We're Not the First Generation of Urban Christians
Last week the City team asked you, our readers, to respond to our monuments film by considering the monuments in your communities. The following essay is one such response, from Memphis writer Kristen Stewart. To submit an essay of your own, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the City project's recent film "Marking the Place of Sin and Grace: The Meaning of Our City Monuments," the monuments of Richmond, Virginia, highlight how Christians throughout the United States are work for the transformation of their cities. Richmond's Christians remember places of past sin while hoping that God will restore them in his redemptive purposes. The film hit home for those of us who live in the South, but there is something to learn regardless of where you live.
The short film reminded me of one reason I love cities: Cities have a story, both a history and a hope for a future. In that way, a city is dynamic and organic, even before you consider the liveliness of residents living in close proximity.
Most of America's cities include Christians as part of their stories, founders and leaders who made the city great. Sadly, many Christians also contributed to the decline of their cities by neglecting them in time of need and leaving for the suburbs. And so, it is moving to me to see Christians reengage the city by choosing to live, work, worship, start schools, and raise children in an urban context.
In Birmingham, Alabama, our family lived about six blocks from one of its most famous monuments, the statue of Brother Bryan at Five Points, the cultural center of the city. James Alexander Bryan was a Presbyterian minister known for his tireless advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized, his giving spirit and his fervent prayer life. Eschewing titles, he insisted that everyone call him Brother Bryan.
During his 50-year tenure as minister of Third Presbyterian in Birmingham's Southside, Bryan embodied the parish mindset, serving everyone from prisoners to prep-school students with dignity and care. Halfway through his ministry, the Birmingham Age Herald wrote of Bryan, "We who have watched his footsteps see the tracks which he has left among the desolate and distressed." He founded two soup kitchens and lived just long enough to see a dream fulfilled when Birmingham's first homeless shelter opened in 1940. Open to this day, it was named Brother Bryan Mission in his honor.