As I walk up and down the 14th Street Corridor, I easily see gentrification through food. I notice upscale restaurants, few fast food joints, and grocery stores that largely cater to those who can afford organic. As cheaper options get pushed out of the neighborhood, it becomes more expensive to live – and eat – in our church’s neighborhood.
I recently attended the World Hunger Leadership Gathering hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This national gathering brings together two “World Hunger” representatives from each synod every 18 months for networking, resource sharing, improved organizing, and inspiration. For me, it was a chance to hear activities addressing hunger, poverty, and injustice spearheaded by congregations. “Ministry Moments” included a backpack program for school kids to have food on the weekends, a church using property for a community garden, social enterprise in Detroit, and a shelter working with homeless LGBT youth in New York.
But my most memorable experience was a walk around a particular church’s neighborhood. Saturday morning, we were split across five congregations in San Francisco and two congregations in Oakland with the goal to observe the area surrounding the church building, noticing its potential and also pockets where poverty and hunger hide. I signed up for St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.
I followed our instructions carefully. Following our hosts, our group of about 20 participants walked the neighborhood. I took photos (with my phone) of key indicators marking the personality of the area: a hub cap thrown up on a lawn, a graffiti-covered parking sign, a construction site for new condos, a Whole Foods, remnants of someone’s sleeping spot last night. I kept an open heart, mind, and eyes to take in everything fresh.
How often do we walk around the community surrounding Luther Place with eyes wide open? Without a car, I walk parts of 14th and 15th streets regularly but know that sometimes I choose to ignore or overlook things that make me uncomfortable. Or perhaps some things are so predictable that my heart no longer feels compassion.
That same afternoon I attended a session on community asset mapping. I wasn’t sure if our faith community had done this, but I thought that a community walk would allow us to look and listen to people and spaces in our nearby community with fresh eyes. And with an open spirit, may we also allow our heart to feel for those living, working, and walking through our neighborhood. They may be hungry, but will we notice?