Stay in the City:
How Christian Faith is Flourishing in an Urban World
Mark Gornik / Maria Liu Wong
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2017
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Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee
Stay in the City is one of the most fun, quick, and inspiring little texts on urban mission. Gornik and Wong bring forth small anecdotes to narrate a grand emerging adventure. We often think of adventure as journeying out, into the unknown, but in the city, with all its change, the familiar becomes unkown and recycles back to familiarity once again. This is the adventure of urban mission, the complex intertwining, changing dance with rehearsed steps to developing beats. Staying in the City inspires dance-lessons and improvisation to tell the journey of what God is doing in our cities across the globe.
Gornik and Wong, director and dean, respectively, of City Seminary of New York (CSNY), have worked to re-adventure theological education in urban contexts of the 21st century. Stay in the City comes out of their deep engagement and reciprocated learning approach with the various members of the Harlem community, as well as from those across the New York metropolitan area. CSNY is engaged with a number of ministries, missions, and churches, integrally tying their stories of what God is doing through each one for the flourishing of their city. CSNY uses arts-based education for ministerial formation, hosting a community arts gallery – the Walls-Ortiz Gallery and Center. The city has become the classroom. Gornik and Wong call it a laboratory, but they are clear that the changes within an urban environment do not allow for controlled scientific experimentation, but rather require a relational, Spirit-based, and faithful series of trials, errors, and adaptations.
While Gornik and Wong write to the individual reader, this book is written out of a context where the learning community is valued. Their book is not written to be a brochure for CSNY, although, in many ways it can be. City Seminary of New York is not the first to try theological education through arts or city-as-classroom, but has developed and important pedagogical balance and focused vision that has allowed great impact over a short amount of time. Stay in the City is rather a motivational text for any and all city-ministries to engage the city, first and foremost by placing roots and getting connected. At the end of each chapter the reader finds helpful questions for reflection and discussion. In this case, reading this book as a small group within a church or among like-minded colleagues might be ideal. There is kind of a safety in numbers when it comes to looking at urban mission, and at the same time dreaming about the city becomes amplified when sharing and reflecting together.
Stay in the City is a call for adventure. In my own context I see it as a motivating text for a number of ministries who are disconnected and seem to be stuck in a rut: the city has changed around them, they lament not being able to engage local youth, and yet they are burdened by the day-to-day. They are stuck and without adventure. It can give these very churches the permission to dance the the way they have for years, but with added improvisation. Stay in the City calls us to see our neighborhood as a place for journey, fun, and risk even while staying put. It calls us to see our cities as a playground where we dance in joy to the tune of the Spirit, and seek the flourishing in Christ for those around us.