Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pray and Break Bread

I came across an article a few weeks ago which described one of the pedagogical tools used by City Seminary of New York. City Seminary's focus is purposefully narrow: to provide "leadership development for urban ministry in New York, primarily in the city's ethnic and immigrant communities where Christianity is thriving." And one of the ways in which they engage their students with urban ministry is by making the city their classroom; in fact, Professor Emmanuel Katongole, a theologian originally from Uganda, says that, "The city is the seminary." The school's primary focus is "ground up" (valuing experience) instead of "top down" (students sitting in a class and taking notes from a learned scholar). The seminary emphasizes participation and communal settings within an academic setting. The students not only study theology, but learn about New York and its history, and spend time looking at global Christianity.

Green Spot Restaurant in Montreal
Image from mapoutine.ca
One of City Seminary's initiatives is called "Pray and Break Bread," a series of pilgrimages in which students travel to each borough in New York and spend a few hours there. They learn about the history, demographics, resources, and challenges of the area, they spend some time meditating on scriptures, then they break into small groups and wander around, praying as they go. They finish the time with a meal together at a local restaurant, offering reflections on their time walking the city. Rev. Mark Gornik, the pastor and scholar who launched City Seminary in 2003, remarks: "We're on the streets, learning from one another, having a great time together and sharing food. That is the seminary in a nutshell."

We at Vineyard Montreal pray for our city every week as we gather on Sunday mornings in a local downtown library. We have, on occasion, done prayer walks in our neighbourhood, but are always looking for fresh ways to engage more meaningfully with our city. The model of "Pray and Break Bread" gives us a framework to get on the ground in our city in a number of ways. When I mentioned the possibility of trying a "Pray and Break Bread" event, people in our faith community were enthusiastic about it. So enthusiastic that I immediately had two volunteers who said they would be willing to lead one. They will do some research on a particular neighbourhood in Montreal and present us with their findings, acting as tour guide as we walk around, praying for God's blessing and healing in general and for any people we encounter along the way. And they will select a local eatery where we can share food, support a local business, exchange reflections on our mini-pilgrimage, and experience being part of the neighbourhood for a few hours.

To me, this sounds a lot like the work of Jesus: walking with people, praying for people, eating with people, listening to people, talking to people, visiting people, bringing hope, healing, friendship, and good news wherever we go. Let us be good news for our city as we pray and break bread, whether informally in our day to day lives or in more intentional ways as demonstrated by City Seminary.

All quotations taken from the article by Bob Wells, "The Wonder of It All," in Faith and Leadership, December, 2009. You can read it here.

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