I took a drive through Flint, MI on Saturday last.
It is a hard place to experience. In the middle of a once thriving economy there sits thousands of acres of empty concrete, weeds growing through with a defiant attitude and leaving the impression that nothing used to be here and nobody cares.
Neighborhoods are pock marked with abandoned homes, boarded up doors and windows, overgrown yards untended for years and subject to nature’s whimsy – and every once in a while a home with cars, kids, bikes, and manicured lawns. Those properties are more the exception than the rule.
Industry once thrived here, with jobs aplenty and everything new: new schools, new churches, new homes, new cars, new hospitals, new restaurants, new shopping malls and theaters.
90,000 workers all collected their check from General Motors.
Now, just 6,000 work for the company. Unemployment hovers around 27%. Only two public high schools are open with one threatening to close. Nothing is new; the water is poisoned and the state doesn’t seem to care.
I met with a group of faithful members of the Woodside United Church of Christ in Flint on Sunday, and asked them about hope.
They spoke of a pregnant neighbor soon to give birth; of a home on the block being refurbished after sitting empty for 20 years; of the dignity of staying through hard times; of the energy mustered to fight battles against government corruption.
They spoke of discerning a mission – of wrestling with selling a large building and property in order to acquire assets for deepening their commitment to serve this people rather than use up remaining funds and reserve accounts to pay for aging property.
They spoke with pride about whom they served and supported: an LGBT community without another ally in the city; a latino population in and around the church that met in their building to organize resistance and subsistence; a tent community of native American water rights activists from Standing Rock that set up a camp in neighborhood park to demonstrate for Flint’s water rights.
After deep conversation with them about staying, serving, and finding hope we went and worshipped.
It was magnificent.
The choir sang.
The gospel was read.
Prayers were offered.
Communion was shared.
Fellowship followed, and before I left I looked around once more time and marveled at the power of communities assembled to ensure that hope remains.
No one promises that our journeys will be easy ones. Some of us are called to live in hard places. I pray that, wherever your road takes you, you have glimpses of the sacred sufficient to warrant wonder, awe, and hope; that you have companions on the journey to inspire for you courage in the struggle; and that you find the sacred in the profane as you walk your way Into the Mystic.