Called to the City is a free, electronic newsletter sent bi-monthly to friends of Wesley Downtown with an interest in Wesley's community engagement and service-learning programs.


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Called to the City

The call came late in the evening. I was just returning from teaching the second installment of a six-week Lenten Bible study series using Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

“Hello, I’m calling to let you know that your brother has been sentenced to a year in prison,” my brother's girlfriend said to me. 

The news was devastating. After I pulled myself together my first thought was, ‘How am I going to tell my mother?’ You see, my mom is a preacher’s kid, a faithful church-goer and prayer warrior. Nevertheless, I knew she could not share this pain with the church and receive the same care as if her son was hospitalized.

With over 1.5 million citizens locked away in state and federal prisons there are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and grandparents, who come to our churches on Sunday morning suffering in pain, shame and silence because of the incarceration of a loved one. Currently there are almost three million children in the U.S. with at least one parent who is incarcerated. Many of these children come to our churches and are in our children’s ministries. How does our ecclesiology respond to the shame, pain, stigmatization and isolation that incarceration can bring to the family members who are “left behind?”

Healing Communities is a framework for a distinctive form of ministry that moves our traditional thinking about prison ministry out of the area of outreach and looks at it in terms of pastoral care. Rather than starting at the prison, Healing Communities begins with the congregation and asks, ‘How do we care for those in our own congregations who are suffering in shame and silence Sunday after Sunday?’

Healing Communities helps the church help families by reducing the stigma and shame over having incarcerated loved ones, and creating a welcoming environment. Through mobilization of existing resources, the Healing Communities framework helps congregations become “Stations of Hope” for persons affected by the criminal justice system when a devastating call happens.

Healing Communities was recently featured in a CBS News piece which is available at the CBS News website.


Doug Walker is the National Coordinator for Criminal Justice Reform for the General Board of Church and Society in Washington, D.C. Walker is also a 2013 graduate and former Urban Fellow of Wesley Theological Seminary.

Religious “Nones” find spiritual connection through art

by Jazmine Steele
 CohortsGenuine human interaction served as the spiritual conduit at a recent D.C. art exhibit launch. The exhibit was hosted by a D.C. art and spirituality movement, The Sanctuaries at a quaint bakery on the H Street corridor. The exhibit was themed “Neighborhood” and featured a mix of still photography, acrylic painting on canvas and poetry.

The night of the exhibit launch, performance artists from The Sanctuaries showcased their singing, rap and belly dancing talents to the Indian-inspired drum beat of the tabla. The performances also matched the neighborhood theme with topics about gentrification and reaching out into the community in love. Using art to highlight and begin safe dialogue around topics that otherwise might be considered hot-buttoned is one way The Sanctuaries is demonstrating its commitment to social justice. The work of gaining equality begins in the hearts and minds of people preparing to understand and care about each other.  

“There is clearly a love and support of people’s differences in this group and I think learning from people that are different from you is what makes a community,” Tara Nieman, 24, said.

Rev. Erik Martinez-Resly, lead organizer of The Sanctuaries, challenged the crowd by inviting them to be open to engaging with people in an authentic way at the event. The simple invitation to be more receptive sparked a different, but very real spiritual encounter.

“Spirituality for me is connecting with people, feeling like a human and feeling energy from other people and tonight the spiritual energy was palpable,” Kim Nelson, 26, said.

Nelson and Nieman are a part of the growing trend of religious “Nones,” which refers to a group of people who do not identify themselves with any particular formal religion. A recent Pew Research study found that 72 percent of American people feel that religion is losing influence in American life.  Denomination and non-denominational movements alike are vying for the interest of Millennials, which is defined by Pew Research Center as people ages 18 to 29. Amongst these facts, there was still something spirit-filling about the interaction that took place at the art exhibit that night.

Nieman says she appreciated the space to build community because she didn’t always feel a sense of community while living in D.C..

“The first year I lived in Dupont Circle and I knew exactly zero of my neighbors,” she said. “When you move to a city it can be overwhelming to find community but when you come to events like this, you can find it and it’s fantastic.”

The “Neighborhood” exhibit accomplished what many churches and community organizations struggle to achieve: leverage creative energy and the local economy to bring the community together.  

At face value, community engagement isn’t hard to find, however, authentic community engagement can be valued as a commodity. The night of the “Neighborhood” exhibit, the bay window of the bakery storefront provided the best imagery. From the outside looking in you could see, warm spirits blanketed with soft lighting and soul-stirring art.

Jazmine Steele is a third year Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary and current intern with The Sanctuaries in Washington, D.C.


Campus ministry is critical to missional theology

By David Hosey

Young people are engaging each other in conversations about faith, hurt and meaning on college campuses. They are doing so, not only inside the walls of churches and chapels, but on the quad, in dorm rooms and student centers. Churches are missing this opportunity. By taking a missional approach and supporting campus ministries, churches can do more to be a part of these important conversations.

Essential to missional theology is the idea that the context of the church’s mission is no longer in faraway lands – the assumption being that “we” are Christian and “they” are not. Rather, the church’s mission begins right outside of our doors. A missional approach to connecting with emerging adults begins by asking: ‘Where are young people, and how do we go there?’  This ideology is opposed to trying to attract more people to a particular church building.

Campus ministry—the ministry of accompanying college students in their quest for meaning, vocation and service—continues to be a vital response to this missional question. And yet, campus ministries often struggle for support and funding. Rev. Mark Schaefer, the United Methodist chaplain at American University, notes that the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the UMC – which contains more than 600 United Methodist congregations and about 70 colleges – used to have 17 campus ministries but only four remain.

The students that I work with at American University did something last year that might seem strange to most church folks. They set up a table outside of the student center with huge sheets of paper and invited passing students to write on the paper the things that they didn’t like about Christianity. The point wasn’t to argue with people or defend Christianity. The project was born out of a genuine interest in campus conversations about faith and a feeling that a lot of people have some pretty negative feelings about religion and churches.

After the exercise was finished, students sat down with the sheets of paper and talked about the responses, and about what it would look like to offer a space of healing and love for people who have feelings of hurt and anger about the church. This was a step towards living into their mission to love God, serve others and welcome all.

Today, in Christian circles in the United States, many people are asking questions about the presence of young people in ministry but the larger issue is sustaining resources to support campus ministries.

If your church is grappling with questions of mission and theology, I invite you to check out your local campus ministry and get involved.

In Washington, D.C., explore the United Methodist campus ministries at American University and Howard University.

David Hosey is a third year Master of Divinity student at Wesley Theological Seminary and Associate Chaplain at American University Methodist-Protestant Community

Upcoming Events

January 11, 2015| Heal the Sick Commissioning Service & Reception

Wesley Theological Seminary Oxnam Chapel, 4 p.m. 

Wesley Downtown’s Heal the Sick program will honor its recent Health Minister and Faith Community Nurse certificate program graduates.  Email to RSVP.

July 7,13-17 2015| Summit Institute United Methodists Campus Ministers Association

Wesley Theological Seminary, downtown location.

For more info click here

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900 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 706-6838

Called to the City

Ferguson Fatigue? 
Recent shooting prompts churches for tough conversations

By Dr. Doug Powe
James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism and Professor of Urban Ministry 


     By the time this is published it will be more than a month since Michael Brown was killed and already we are seeing Ferguson fatigue. Fatigue by those who are tired of racial conversations and just want them to go away. Fatigue by those who are protesting for a just resolution, wondering how long they will have to keep up the fight. Ferguson is not the first incident of this kind and it will not be the last.  My question is, “How do we confront the fatigue?” In particular, “What role can congregations play in confronting the fatigue?” The latter is a theological issue for me and the perspective I will take here.

     One of the challenges we face in the United States is really seeing each other as made in the imago dei (image of God). We dehumanize each other in several ways that prevent us from having fruitful conversations even when we disagree. Some of the rhetoric in Ferguson highlights this issue (I am not going to repeat, but any quick online search will pull up some hateful rhetoric) in the way that both sides attacked each other and called each other names. The challenge is how to move from the heat of the street to a space where a dialogue can happen when you feel like you have been called everything except a child of God.

     This connects to my second challenge the role of the church (ecclesiology) in leading the effort toward a different dialogue. Congregations have an important role to play in modeling and creating a space where healthy conversations can take place. Black and white congregations have to begin having honest dialogues with each other before things hit the fan in the community.  If black and white congregations begin modeling something new prior to explosive events it will enable for a different dialogue when something happens. For this modeling to take place it will require creating a space in the community where individuals can come together and share honestly without being dehumanized. In theological language our ecclesiology should help to frame the way we treat each other as children of God.

     The work I do at Wesley Theological Seminary is preparing students who can be the community bridge makers and lead these congregations and conversations. In our Urban and Missional Fellows programs, students are learning how to engage in the work of bringing individuals together in a life-giving way so that a new future can be built together. My response to confronting Ferguson fatigue is theological and practical. It requires understanding what it means for a congregation to treat all others as children of God. In so doing the congregation is helping to create a space in the community for a different type of dialogue that may prevent another explosive event. Fighting fatigue will be an on-going effort if we are willing to be bridge-makers it is an effort that can move us toward a different future.

Baltimore social conditions influence health ministries 

By Lesli Vaughan
Maryland-DC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA   


     Whole person health is largely influenced by social determinants of health, or the economic and social conditions that influence the health of individuals and communities. Baltimore, a place in which Wesley is beginning to work, is a city that exemplifies this complex relationship. What makes Baltimore most unique is its neighborhoods, each with its own distinct cultures, health challenges and needs. In some ways, the social determinants of health are similar across Baltimore neighborhoods, but in many ways, they vary widely. This variety means that each neighborhood has unique social and economic conditions that influence the health of that community. Knowing this, it is crucial that we account for this variety in our work if we hope to connect community leaders with the resources to address whole person health issues. What works for one neighborhood may not work for another, and recognizing this both affects how we approach our work in Baltimore and allows us to more effectively use our resources.

     In June, Wesley’s Heal the Sick program expanded its focus in Baltimore in addition to the greater Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia areas. The goal of the program is to prepare community, clergy, and lay leaders to support congregations in the development of health ministries. Using faith communities to address the health needs of individuals is beneficial because of the sense of trust and their tendency towards ministry and addressing issues of social justice. Heal the Sick now has one dedicated staff member who lives and works in Baltimore, which allows the program to provide a concrete human resource to assist faith communities. Recognizing that the city of Baltimore is vastly different from the areas in which Heal the Sick currently serves, we have worked to adapt our approach so that we can be most beneficial to the congregations and faith communities in Baltimore.

     Thus far, there have been two key components of Heal the Sick’s approach that illustrate the importance of considering social conditions in addressing health issues. First, after meeting with several leaders in the faith and health fields, we quickly realized the importance of narrowing our scope to focus on one particular zip code. This allows us to maximize our resources and be most helpful to the faith communities, organizations, and health providers with which we work. We can tailor our focus based on the needs identified by the members of the community through our congregational dialogues. This aligns with the second, and perhaps most important, component of our approach: allowing the individuals who live in our target neighborhood to be the change makers themselves. Wesley’s goal, in Baltimore as in the other areas in which we work, is not to change existing health ministries or create new ones however we see fit. Instead, our goal is to empower leaders of faith communities to address the health needs of their congregation and the surrounding community in the ways that they believe will be most beneficial. 


     If you are interested in learning more about our work in Baltimore, you can contact Lesli Vaughan by email at or by phone at 202.706.6839.

Ministry in murky times 

By Rev Erik Martinez Resly
Wesley Downtown Teaching Assistant  


     Words matter - not only because they describe our social worlds, but even more importantly, because they actively shape them.

     In the throes of Germany’s rapid industrialization in the late nineteenth century, Ferdinand Tönnies described the socio-economic transition to urban life as a movement from Gemeinshaft to Gesellschaft, from Community to Society. Whereas people used to live in small villages and take pleasure in the intimacy of face-to-face relationships, or so the story goes, the emergence of the capitalist city unleashed a set of alienating forces that effectively tore the social fabric apart. Tönnies’ dichotomy of community/society spawned other value-laden distinctions that haunt us to this day: rural/urban, clean/dirty, safe/dangerous, white/non-white, traditional/revolutionary. Sound familiar?

     Though it is hard to believe that Tönnies’ analysis ever captured the whole story, we know for sure things have become even murkier in our time. After all, we live in an age when gentrification is pulling wealth into the city and pushing poverty out into the suburbs, where many families peer out from behind their white picket fences and yearn for the camaraderie of block parties, open air concerts, and cooperative housing found in major urban centers.

     As the times change, so will God’s work. There may come a point when we no longer rely on the adjectives “urban” or “missional” to distinguish the place and purpose of our “ministry” - when suburban megachurches are called to confront the material needs of their new unhoused neighbors and when bands of urban house churches compete with yoga studios and meditation centers to meet the spiritual hunger of privileged young professionals. What form will our ministry take in an increasingly urban and missional world? And what words will we use to talk about it? How will we avoid falling into Tönnies’ dualistic trap?

     I am honored to join Dr. Powe this semester in equipping our Urban and Missional Fellows with the requisite theological, pastoral, and community organizing tools they will need to faithfully lead us into this uncertain yet exciting future.


     Rev. Erik Martinez Resly is the Lead Organizer of The Sanctuaries, a racially and religiously diverse arts community, as well as a Ph.D. student in the urban anthropology of religion at Johns Hopkins University.

Upcoming Events

10/10-11 | Faith Community Nurse Certificate Program
Registration Deadline 9/29, Register here


10/13 & 11/10 | Equipping people of faith to help with the new healthcare system
Health ministry workshops with Wesley in partnership with Inova Mt. Vernon Hospital, for more information, click here.


Attention All Baltimore Washington Conference United Methodist Church members.
Please complete survey on parish nursing and your church.  Click Here to complete a very short three minute survey to provide input and feedback to guide current and future parish nursing health ministry planning.

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900 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20001
Phone: (202) 706-6838

(Formerly Urban Fellows Newsletter)



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