An Open Letter on Urban Ministry

To Our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Brothers and Sisters

September 6, 2016

Dear Colleagues Across our Church:

Eugene "Freedom" Blackwell Photo Credit: Paul Seebeck
Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell
Photo Credit: Paul Seebeck

We are prompted to write by the tragically early death of our brother in Christ, the Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell, pastor of House of Manna in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eugene joined the church triumphant on August 29th, 2016, having courageously faced living with cancer until the end of his life here on earth. Eugene was a tireless fighter for social and racial justice, fighting to the end for his urban neighborhood and for his brothers and sisters disenfranchised by our society. He co-authored and advocated for Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Overture 10-03 “On Taking Specific Action to Address the Worsening Plight of the African American Male,” which was approved this past June by the 222nd General Assembly. The Presbyterian News Service reports on his passing:

We will honor Eugene as a brother and as a member of our national network of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) urban ministry leaders by continuing to fight for racial and social justice for all those who suffer in our cities. We also write to ask pastors who serve urban or urbanized areas to consider joining the urban ministry network. We want to lift up all the gracious and tenacious city and inner-ring suburban pastors who do the kind of work Eugene did. Our network is designed to share moral support, good ideas, and strategies for prophetic action.

Our national urban ministry network was formed in 2015 in response to the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s report – “The Gospel from Detroit: Renewing the Church’s Urban Vision.” This report was approved by the General Assembly in Detroit in 2014 and updated in 2016. The report “affirmed God’s call to seek the welfare of the city and to organize God’s people for the proclamation of the Gospel and the promotion of racial, economic, and social equity and justice for all citizens of Detroit and other cities of the United States of America.” The report commended:

 …the efforts of Presbyterians in city congregations and presbyteries that embody an urban Christian vision; who see the urban poor as clearly as the glittering skyscrapers; who seek to understand urban trends theologically and ethically; and who unite ministries of mercy and justice with evangelism, education, and cultural outreach, recalling our heritage of urban mission leadership and working to renew or build new worshiping communities grounded in a creative Reforming spirit.

Gospel from DetroitThe report calls the PC(USA) to strengthen the church’s witness and outreach “on the ground,” and to encourage presbyteries to “renew their own urban strategies in response to existing racial and economic inequity and to new urban demographic, economic, and transportation dynamics, including the promising movement of more young people into cities.” We are deeply committed to the churches’ presence and mission in the city. And, as we will miss Eugene as a brother and a member of our network, we invite readers of this letter to join our urban ministry network and to continue our church’s mission to work for social and racial justice with our brothers and sisters who live in the city.


Rick Behrens
Grandview Park Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, KC

Robert Brashear
West Park Presbyterian Church, New York City, NY

Eric Garbison
Presbyterian Urban and Immigrant Ministry Network of Heartland Presbytery

Sarah Reyes Gibbs
Bethel Community Church, San Leandro, CA.

Carmen Denise Cox Harwell
St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church, Beachwood, OH

Vernon Howard
St. Mark’s Union Church, Kansas City, KS

Kevin Johnson
Calvary Presbyterian Church, Detroit, MI

Brint Pratt Keyes
All Souls Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA

Adan Mairena
West Kensington Ministry, Philadelphia, PA

Emily McGinley
Urban Village Church, Chicago, IL

Cedric Portis
Third Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, MO

Nelson Reveley
Richmond, VA

Carlton Rhoden
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, CA

Joy Strome
Lake View Presbyterian Church, Chicago, IL

Phil Tom
Eastchester Presbyterian Church, New York City, NY

Tanya Wade
Grace Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD

Floretta Watkins
Seigle Ave. Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC


For more information about the urban ministry network, please contact Phil Tom at [email protected].

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