Skip to Main Content

Patti Miller on Ministering in an Urban Context


Wednesday Evening Plenary Session at General Conference in Montreal, Palais des congrès de Montréal on May 4, 2016

Patti Miller (right) and her French translator Roxanne Ippolito talk about the joys and challenges of urban ministry at the Wednesday evening plenary session.

I love cities! I love the life in cities, I love the diversity in cities, I like the texture in cities. Looking at a brick wall against the blue sky.

We have 83 nationalities in our church. Rich people, poor people, new-to-Canada people.

One hundred thousand students live within spitting distance of my office. We have downtowners, suburbanites, and everything in between.

It’s totally different [in Montreal] from Hamilton and Toronto. Homeless people are far more visible than they were in any other place I was. Cities are different from each other. Even different neighbourhoods within the same cities can be different. And other urban ministries are in different contexts. And we all just figure it out as we go.

But there are some things that are in common. Here are three of them.

1) Urban ministry is messy. It’s inefficient. All these diverse people crammed into a small place. Packing more people into less space. So you have less privacy, but no actually knows who you are. Marginalized people are messy … they take more time. And so I’m meeting people who are going through things that I never had to face. They need somebody to tell them they matter. That they are valued as a real person. Urban ministry is messy.

2) Urban ministry is often flat broke. It’s expensive in the city. Housing, parking, maintaining a building is more expensive in the city. The oldest church buildings are in the cities. And lots of them were all but abandoned when everyone fled to the suburbs. And so they need more repairs, more work, they are more expensive. The rent is way more than you think. And even if you can afford to buy a place, cities are reluctant to rezone it for a place of worship. There is no tax revenue from that, and cultural changes mean there is no longer pressure to provide it. We made a mistake when we left the cities—it’s not that easy to get back in. So pastors who want to live where they pastor have to choose between affordable housing or decent housing—but it won’t be both. So most commute.

3) Urban ministry is risky. All of society’s questions and debates start in the cities. Questions about sexuality and other religions and justice. Questions about multiculturalism. And pastors have to answer these questions right away, before books have been published, with appropriate answers. So my answers determine my reputation very quickly—whether I’m [viewed as] intolerant, or accepting, or irrelevant. You have to engage before you feel ready. Jesus left the 99 sheep to go find one. The reality is that it’s easier and safer to work with the majority, and just let the “one” go. Urban churches are for the “ones.”  A whole lot of “ones” who are lost and wandering and don’t fit with the majority. They are deeply treasured by Almighty God. And God loves the city. Jesus died for the people in cities. And the Holy Spirit is at work in cities. And the church simply must remain in the cities. And remain fully engaged in the heart of the city.”

Read more about Patti Miller here.

Photo by Leslie Ghag. © 2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.