It was a year ago, that the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference held a press conference and prayer service at John Wesley United Methodist Church in Baltimore to address the rising number of murders and violent crimes in the city. With 268 murders for the year, several hundred people gathered to mourn, as family members of those murdered shared their stories of the lasting impact of the deaths on them and their families.
At that time, Bishop John R. Schol shared the Church’s vision for the city and its commitment to a Communities of Shalom initiative – a grassroots, faith-based, community development program designed to empower churches and communities to bring harmony, peace prosperity, health, and wholeness to their neighborhoods and communities.
Communities of Shalom, previously coordinated by the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, is now resourced by the Theological School of Drew University in collaboration with National Shalom Committee and the General Board of Global Ministries. The Rev. Dr. Michael J. Christensen, a clergy member of the California-Nevada Annual Conference and Director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Drew since 1996, is the National Director of the initiative.
As part of Hope for the City, the church’s strategic plan for ministry in Baltimore, the Baltimore-Washington Conference committed to a five-point action plan:
- Start at least seven Communities of Shalom.
- Provide a free camping experience at one of the United Methodist campsites for any youth affected by the murder of a family member.
- Provide grief counseling for persons affected by murder
- Work with police and community leaders to institute a gun turn-in program.
- Pray for people, institutions and churches in all the communities throughout the city.
One year later, there are signs that the plan is working.
Throughout 2008, the Baltimore-Washington Conference has sought to follow through on the commitments made last December. Seven new Communities of Shalom, involving nine congregations, have been commissioned and have started implementing the action plans for ministry. Several people are receiving grief counseling through Hope Counseling Services. Additionally, 46 children affected by death and violence against a family member were able to attend a camp this past summer.
As an apparent consequence, writes the Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, as of December 1, 2008, there had been 216 murders in Baltimore, a welcome decrease over last year. “While the decline may be a sign of hope,” he writes, “it does point to the challenge that continues to confront the city. Each of the 216 individuals murdered represents someone’s loved one — a son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother, aunt or uncle — each represents lost hopes and dreams, and lost potential, promise and possibility.
“In 2009, the Baltimore-Washington Conference is committed to strengthening each of these ministries with specific plans to start at least three new Communities of Shalom and to offer camping opportunities to at least 100 city youth next summer. Signs of hope can be found in the ministry that each of us can offer to those who are hurting among us,” adds Rev. Hunt.
Hunt is the Superintendent of the Baltimore Metropolitan District in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and has primary responsibility for the implementation of Hope for the City. To read his Hope for the City blog, visit http://newurbanministry.blogspot.com.