ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) — To Dick Davis, the city is like the taste of well-seasoned soup.
Mennonite Mission Network’s new minister of urban ministry said the diversity of urban areas can be mixed in a tureen, stirred well and served to feed the wider church.
“It has many flavors and colors and smells that nourish my spirit,” said the pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Dallas. “We do things differently here.”
Different ministries are necessary, Davis said, because of the variety of Mennonites found in urban areas. Some are new believers, some are from immigrant groups, some are long-time urban dwellers and some are rural transplants – often young people who migrate to cities to find jobs after college.
Davis said his role with the Mission Network is to help the denomination envision the future of ministry in these growing, changing urban areas. Davis believes the urbanization trend is positive for the church, despite the city’s sometimes poor reputation among country-dwellers.
“The city holds increased potential for immoral behavior. That’s true to some degree but there’s also redeeming realities about the city,” he said. “The Scriptures talk about the city as a place where God resides.”
Cities also offer chances for peace and justice work and outreach – telling about Christ through community and economic development – offering believers opportunities to develop strategies that can be applied to suburban or rural areas.
“The church needs to move beyond nurturing who we already have,” Davis said. “Who is the church for, is the question. Is it for the present base or is it for the community outside?”
In Dallas, Mennonites have six congregations in a metropolitan area of more than 3 million people. Five of those churches are Spanish-speaking.
“The Hispanic church has a lot to teach us about outreach and church growth,” Davis said. “[But] sometimes if you’re faithful to the real teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, you might not be the most popular church in town. … We have the opportunity to talk to people looking for a different kind of Christianity, one that does not undergird the nation’s unceasing desire to go to war.”
Davis understands differences between war and peace, urban and rural. He grew up in Tonkawa, Okla., a town of about 2,000 people. His early years, with an alcoholic father, did not include much of God, but Christ’s spirit did not leave him alone. God's spirit nudged him to think about faith, then to go to church and, finally, to ministry.
A high-school dropout, Davis earned undergraduate and seminary degrees and held several Baptist pastorates before joining the U.S. Army as a chaplain. While in the army, a supervisor encouraged him to continue his studies at Duke University. He signed up for Stanley Hauerwas’ Catholic Moral Theology course, which included “The Politics of Jesus” by John Howard Yoder and an introduction to Mennonite history and ideology. Already questioning the validity of war, Davis said he was a convinced pacifist by the end of his first semester.
He returned to the army and applied for conscientious objector status. Eventually he resigned his commission and the army released him. He made contact with Mennonites in eastern Pennsylvania and eventually made his way to Peace Mennonite in Dallas, where he has served since 1995.
Contact Davis at email@example.com.