The Church and the Urban Community course, taught by Professor Daniel Joranko, is an immersion experience where students visit and interact with exemplary urban ministries and community-based nonprofits throughout Nashville. An emphasis is placed on programs that ministry with the poor and socially marginalized.
by Dori Schaffield, MDiv3
The syllabus described this course as being “for students who wish to explore diverse expressions of urban ministries.” Based on this description, I anticipated that my few days following the class through their journey would be one that gave me more insight into the social and political issues that affected the city in which I lived.
In the morning, we prepared to go on our journey through north Nashville. We talked about many of the issues that are especially relevant in the United States currently, such as racial profiling, poverty, and gentrification.
We were divided into smaller groups in order to travel around the city. The class all bussed to north Nashville where we then separated by groups.
My group started its exploration at Fisk University.
After our tour through Fisk, we walked toward the heart of north Nashville.
I made a specific effort not to photograph houses where people were living, which was tough considering the obvious gentrification that was happening in the neighborhood. Old or abandoned houses sat next to small new homes being constructed.
Below are the other members of my group posing for what can only be described as an album cover for a 90s grunge band with a stack of abandoned tires.
After lunch, we journeyed to the Heritage Plaza memorial under I-40.
After our tour through this memorial, we returned to the bus station, back to VDS and then to our respective homes. I realized after this exploration how little I knew about Nashville.
On Monday, I returned to the classroom to meet up and head to the Nashville Food Project (NFP). Instead of taking the bus as we did on Friday, we broke into groups and traveled in SUVs.
Upon our arrival, one of the employees at the NFP talked to us about the kind of work they do there as well as what we would be assisting with that day. We were told that a great deal of the food is grown fresh in the garden while the remainder is either gleaned from grocery stores or donated.
We then washed our hands and took up different tasks in the kitchen. Some of us (myself included) did prep work while others cooked.
After food prep was done, we sat down with one of the leaders at the NFP to talk about the ways that the organization works with the community.
After lunch, the students had a break before heading to Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. I was not able to visit the prison, so this was where I departed from the class.
In the syllabus, Professor Joranko wrote that cities “often exhibit both concentrations of wealth and concentrations of the poor, often excluded and marginalized.” Our exploration through the city truly illustrated this. His course description continued on to say that “vital ministries are responding to these challenges.” On the second day of my journey, I got to see one of these ministries in action at the Nashville Food Project. My time in the immersion course allowed me to see both the best and worst of the city. It awakened me to some of the realities of the city in which I live.