As I listen to our neighbors to the east of Austin Boulevard, I hear four primary concerns: the lack of economic opportunity due to a lack of economic investment, profoundly poor education, violence, and police misconduct. They are of course inter-related. But the escalating violence is a health issue and a moral issue—that so many young people and families are caught in the middle.
The Saturday before Palm Sunday, Rev. Acree officiated at three funerals, two of them for a grandson and a grand-niece of two different parishioners. These were young people at the wrong places at the wrong times. The violence is gang-related but many of the victims want nothing to do with them, including the 13 year old recently shot who had pleaded in a video to reduce gun violence. You may have heard about the four youth shot and wounded at Washington and Waller—just a few blocks from us. A few of us joined church pastors and laypeople in that immediate area for a prayer vigil.
It is scary to reflect on what we can do as pastors, deeply concerned individuals or a wider community. As I get to know more people of faith in the Austin neighborhood, I’m struggling with how I for many years ignored this community and how to invite others to begin a relationship. It’s a conversation I hope will grow. Despite that it is overwhelming. Maybe because it is overwhelming.
I want to lift up Rev. Acree for being a voice in our neighboring community of Austin that has both a footprint and a population larger than Oak Park—where a whole community is often neglected. Yet they are our direct neighbors!
We happen to live in a location where God calls us to pay attention, engage in some way, grow, and speak the truth in love. And sometimes act.
I’m hopeful the Community of Congregations that draws from Oak Park and environs will mature to a point of truly engaging congregations in the Austin community—and we all will be better for it. This is what this coalition of churches has prioritized over the past two years and I’ve agreed to come on the board and lead it further in this direction. I’m hopeful the Community of Congregations and the Leaders Network which Rev. Acree serves as Co-Commissioner will find meaningful ways to partner. There likely will be other avenues to engage churches in Austin as well.
I’m sitting in bed with a bad sinus infection, and feel the urge to write all this... and hoping you who are local will join those of us getting involved with the Community of Congregations to begin this nascent work. We’ve got to start somewhere. And conversations are happening and hopefully will multiply.
May this season of Spring bring flowering to all efforts to engage the Austin neighborhood and the wider West Side.
With Love with Courage,