While I attended several churches from birth, since seventh grade (1998) I have considered Highland Street my home church. I’ve met some of my best friends there, I’ve been shaped by youth ministers and interns, and the building blocks of my faith began in that building (even though I was baptized several years before). Recently, HSCOC bought some property on the eastern fringes of the urban area of Memphis after several years of prayer on the part of the congregation and elders brought about by our inability to meet the spacial needs of our church. Like growth projects of many churches, Highland has encountered resistance from ministers and members over the move. There are probably two main camps of people who are against this move.
The first group disagrees with moving for sentimental reasons. Our congregation has been in the same neighborhood for nearly 75 years. Some of the elder members have attended church in that very building for the vast majority of their lives. Their hesitance toward moving is understandable, yet I think misguided. I can empathize with these people, but I believe that staying in a building unsuitable for growth for purely aesthetical reasons isn’t a strong pillar of descent on which to stand.
The second group disagrees with the move because they believe that the church has ambitions of becoming an “East Memphis Mega Church” ie Bellevue Baptist or Hope Presbyterian. They are of the opinion that if the church moves East, our committment to the poor in the inner city will eventually fall by the wayside as bigger buildings are built to attract the wealthy suburbanites. I cannot disagree more with this opinion.
First off, I trust the eldership. I have a hard time believing that they have ambitions for anything other than serving God in whatever ways he wants us to serve. I believe that our committment to the poor is unwavering, and I don’t believe location will affect this at all. The vast majority of our congregation resides in the wealthy East Memphis, Cordova, and Germantown areas of the city, yet they all travel great distances just to be a part at Highalnd. These are the teens that do workcamp and power hour, people who work with the Downtown and Frayser Mission Churches, and those that volunteer at HOPEWORKS. The location of the church will not affect their desire to serve the poor, because many of these people live further from the city than the church is now, and they drive past the church to serve people where they are.
Second, I believe that it is important to have a church like Highland that does have a strong committment to the inner city, be in the suburbs reaching the people who spend and spend their money on themselves but are never filled. If we can convince these people to become part of a church whose mission is serving those in need, rather than a church who is all about having a starbucks in the lobby or a marching band, we’ll be bringing in more money and volunteers to help those who are in desperate need.
Those that disagree with the move often mention that Highland is helping the neighborhood in which it resides. While that may be the case, on the North and East sides of the church are wealthy neighborhoods… some more wealthy than those in which the church is moving. The areas south and west of the church are unaffected by our presence in the area, whether its because our worship services aren’t in the style of those who live there (African American) or possibly just because a poor African American single mother doesn’t feel comfortable around a homogeneous bunch of upper middle class white families. I think the main point in all this is that our worship service and where our building is located are not the main parts of what a church is. Being a christian isn’t about Sunday morning and what land you own… its about how you love other people. If we continue to love those in the inner city, and be committed to helping them in whatever ways possible… our house of worship is secondary.
I’m just sick and tired of the harsh generalizations by members who, for whatever reason, don’t want to go along with what the elders have decided, or who don’t trust, for whatever reason, that Highland Street C of C is committed to the poor in the city of Memphis, where ever their meeting location is.