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Where Portland Church Planters Fear to Tread

Where Portland Church Planters Fear to Tread

MaryLou and Rusty Bonham, founders of Springwater, commit to the forgotten Lents neighborhood.

To guard against that messianism, as well as becoming a strictly needs-meeting church—which the Bonhams believe often exchanges hand-outs for the dignity of the poor—they grounded their hopes in a community development model called asset-based community development (ABCD), which strives to heal neighborhoods with as much of the area's own dormant strengths as possible. Rusty and MaryLou first learned ABCD through Clark Blakeman, founder and director of Portland-based nonprofit Second Stories. The faith-based community development group works with Pacific Northwest churches and other nonprofits to teach holistic and incarnational mission. "Embedding in a community as listeners and learners for an extended/indefinite time in order to establish and build true relationships … is solid ABCD work," says Blakeman. In adopting many of ABCD's values, Rusty and MaryLou hoped to plant a church neither cavalierly confident nor a catalyst for gentrification. Clark says, "This is contrary to more typical church approaches, [which usually involve] coming in and creating programs to meet shallowly perceived needs."

In 2008, the Bonhams and 15 other believers (including myself) moved into one corner of Lents as a church, Springwater. Along with shared practices of devotion and simplicity, Springwater households organize monthly neighborhood service events. That could mean a kid's bicycle repair day, a BBQ block party, digging a garden for a neighbor, or springing "wacky water days" in the park.

Some Springwater members have worried that such projects aren't consistent with ABCD and won't structurally change the neighborhood. This spring, however, occasioned a shift in how neighbors participate in these events. Rusty rallied neighboring carpenters and some homeless friends to build and install nine sandboxes for toddlers on the block. "Watching the boxes being assembled," MaryLou remarked, "I was amazed at what an odd picture of the kingdom was being painted before us. You've got pacifist Christians working with veterans and homeless folks next to professionals, all helping install these playthings for these kids, these least of these."


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Displaying 2–6 of 15 comments

Nick Christensen

March 05, 2012  11:10pm

"Brandon - You describe a bombed out hulk of a neighborhood that nobody would ever dare visit after dark. That's funny, because the neighborhood I live in is vibrant, friendly, safe and overcoming long-held and untrue stereotypes. It's no paradise, but it sure as hell isn't what you described."


November 22, 2011  4:55pm

Charitas, read what they said about messianism in context. They're not talking about guarding against Jesus as messiah, they are guarding against the urge to go into a place with a lot of issues and see ourselves as miniature messiahs to everything that hurts the neighborhood. This community is doing a lot of cool stuff and harboring a lot of conversations. It's sad to see the amount of vitriol expressed towards it in these comments. As somebody involved in a faith community a couple miles down the road, I'm glad to know those mentioned in this article and to see the work they are doing.

Jeffrey Allen

November 15, 2011  12:56am

Thank you for this article. It is good to remember that the church not only has a function toward those outside the fold, but it is charged with ministering to those who are being perfected in Christ's image - that is to say, those of us who profess faith in Christ. Springwater, and similar groups who are faithfully attending to the King's business, have helped me to draw near to Christ, to live within his grace, and to encourage me to participate in kingdom activity. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience God's grace through your faithfulness.

Diane Fowler

November 14, 2011  8:24pm

I was so delighted to read this article about Rusty & Marylou, our friends from 1979 in Goshen, Indiana, where we attended the same church and helped facilitate their wedding. I'm not at all surprised by their ministry to "the least of these," after knowing them as sincere followers of Christ way back then.


November 11, 2011  8:01pm

Etymology and logic requires that if you are not "Messianic" you are also not Christian. How odd this article should appear in Messianity Today.


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