From Pastor Connie:
Altadena/Pasadena is in the midst of a sea change, spurred by a hot housing market. When real estate prices boom, there is a lot of movement — literally. Renters are squeezed out, those trying to buy their first home have to look further afield, retirees feel the pressure to move to capitalize their retirement nest egg, etc. ABCers are navigating all the forces of this tumultuous sea change — for some, this housing market is a blessing, and for others it has caused great pain and loss.
What this means for local churches, ABC included, is that we’re losing some of our long-time members and attenders to less expensive real estate markets, so attendance is dipping. We are not alone. Many of our sister African American churches are mourning the loss of their younger generations, who have moved miles away because of housing costs. Larger institutions are wrestling too. The Pasadena Unified School District is losing students, and laying off staff and teachers. Fuller Theological Seminary and Frontier Ventures (formerly US Center for World Missions) are both selling their land-rich campuses, creating ripple effects (or tidal waves) in their respective communities. The Friday Los Angeles Times ran two stories about the pressure of soaring real estate prices — one about flight from San Francisco affecting the middle class, the other about an African American church in Venice shutting its doors (because many African Americans can no longer afford to live in the city they helped build).
How do we, as a church family, minister in such a topsy-turvy world? And, since we are committed to being a neighborhood church, how can we reach our new neighbors?
I’ve been asking the question, “Who is moving into Altadena/Pasadena? Who can afford it?” Anecdotally, I’ve gotten a few different answers: 1) flippers, who buy, fix up and sell for a profit, 2) affluent immigrants (mostly from Asia); 3) newly-wealthy young professionals or families. The influx of foreigners brings with it strong feelings of “outsiders” taking over. The influx of (oftentimes white) affluent families made one African American ABCer wonder, “Am I going to be safe in my own neighborhood, or are my new neighbors going to call the police on me?”
This latter question made me think back to the late 60s and early 70s when Altadena was experiencing a massive racial transition, as more and more people of color were moving into the community. I imagined a white Altadenan feeling unsafe in their own neighborhood. Race, identity, class, economics, civil unrest, gentrification all converge when the face of our neighborhood changes. Back then, many Altadena and Pasadena churches moved east to “safer” (read “whiter”) neighborhoods. But ABCers decided God called them to be a community church, and they would remain right where they were, to minister in their community. Our journey since then has blessed not only ourselves, but countless people who believe that the Sunday morning worship time should not be “the most segregated hour of the week.”
In the midst of these strong feelings and valid questions, and before the dust settles, I am counting on these previous experiences as a congregation to help us navigate this challenge of facing this new change in our community. I’m calling on all ABCers to welcome the strangers in our midst. Yes, we need to work through our very real emotions and our stress. We need to be concerned about the bigger forces at work which drive this change, and its implications for us as a diverse congregation. But I’m also challenging us to stretch out in the love of Jesus—these newcomers need him as much as we do.
As a first step, I would like for each ABC family to pay a welcoming visit to a home that has recently changed owners. We are asking for one visit per month during the summer. So that’s one hour per month for June, July and August. You can get more details and specifics here. We want to know who is moving into our community. And we want to welcome them to our church. The only way we can do that is if we all get out into our neighborhoods and meet them.
Will you join me in both prayer and action? My hope is solid, because it rests on the God who is in control of all people movements and the forces which impact their lives. This could be a defining moment for us as a church family!
— Pastor Connie Larson De Vaughn