Baby steps in South Bend

Dr. Martin Luther King once commented that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. Although some things have changed, Christian churches remain, by and large all white or all black. Churches in our neighborhood reflect that situation.

The Near Northwest Neighborhood in South Bend is roughly 40% black, but you can go to a local event and not see a single African Americans neighor. On the other hand, the three churches that are within walking distance of our homes are virtually all African American on Sunday morning.  Oddly, many of their attenders come from outside the neighborhood – they are folks who grew up here but then moved to other areas of the city. Meanwhile, the white population leaves for churches outside the neighborhood. Mennonites travel seven miles to the southern edge of South Bend to attend the only Mennonite church in the region.

Andre Stoner, a member of Cana Community, has long had a dream of an integrated church within walking distance of our homes. However, he believed that an integrated church would never be a reality without African American leadership. A church will reflect its leadership, and whites would quickly dominate any church led by white pastors. So Andre spent years praying for African American pastors who might lead a new worshipping community.

Lo and behold, a few months ago, those prayers appeared to be answered.  Cyneatha Millsap, an African American pastor of a Mennonite church in a Chicago suburb mentioned that she was planning on moving out to northern Indiana.  A few intense discussions revealed that Cyneatha and Cana Community shared a similar vision of a racially integrated, inclusive faith community.  We are envisioning an alternative community that meets on weekday evenings (and doesn’t compete with local churches).  And we are searching for a new definition of church – perhaps a worshipping community built on relationships rather than bureaucracy.

Over the past six months, Cyneatha has worked hard to build relationships in the community. In July, a number of neighbors who had connected with Cyneatha gathered together with Cana Community for a potluck dinner in the Stoner’s backyard. Another potluck followed in August – this one featured soul food. And in September, a small group met for prayer, sharing, and dessert.

These are baby steps, as we try to follow the Spirit’s leading. However, in a society that is so deeply divided in so many ways, it feels like a good start.

A Few other Notes from Cana Community

Cassie is starting work on a degree in social work as Chris continues work on his dissertation at Notre Dame. Janna completed her Ph.D. at Notre Dame in peacemaking and theology and is now teaching at the Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart.  Jess finished law school, passed the bar exam, and is clerking for a federal judge in South Bend. Cathy begins graduate work at the Mennonite Seminary and Andre is a community organizer for the Near Northwest Neighborhood. Barbara is serving as temporary pastor at a small Mennonite church in Hudson Lake – about 15 miles from South Bend. She will be there until early November when the regular pastor returns from sabbatical. We continue to meet every week for potluck dinners, twice a month for adult meetings. And we try to be available and vulnerable for each other and our neighbors.