Our identity statement as a church, one we came to after 8 months of life together, is "We are a spiritual family centered on Jesus and committed to justice for the whole city of Oakland." But why the whole city rather than a particular neighborhood? Why not focus our efforts hyper-locally?
It's a good question. Especially in the age of churches moving away from regional approaches in favor of being a neighborhood church, our statement could seem behind-the-times. In fact, there are deeply important things to learn from renewed hyper-local approaches to building church communities. They encourage actual relationships with actual people. They emphasize deep commitment to a place and a community that goes beyond our consumeristic desires. Hyper-local churches can do life together during the week in their community, rather than driving in for Sunday services and driving home to separation from those they call family. All of these things and more are ideals we strive to embody in Oakland Communion as well.
So why do we have a "whole city" approach to our mission and identity? Because we believe our life should always be adjusted to our locale and our course shaped in light of our context.
First, in the context of Oakland, people move all the time as rents rise. How can we stay committed to actual people if they have to move out of the immediate neighborhood for a more affordable place to live? Are we more committed to a geographic boundary than the people we have learned to love there? True, we'll have the same issue if we limit our scope to Oakland when someone moves to Antioch, but not nearly as frequently.
Secondly, neighborhoods can be far more homogenous than our city. Oakland, as a city, is extremely diverse. And some neighborhoods share that diversity on a smaller scale. But individual neighborhoods can often times be incredibly homogenous compared to the whole city, and being a church for the neighborhood can, if we're not careful be a way of being a church based on the homogenous unit principle--a principle that says people need something like race or culture, something other than Jesus, to be together. This principle says, in effect, "God is not powerful enough to bring different people together through Christ." This is a tacit rejection of Ephesians 1:10, which says God's purpose is to "bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ." Focusing on a particular neighborhood could have the unintended consequence that we use our geography to only be around people of a similar demographic. If we are truly a church for the good of the whole city of Oakland, we will not have this struggle...at least not for some time (and hopefully never).
Finally, every neighborhood in Oakland and nearly every concern Oakland faces has layers of interconnectedness. Should we stay in the comfort of our home when our neighbor's house is burning? To live in North Oakland and dismiss the issues of East Oakland, for example, is to miss the reality that our freedom and flourishing is bound up with each other. To focus on Dogtown without attending to the concerns of the Lower Bottoms will always fail to address the issues of both. To live in Maxwell Park and not draw from the wisdom of residents in the Deep East is to miss the opportunity to collaborate with wise and courageous community leaders. Our city, our lives, and our flourishing have been woven together, and we will be most effective in seeking the peace and justice of the city when we live in that reality.
That is why we are committed to the whole city of Oakland as a church. As for our individual efforts, or as an Action Collective, God may call us to limit our scope even further. But as a church, as whole family, our vision is no smaller than the entire city we love.