Church people have a tendency to see themselves as being separate from the city they live in. Few of us take time to learn the history of our city, study its architecture, meet the movers and shakers, and understand the plight of its poor and the cry of its homeless. That’s a huge mistake and it goes counter to God’s plan for His Church.

In the minds of many, church is the place to go in order to escape the ills of our cities. The problem with this is that church is not a “place.” It was never meant to be a place. Church is people. It’s an organism, not an organization. It’s about the people of God, moving freely through the space where they live, carrying the light of Christ with them.

I live in Lititz, which is in Lancaster County, PA. Before I moved here, I visited some online forums to learn what other people who moved here had to say. The opinion was unanimous — it was hard to find anyone who felt welcome after moving here. “Good luck cracking the code of being accepted in this monolithic town of roughly 10,000 people” was the message I was getting.

Learning that the borough was founded by a group associated with a highly disciplined religious order helped me understand the forces that went into the formation of my new city. When I found out that you had to be a Moravian just to live in the borough during the first 100 years of its history, I began to grasp a little better the reasons those outsiders on yahoo chats felt the way they did.

Like personality traits developed in early childhood, cities also have certain bents that shape the way they are today. It’s part of their DNA. Some strands are good, others not so much. There is no point pretending they are not there. We recognize them, work with them or work around them. But we have to know what we are working with, and as followers of Christ whose mission is to share His hope with others, we must be able to rise above personal feelings. Too much is at stake for me to spend much time being upset about not belonging.

In my case, I add another layer of complication to my life and work in Lititz. I was born in South America. If someone from Connecticut moving to Lititz does not quite feel like she belongs, imagine how it is to be an olive-skinned Brazilian with a slight accent and decidedly urban way of seeing the world!

Most people need not worry about how to behave and what to say when they walk into a new environment. I have to think ahead and tread lightly. Sometimes the simple act of me walking into a room can be a game changer. People who I have only talked to on the phone, when they finally see me face to face, have to take a moment to register that I am not who they expected to see.

One lady simply laughed in my face when I told her I was the lead pastor at Grace Church. The next Sunday she was there at the 9:00 service, the only time she ever came, as if to make sure that she hadn’t just run into deranged Brazilian at Starbucks who thought he was the pastor of this predominantly Anglo church in her town. One of my son’s college friends, whose family comes from the Dominican Republic, upon entering our building the first time, turned to my son and asked with incredulity, “Is your dad the boss of all these while people?” I died when my son told me that. But I digress.

This Sunday I’m talking about “Serving Your City.” I will say things like, “God’s opinion about cities is radically different from the opinion of a great number of Christians” and, “Cities are God’s idea.” As many have said, “The Bible starts in a garden but ends in a city.” God is preparing a city for us. A New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, complete with a river and the tree of life, a place where night will never fall and the throne of God will be the main square, as we learn from Revelation 22.

There are 1250 references to cities in the Bible and our destiny as followers of Christ is definitely tied to a city. The saints of old died while looking for a better city and God is preparing a city for us. God has given us a city to dwell in now to prepare us for our future in the New Jerusalem. So it’s not right for us to ignore the plight of our cities. We must actively engage people and be sure to bless them with the love of Christ. The church is not a place; it’s a people. The city is not a problem; it’s an opportunity for Kingdom work.

I have learned to love my town with all its bents and quirks. I believe God placed me and my family here. In fact, according to Acts 17:26, God not only picked the time when I should live, He also picked the place. As I like to put it, “He delivered me to my zip code.” Lititz is my parish and while I am barely scratching the surface when it comes to understanding my lovely little town, I am focused on learning more and more and becoming a force for good in this place.

And I invite you to do the same, no matter where you live. You don’t need permission from your pastor, you don’t need a program. You have been ordained by God, He has given you the gifts you need. Go ahead, be the church in your city.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA