Standing for Gospel values in all the ‘places of despair’

Has the church walked away in silence from what Bruce Reyes-Chow, former moderator of the General Assembly, calls the world’s many “places of despair?”


Earlier this year at a Heartland Presbytery event, I heard Bruce say just that.


Because we have rested on the laurels of our past,” he said in a keynote address, “we have abdicated our voice.”


No doubt if we looked at some carefully selected evidence, we might convict the church of something like that. There are cases to be made, for instance, that we haven’t been strong enough advocates for people crushed by economic injustice, that we have been too silent about continued racial inequities, that our commitment to peacemaking sometimes gets overwhelmed by our allegiance to national security.


So, yes, Bruce has a point.


But I want us to remember all the ways in which we are out in the world’s mean streets standing up for Gospel values. Just in Kansas City I think of:


  • The Rev. Eric Garbison, a Presbyterian pastor who six years ago helped found the Cherith Brook Catholic Worker house to extend radical hospitality to residents of a broken neighborhood. Four mornings a week, at least 20 homeless people come there just to take showers, which Garbison likens to a baptismal experience.

  • The Front Porch Alliance, a project of Village Church, which has worked for more than a decade to be a neighbor to — and help restore — the run-down but proud Ivanhoe area of Kansas City.

  • Hope Care Center, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility for HIV/AIDS patients. My own congregation, Second Church, helped start this 16-bed home (that’s what it is, a true home for its residents) in 1996. Several of our members have served on the board. I’m usually there on Mondays to play Bingo with residents.

  • The Southwest Early College Campus Faith-based Coalition, an informal collection of eight churches providing volunteers to work with faculty, administration and students at our troubled neighborhood public high school. We’re there helping seniors with their research projects, providing teacher appreciation gatherings and much more.

  • The members of my congregation who are working in person and with our money to support the important work of the Presbyterian Education Board of Pakistan, which seeks to provide a broad education to children who might have none or who might be limited to the narrow focus of a school designed to get students to do little more than memorize the Qur’an.


b-tammeus.jpgHas the church abdicated its voice in places of despair? Well, we’re not speaking in such places enough, but many Presbyterians are there with bells on.


BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog at Read about his latest book E-mail him at