Using his not-so-welcoming arrival to Portland as a lead-in, Carlton A. Rhoden shared his story of urban revival and the need to confront injustice head-on with those in attendance at the Compassion, Peace and Justice Dinner held Tuesday night during the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Rhoden, the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles, said he was told by the desk clerk at his hotel that his room was not ready and that he would have to wait. He then watched moments later as another guest, this one of European heritage, was greeted warmly and given a room.
“This is the reality of the world we live in still in 2016,” he said. “It’s the reality we face. We must confront and challenge the injustices of this world.”
Rhoden, who has served as pastor of Westminster for nearly three years, told the audience that as an urban minister, he looks at the world through a certain lens. From that vantage point, he described the area in which his church is located.
“We are confronted with drugs and violence issues on a daily basis,” he said of the church located in the poor South Central part of Los Angeles. “There is still much work to be done, but we are seeing improvements. I believe it is a testament to the church’s role in helping with transition of a community.”
Rhoden recounted how he passed by “one of the worst parks I had ever seen” on his first day walking to the church. He said he saw deteriorating playground equipment, unkempt landscaping, and drug deals going on out in the open.
‘It was a very sad sight,” he said.
Shortly after his arrival, the church took it upon itself to renovate the park. He said members of the congregation engaged the community in the effort, holding public meetings. The park was dedicated last March.
“Every day, you see children and families playing in that playground,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see.” He said it would not have happened if it was not for the church.
“That is our mission field,” Rhoden said. “We are the ones that make transformation happen.”
Rhoden reinforced his message on the need for the church, particularly the urban church, to get involved in the community, citing Jeremiah 29:5-7:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Rhoden said the urban church has a “unique voice and a unique role” in providing for the welfare of the people.
“They need us desperately,” he said. “The church is the place where their voice can be heard. It is where they can find support. It is where they can come and know they are loved.”
When we help the people who need it the most, the least of these, we are in reality helping ourselves, he said.