We're Not the First Generation of Urban Christians
Today's generation of urban Christians may feel like pioneers, but we stand on the shoulders of giants. Our cities were known, loved, and even built by great men and women who lived out the gospel, day in and day out. If you look hard enough, you can find evidence of their love that still remains.
When we moved to Memphis last summer, a new friend urged me to read about the city's yellow fever epidemics. In the summer of 1878, the epidemic was so powerful that over half of Memphis's population left the city in a matter of days. But many clergy members, both Protestant and Catholic, chose to stay behind, ministering to the sick and dying, caring for both bodies and souls. They also served hundreds of children, newly orphaned.
Over 5,000 people died of yellow fever in Memphis in a few months' time. Numbered among them were Christians from both Catholic and Anglican orders. When I pass the great stone churches of downtown Memphis, I am reminded of their stories, told in telegrams and journals and by witnesses to their acts of love and mercy. I think of the story of Sisters Constance and Thecla, who refused to lie down when they realized they had the fever, knowing the beds would have to be burned if they died, instead saving the mattresses for the comfort of others. I remember the incarnational ministry of each one who stayed, acting as the hands and feet of Jesus to those who were too poor or unhealthy to flee Memphis for safety.
As for our family, we are still learning what it means to be Memphians and a part of this city's particular story. The more I understand its past, the greater my hopes are for its future. I am encouraged by how many Christians here love this city and how much redemptive work is already being done: creative, innovative community development. It is an exciting place to be, a place where working for the shalom of the city feels right, knowing that the labors of Christians in Memphis today are leaving evidence of Christ's love and grace that will encourage the next generation and will likely shape the story of Memphis for generations to come.
Kristen Stewart lives with her family in Midtown Memphis. She blogs at This Classical Life.