Wednesday evening a youth group from Indianapolis lounged on couches in the gathering space in the Urban Mission Inn, exhausted from a week of serving but teeming with excitement to share their experiences. Their leader posed a number of questions, one being: “How did your definition of justice change this week?” A hand shot up — “I used to think of justice as something that would be ideal, but now I know that it’s something we need to have.”
Urban Mission Inn provides mission groups the opportunity to immerse themselves in a week of challenging, enriching, rewarding experiences that open their minds and hearts to the needs of urban communities in metropolitan St. Louis. Before arriving at the Urban Mission Inn, groups are encouraged to ponder the question — "What is the role of the Church in the world?" — as they spend a week learning, serving, experiencing different cultures and engaging in times of fellowship and reflection.
From the moment groups walk through the door, our Urban Mission Inn staff, along with adult sponsors and youth leaders, work to cultivate a heightened sense of self-awareness by leading groups in discussions and experiences around issues of economic justice, food security, poverty, racism, privilege, and cultural diversity.
Urban Mission staff lead groups on the Delmar Divide walk, which explores the areas surrounding Union Avenue Christian Church, south and north of Delmar Boulevard, seeking to introduce groups to the inequalities in the city around them. Groups also spend a morning at the Missouri History Museum where they learn about the black history of St. Louis, wrestling with the concept of "agency," and assessing different forms of resistance to social injustice. At the end of the interactive experience, they have an opportunity to discuss and map out what a just society might look like.
Groups visiting Urban Mission Inn spend the majority of their week serving in the community at a variety of organizations: community gardens; organizations that serve those living in poverty; organizations that provide transitional housing for women and children seeking refuge from domestic violence; and urban neighborhoods. These areas of service open minds to the complexity of needs and opportunities in metro St. Louis, in America, and in the world.
EXPERIENCING A DIFFERENT CULTURE
Every Tuesday afternoon, groups have an opportunity to experience and learn about the Congolese tradition of Christian worship through dancing, playing instruments and singing call-and-response songs. They learn that music reflects the beliefs of the community, sends prayers into the universe, and calls on the Spirit of God to influence personal actions. These drum circles provide a practical example of teamwork, respect, camaraderie, and creative expression in which the players are ageless and communication is often without words.
ENGAGING IN FELLOWSHIP AND REFLECTION
Each Wednesday, members of Union Avenue Christian host a Dinner Church, where groups gather around the table for a meal, fellowship and communion. This gives groups the opportunity to share their experiences with the host church and to consciously come together as a community in prayer and in service.
At the Missouri History Museum, guides lead groups in search of an answer to the question: What is a just society? The first half of the activity involves group brainstorming, in which the youth from Indianapolis responded to the question with answers like: “All means all” and “Everyone has the same thing.” During the second half of the activity, the guides ask the groups to boil down their ideas into two words, phrases or symbols. The youth from Indianapolis were split into two groups, and their answers were:
○Peace: everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive
○Fairness: goes deeper than simple equality
What would the world look like if we were able to experience equality, peace, happiness and fairness?
At the end of the week, the youth leader from Indianapolis asked her youth: What is the role of the church in the world? I’ll let their answers stand for themselves:
“The role of the church is to break social barriers and create equal opportunities for all.”
“The role of the church is to teach the church about injustices in order to send out good servants and neighbors to address issues of social injustice.”
“The role of the church is to educate [its people] about different cultures so that we might respect, appreciate and engage with them.”
“The role of the church is to build community and sustainable relationships.”
“The role of the church is to teach while learning.”
“The role of the church is educational. [We must lead] verbally and by example, living in harmony and in abundant relationships with one another.”
“The role of the church is to ‘do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.”
“The role of the church is to provide a safe space, a support system.”
“The role of the church is to remain collective in order to rely on each other and our
diverse gifts to give voice to the marginalized and hope to the oppressed.”