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Lessons from Broadway, Part 2 - How can you revitalize something that's already vital?

DeAmon Harges discusses his work at Broadway United Methodist Church

Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts describing lessons learned during our time with DeAmon Harges and Mike Mather of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. To read the first post, a reflection on Acts 3:1-10 and the importance of “looking intently,” click here.

In the United States, we often look at inner-city neighborhoods and assign various negative labels to them – labels like “poor,” “crime-riddled,” “distressed.” We see abandoned properties and graffiti and overgrown lots and decide, with the best of intentions, that what these neighborhoods need is revitalization.

At Broadway United Methodist Church, they’re quick to point out one thing about revitalization: How can you revitalize something that’s already vital?

This is their way of drawing attention to the fact that there is life in even the most distressed inner city neighborhoods. In our rushed and haphazard attempts at revitalization, we fail to recognize the vitality that is already there. And as a result we can end up doing more harm than good.

At Broadway, they try to take a different approach, one inspired by the practice of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). They look intently at the people around them – neighbors, church members, and others – and celebrate what they find.

This started with DeAmon Harges’ work as the original “roving listener.” He wandered the neighborhood around Broadway, talking with residents and learning about their gifts and passions. He discovered dozens of artists, cooks, poets, carpenters, teachers, musicians, gardeners and others. He learned of neighbors helping neighbors, forming artist circles, tutoring programs, support groups, and starting small businesses. All within a few blocks of the church. All within a neighborhood many of us might have suggested needed revitalization.

Now, when DeAmon talks with funders and others who want to support his work or the work of the church, he tells them he doesn’t do “deliverables.” Instead, he does “discoverables.” Rather than impose changes on the neighborhood in an effort to revitalize, he listens to his neighbors and discovers their vitality.

Pretty early on, this work expanded beyond DeAmon. There is now a corps of youth roving listeners from the neighborhood who spend their summers meeting neighbors and identifying gifts and passions. They go out in the afternoons and approach people on their front porches, at the corner stores, at their mailboxes, and pushing their lawn mowers. They ask, “Would you like to have a conversation with us?” And they hardly ever hear “No.” These conversations enrich the lives of the youth and their neighbors, and contribute to their shared sense of the vitality present in the neighborhood around them. And what they discover is that the neighborhood is more vital and alive than they had ever expected.

Which leads us to our next Lesson from Broadway.

Next up: Lesson #3 – Miracles, Abundance, and Discovering More than Is Expected

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