What do urban ministries do and how can a university like the Mount help them? The Mount hosted a symposium of two pastors and a social analyst to explore the rich roles of urban ministries as part of civil society, and reflected on how religious universities can connect with and support ministries such as theirs. This included Eugene Rivers, a nationally known Pentecostal minister from Boston, Cheryl Gaines whose ministry is in Washington, D.C., and Jacqueline Rivers, a Harvard scholar specializing in the role of African-American churches.

This was the first of a 2017 series on the role of civil society organized by the Mount’s BB&T Center for the Study of the Moral Foundation of Capitalism. Civil society is the broad term for religions, families, and civic associations. These are often people’s first and major sources of relationship and development, where they cultivate ideals and character for flourishing. That includes the Mount itself, as well as such groups as the Daughters of Charity. Catholic social thought incorporates civil society in its analysis of the economy as part of a complex mix of the economy, political setting and culture.

The event featured individual ministries and general analysis. Reverend Gaines described her transition from attorney to founder of ReGeneration House of Praise in Southeast DC following several murders there in 2010. One part of her ministry is a garden initiative through which she has hired many youth and young adult employees and worked with hundreds of volunteers from universities and community and faith-based groups. This provides a context in which people can come together as a community for church, for socializing, to flourish, and to assist those in need. She detailed how from there her ministry has been able to help people grow in faith, build families, and secure basics of housing, employment, and education. She exhorted Mount students to get involved in such ministries, but to recognize their real foundation is Christ.

Jacqueline Rivers provided an overview of the role of urban ministries, from theory to academic research on their contributions. Rivers is a Du Bois Fellow at Harvard University and Executive Director of the Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies. Rivers noted how intellectual trends of the past century, particularly relativism, philosophical materialism and nihilism, undermined our expectations of the role of civil society generally and religion specifically. She reviewed many contributions of the black churches to American society historically, especially including the Civil Rights movement where they provided a gathering place and spiritual foundation. She ended with studies examining the contributions made by urban ministries in their material, social, and personal assistance.

Her husband, Eugene Rivers, pastor of Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, Massachusetts, closed the session. Rivers has been active nationally and internationally, advising the Bush and Clinton administrations on their faith-based initiatives and working with churches to address AIDS in Africa.

Rivers described his own ministry experience and, more broadly, how the common religious vision and commitment to love and forgiveness helps reduce social tensions. He then addressed what this means for Catholic universities. Faith-based universities such as the Mount can get students involved, but they also have an important academic duty to support the ministries intellectually, helping the world to understand the role of such ministries, and to balance secular social critiques with the real complexity of human needs and sinfulness. Rivers encouraged students combine high personal moral standards including their marriage and family ideals with concern for social justice.

Urban Ministries Lecture