner when you are outside.  I am an outsider to the kind of wealth in a place like Beverly Hills.  I am an outsider to the dynamics of a city like Los Angeles.  Therefore, I perceive things differently…not always correctly, but differently.  The outsider’s perceptions can incite anger and resentment, or the possibility of change.

That is New Beginnings seeks to do: to incite something in our churches.  New Beginnings invites congregations to hear from outsiders where the great divide exists in their mission and ministry.  New Beginnings doesn’t prescribe a plan of action guaranteed to succeed but describes present realities and suggests future stories for the congregation.

I am excited to be a part of the assessor team for New Beginnings.  I look forward to meeting church leaders and hearing congregations stories.


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