José Humphreys: How This East Harlem Church Is Building Relationships and Contributing to the Economy

Metro Hope Church rents space from Harlem’s historic National Black Theater. We’re located just off 125th Street, Harlem’s main corridor. On Sundays, this little corner of Harlem can feel like a religious food court experience. We share space with other churches … and cults—the church of Scientology meeting adjacent to us. We “fight” for signage space while churches display their wares for tourists seeking a true Harlem experience. We’re like information booths for purveyors of gospel choirs and smothered chicken.

On any given Sunday you might hear me say, “Welcome to Metro. We’re grateful you made us your stop today. If you feel your experience is lacking here, you can head on over to Mount Moriah Church—they have a gospel choir just across the hall—but just remember, they won’t serve you glazed donuts with fair trade coffee …”

Well if I don’t say it, I’m thinking it.

But despite my occasional cynicism, I’m convinced Metro’s presence and staying power is vital to our community. What was once a great adventure in “What’s the point of another church in Harlem?” has rooted and defined our distinctive reach into the very arteries of our community. It has been a slow, long journey in a city where only the most resourced survive. Yet in working in a rapidly changing context like East Harlem, we position ourselves in a posture of prayer and discernment, seeking clues about the gifts others bring. We are open to God working through others to shape our collective vision and vocation, acknowledging how every person brings gifts that can further God’s enterprise in the world.

The Rule of the Household

When churches help people reimagine how their gifts fit into God’s greater economy, they reclaim a historical role for the church—a role both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church have affirmed over the centuries, where the principle of economy is rendered in deeper and broader light.

While the term economy might conjure images of capitalism, NASDAQ, or even a bronze bull on a Wall Street sidewalk, the Greek word oikonomia, from which economy is derived, retains more robust significance and meaning. Oikonomia is defined as “the rule of the household.” It also refers to the responsibility given to humans in creation for managing the resources of the earth (Gen. 1:26).

In God’s “rule of the household,” the church views its gifts and possessions as extensions of this household. People of Christ exercise their distinctive gifts within God’s larger impetus for flourishing in the world.

At home we encourage our son to be a part of the oikonomia as a contributing member. Our daily practices involve love for neighbor, generosity, and hospitality for God’s household translated into our zip code in Harlem. These gifts come in even the simple act of clearing the kitchen table on Taco Tuesday, or the way his artwork graces the front door greeting our neighbors and visitors.

If Christians realized they were an extension of God’s greater household in the world it would make a positive impact. Unfortunately, when many Christians move into a place it’s a form of mindless living in the city, unconscious about the economic disparities and hardships of the surrounding neighborhood. The intention behind moving into a neighborhood can be for the simple reason that it is “up and coming,” superseding any sense of awareness of neighborhood pain and suffering.

The recent boom in church plants in NYC has skewed toward middle-class models that favor the gentry and the elite in formerly working class or middle class neighborhoods. People bring in particular tastes, often overlooking the history and the particularity of long-established businesses, where market forces often favor the up and coming sensibilities. I’ve seen how our panaderias (local bakeries) have been making lattes (café con leche) for years, yet lack the local support of new tenants in the hood.

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Source: Christianity Today