David Swanson

Reflections on the Inauguration

February 5th, 2009

Here is a guest post from David Swanson, Pastor of Community Life at New Community Covenant Church in Chicago, IL.

Sometime this fall my wife and I were asked by some close friends whether we’d join them for the upcoming presidential inauguration in Washington DC. The invitation was contingent on one thing: Barak Obama’s election. These friends had been involved with the Obama campaign since the beginning, lending their support to the man who lives just a few blocks away in their Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. It was an easy invitation to accept.

We woke up very early on the Sunday before the inauguration, loaded up our rental car, and drove from our apartment on Chicago’s north side to pick up our friends. From there it was a twelve-hour drive through the snow to our nation’s capitol. Along the way we talked, napped and listened to a few of Dr Martin Luther King’s early speeches. The anticipation built as we reached our hotel in Baltimore, but it wasn’t until we sat down for an upscale soul food dinner at Georgia Brown’s, just blocks from the National Mall, that the celebratory mood really kicked in. The restaurant was packed with glad people who had traveled from around the country to be in Washington for this event.

After a good night’s sleep we drove to Howard University to explore one of the premier Historically Black Colleges, known to many as “the Black Harvard.” Once again we encountered a thrilled atmosphere. Despite the chilly temperatures the campus was filled with alumni and prospective students. While warming up in a nearby Starbucks our friends bumped into a friend from Chicago who had also made the trek for the inauguration. The weekend was beginning to feel like a family reunion.

This sense of camaraderie and joyful expectation was only amplified on Inauguration Day. We were regularly asked where we had come from and people were happy to share their own stories that had brought them to the capitol. The ethnic diversity of the day was something to behold. While each of us had our distinct reasons for making this trip, there was a genuine sense of goodwill that I have rarely experienced.

“Hopefully nonpartisan” is the best way I can describe the demeanor of those in the massive crowds. While this was certainly a political event, and while the new president now steps into a very political role, there was very little political language that we encountered. The hope expressed by so many simply by their presence on that cold Tuesday was beyond political. While the speculation by some that Dr King’s dream has been fulfilled in President Obama is clearly preposterous, the significance of this election cannot be underestimated. Surely there is still a long way to go; there is much about Dr King’s dream that needs to be articulated in our day. But for one long, cold weekend many of us caught a glimpse of the road ahead and found plenty of reasons to be hopeful.

New Community Covenant Church

August 4th, 2008

Recently my wife and I moved from Chicago’s western suburbs into the city. We lived in the suburbs for eight very good years. For five of those years I was an associate pastor at our church. While the church exhibited some socio-economic diversity, like most churches in the western suburbs it lacked noticeable ethnic diversity. Two years ago some friends of ours who pastor a church in Chicago asked if I would consider joining their pastoral staff. Their invitation was especially intriguing because New Community Covenant Church was founded six years ago as a multi-ethnic congregation.

I won’t bore you with the two years it took to finally accept their invitation. Suffice it to say that though we had never felt at home in the suburbs, leaving our community there was one of the most difficult things my wife or I have ever done.

I am now a few months into my new assignment as Pastor of Community Life at New Community and am convinced that the move into Chicago was the right thing. That is a great feeling! While transitioning into my new position I was reading Consuming Jesus. It was encouraging to read the book and notice all the ways that my new church was intentionally pursuing many of the things Paul Metzger articulates in the book. For example, for the past five weeks the church has gone through a sermon series called Race Matters. During this series the congregation has seen how reconciliation is at the very heart of the Gospel. We have been challenged in very practical ways to acknowledge the active or passive racism in our lives. In a couple of weeks we will offer breakout session for the black, white, Asian, Latino, and international folks in the congregation. Led by trusted facilitators, these sessions will be a time where people can be brutally honest as they confess, ask questions, and vent their frustrations.

In my role as Pastor of Community life I am responsible for the church’s small groups. One of the tricky things about New Community’s small groups is working towards diversity in our groups. I am finding that as new people wish to join groups I have to work closely with the small group leaders to find a group where the new person will experience the diversity that is so important to us.

Consuming Jesus addresses something that will be important for our church to continually be vigilant of: the affect of consumerism on racial reconciliation. Our church is mostly made up of young professionals, many who are making plenty of money. As we continually cast a vision for multi-ethnic and missional community that seeks to bless our city, we are aware that this regularly goes against the dominant paradigm of the city. We are currently raising money to lease a warehouse in the most troubled corner of our neighborhood. In addition to worshiping on Sunday mornings, this warehouse will allow us to have an incarnational presence in this neighborhood seven days a week. I am hopeful that as we ask the congregation to sacrificially give to this aspect of our mission we are also challenging patterns of consumption. Our presence in this under-resourced neighborhood will also make it clear how important socio-economic diversity is to the health of our church.

The type of reconciliation articulated by Paul Metzger is a lot of work! The divisions, skepticism, and complexities run deep. But after just a few months in a congregation who understands the significance of Gospel reconciliation I know there is nowhere I’d rather be.

David Swanson is the Pastor of Community Life at New Community Covenant Church and blogs regularly at http://davidswanson.wordpress.com.