Sean Benesh (DMin, Bakke Graduate University) lives in the Portland, Oregon and is the author of The Urbanity of the Bible (2014), The Bikeable Church (2012), The Multi-Nucleated Church (2012), View From the Urban Loft (2011), and Metrospiritual (2011). He has been involved in urban ministry in the capacity of adjunct professor, researcher, church planter, and trainer of urban church planters. Currently Sean is the Developer of Urban Strategy and Training for TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) and Director of the PDX Loft, a church planting and urban immersion training center for the Upstream Collective.
Sean has just released his latest book called Vespas, Cafes, Singlespeed Bikes, and Urban Hipsters: Gentrification, Urban Mission, and Church Planting. Here is the book summary: “Gentrification is a complex process that historically has created dividing lines between the haves and have-nots. In urban renewal, there are clear winners and losers as neighborhoods and districts become revitalized. On the plus side, there is a reclamation and preservation of grand historic buildings, homes and edifices alongside renewed economic vitality. On the negative side, gentrification means many minorities and lower-income families, who for years had called the old neighborhood home, are getting pushed to the urban periphery because they cannot afford to live there anymore. In light of these competing if not contradictory values, how should Christians respond? Is there a biblical and theological foundation on which to build such a response? Vespas, Cafes, Singlespeed Bikes, and Urban Hipsters takes a look beneath the surface of this phenomenon to uncover and present a Christian response to this city-changing movement.” I asked Sean a few questions about his ministry and the book.
Question #1: Why did you write this book?
It is essential that we begin to understand to push and pull dynamics that are shaping and reshaping cities both nationally and globally. When it comes to the topic and process of gentrification, there are a lot of myths, assumptions, and misinformation within the church (and in culture as a whole). Not only that, but when we normally talk about gentrification in the church we do so from a ministry standpoint all the while missing the enormity and complexity of the storyline of cities that gentrification plays a part in. The big idea of the book is to weave together urban studies (urban planning, social sciences, etc), missiology, urban mission, and church planting all into one book. Often times the where of our context shapes and influences the how of our ministry which is why understanding the multiple layers of gentrification (ranging from economics, transportation, the built environment, etc) is helpful to navigate these turbulent waters.
What the gentrification conversation brings up is the re-orienting of our cities and in the process causes us to redefine what we even mean by “urban.” For many the word urban conjures up images of inner-city neighborhoods of the mid- to late-twentieth century that were deemed bad, unsafe, unsavory, full of crime and racial tensions, degraded building stock, and blight while the suburbs were considered ethnically white, safe, homogeneous, sterile, sprawling, the land of big grassy lawns, and conservative. However, gentrification and urban revitalization projects are forcing us to reconsider what ”urban ministry” is all about. The changing urban reality is that more and more inner cities are cool, full of hipsters, people on singlespeed bikes, cafes, micro-breweries, art galleries, a revitalized economic outlook, reclaimed historic buildings, expensive, desirable, and so on. Conversely, suburbs are changing as well such as inner-ring suburbs are becoming the landing place for the displaced urban poor. One of the goals of the book is to recast urban ministry and church planting in light of the changing dynamics of urban neighborhoods.
Question #2: What makes the book unique?
I’ve had the opportunity of watching gentrification take place in three different cities that are at different places on the gentrification, redevelopment, and urban regeneration spectrum. From a southwest sprawling desert city (Tucson, Arizona) to an international city in Canada (Vancouver, BC), and now currently in Portland, Oregon. Gentrification is not a uniform process and looks markedly different from city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood. To help bring these nuances to light there are a couple of facets that makes this book unique. First of all, there really are not any books out there specifically addressing gentrification from a church planting perspective. Second, interwoven throughout the books is an emphasis on exploring this topic beyond the normal perspective of church planters, meaning, the book begins fleshing out the gentrification conversation through the social sciences, urban economics and spatial structure, and so forth. Lastly, there are a number of chapter contributors included in the book who write about various aspects of gentrification from their context whether in San Diego, Detroit, Montreal, SE Asia, and more. Their perspective and insight is invaluable and essential to the book. As a result of their contributions, the book is much more accessible regardless of one’s methodology or theological framework (e.g. Neo-Reformed vs. Neo-Anabaptist).
Question #3: Why is the topic of gentrification important today for the church, particularly church planting?
Gentrification is reshaping cities. This has massive missiological implications as we seek to live and proclaim the Gospel in cities. Where does the church fit into this conversation? Do we side with the gentrifiers or those being displaced by the process? What are we to do with gentrification? Whereas even as recent as 5-10 years ago most church planters were not planting in city center neighborhoods (but instead in the suburbs), as neighborhoods gentrify and cities revitalize it means more and more church planters are opting for the urban core. They need a basic understanding and grasp of the changing dynamics shaping and reshaping cities. We cannot afford to import suburban church planting models into the urban core. This book is a good primer and launching pad into a myriad of topics and conversations that church planters need to be aware of in order to minister with humility and sensitivity.