Allentown at 250 and 251: New Years Reflections On Our Work Together This Year and Beyond

New Years Eve marks the beginning of Allentown’s 250th birthday celebration, a year-long observance for which I’m very excited.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the progress we’re all hoping to make in 2012 and the work being put in motion now that will make the Allentown of 2013 a healthier, more generative community.

At First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, we’ll spend much time, talent, and treasure in 2012 working with the Sixth Street Shelter to expand occupancy in that facility by 25% by 2013. Alan Jennings put it to me this way: “if an unwed mother, her infant child, and her scruffy male companion came to the shelter on Christmas Eve this year, they’d be turned away. There’s no room at the inn.”  Our Local Care team is taking the lead role in organizing the entire congregation for this important work.

At St. Paul’s Lutheran church, Pastor Richard Baumann helps lead the Safe Haven homeless shelter, an overflow facility that’s quickly exposing how very dire the occupancy issues are at other local shelters. In 2012, First Pres will partner with St. Paul’s in new, exciting ways around these and other issues.  St. Paul’s also provides free Sunday morning breakfast before services each week and has established on the southeast corner of 8th and Walnut a unique community where the homeless have been invited into leadership roles in the larger life of the church.  St. Paul’s also hosts the Lehigh County Conference of Churches Soup Kitchen and is providentially positioned in the vicinity of the new, multi-million dollar office and retail complex planned for 2013, One City Center.

Led by Pastor Bob Stevens, Zion’s Reformed UCC (The Liberty Bell Church) celebrates its own 250th Anniversary in 2012, as does St. Paul’s. These historic Allentown communities of faith began in the same log cabin as two of six local congregations in 1762.  Both continue to serve and lead the community in 2012, and both are poised to make huge impacts in 2013 and beyond.  Zion’s graciously hosted the Lehigh County Conference of Churches’ fall gathering concerning the  growing economic divide in the context of the global financial crisis. This event, sponsored in part by FPCA’s Peace, Justice, and Missionary Team, was a huge success despite the unexpected Halloween storm. With a 400-seat sanctuary and a place on the National Register of Historic Sites for its role during the American Revolution, Zion’s and its famous Liberty Bell Museum (which celebrates its 50th birthday this year) are the logical terminus of the Allentown Arts Walk and are natural partners for anyone considering the expansion of the arts initiatives already bustling on Sixth Street.  One of Pastor Bob’s visions for 2012 is to open this beautiful venue to the budding community of Christian artists and musicians as a platform for support, encouragement, and spiritual engagement.  “Shalom in the city” takes many forms at Zion’s and blossoms in many ways.

Beautifully framed by the newly-renovated and expanded Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley (which incorporates FPCA’s original building) on the east, the Baum School and Da Vinci Horse on the north and Symphony Hall on the west is the Arts Walk’s point of origin: the Allentown Arts Park.  By 2013, I hope to see the west side of the Sovereign Building, the last leg of the Walk connecting 6th Street to Zion’s, as a fully realized outdoor art space with murals, sculptures, improved landscape maintenance and a thriving sense of public commons.  Click here for a Google Photos gallery of pictures from this part of the City taken in July including Zion’s, Symphony Hall, the Arts Walk, the Baum School, The Musselman Arts Development Center and more.

2012 will see the construction of the new Allentown Arena, and, as we learned recently, the creation of One City Center, a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s. By the Fall of 2013, the Arena and One City Center projects will be completed.  Alvin H. Butz will be doubling down their physical presence on Hamilton Street with an expansion of their corporate headquarters in the old retail district once anchored by the world-famous Hess Bros. department store at 9th and Hamilton.  Ground will break this summer, with an expected completion of 2013.  Although they are not without controversy, the Arena project and the special tax zone created to foster it are also drawing the first serious waterfront development ideas in a decade.

Led by our Local Care team, FPCA continues to partner with Roosevelt Community School, the Allentown School District’s first COMPASS school, joining our friends at Zion’s EC Church on Susquehanna St and other community partners like Air Products, Good Shepherd, and Allentown Symphony Hall. The success of the COMPASS model is palpable at Roosevelt, and in the eight years since Roosevelt’s COMPASS designation, teachers report a “180 degree change” in the school’s academic culture.   At Roosevelt, supplemental education doesn’t stop with children.  Adult classes on parenting, financial basics, and English as a second language provide school parents with the kinds of resources and access that foster better environments for success at home, work, and school.  Since the Roosevelt pilot, Central Elementary, South Mountain Middle School, and McKinley Elementary school have become COMPASS community schools. Our call in 2012 is to continue our work with Roosevelt, even as we partner with community stakeholders to explore the ways we can lift up the COMPASS model across the district, and even as we consider establishing a low-cost or free pre-k school in the City for under-served populations.

FPCA’s partnerships with the Lehigh County Conference of Churches and its programs and committees (LCCC Daybreak, LCCC Soup Kitchen at St. Paul’s, and LCCC’s Peace and Advocacy Committee and Ecumenical Committee) remain strong thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers and mission team leaders. On January 29,  FPCA will host an ecumenical service organized by the Conference’s Ecumenical Committee to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Members and friends of FPCA are also taking a lead role in the planning of the Third Annual Martin Luther King Dinner and Program at St. John’s UCC at 15th and Walnut on January 16.

In 2012, Tony Sundermeier and I will co-convene the regular Beerituality gatherings at the BrewWorks at 812 W. Hamilton Street. Musician, friend, and creator of the broken liturgy worship experience John Hardt will join us for an evening of song and conversation at 7 PM on January 19.  We’re blessed to have John as our first guest of the New Year.

Happy as I am to join with City residents and leaders in the celebration of Allentown’s 250th anniversary beginning tonight, I’m even more excited for the work we’ll all do together this year toward a better 2013 and beyond. I’m blessed to be charged with much of this work as part of my vocation at First Presbyterian, but the development of generative relationships and cultures in the City is something diverse groups of religious, civic, business, and community volunteers believe in and continue to work toward.  May this be the year that changes everything.  As we might say in church, may this be the year of the Lord’s favor!  Amen.

Alan Jennings and CACLV are Fired Up for 2012 and So Am I

Read Alan’s latest post on the CACLV blog here.

 

I’m proud that First Presbyterian Church is a major partner in the effort to expand capacity at the Sixth Street Shelter by 25%.  In my vocation as Director of Mission at First Pres, I can see the enthusiasm for this project bubbling over for the volunteers and staff who are about to unleash our part of the overall campaign with incredible passion, dedication, and faith.

 

I’m also sensing a great para-movement about to emerge this year for the regional homeless population that will bless the great work being done by CACLV, the Conference of Churches, St. Paul’s Lutheran and others.  Make no mistake: traditional sources of funding for much-needed programs are more hard-pressed now than ever (evidenced by this NYT piece from last week focusing on how federal cuts to Community Development Block Grants are hurting Allentown), but our non-government institutions have a bigger role to play in the New Generative Economy than we’ve often been led to believe.  Faith communities are such institutions, and people of faith will be called on to extend the re-prioritization demanded by Christmas into the new year and beyond.

Stay tuned, friends.

 

 

New Sinkhole the Latest Plea from Allentown’s Degraded Infrastructure

Read the story here.

Some important highlights as they relate to the health of our community. Emphases added:

The 6-inch cast-iron water main is 107 years old, said Rick Dougherty, the city’s chief supervisor of water distribution.

“We’ve replaced a lot of the mains in the area over the years,” Dougherty said.

Allentown is fighting aging infrastructure throughout the city, as cast-iron pipelines and water mains from the turn of the century begin to degrade. A 12-inch cast-iron gas distribution line dating to 1928 is the prime suspect in the Feb. 9 explosion that killed five people and leveled half a city block in Allentown.

And although some gas and water pipes are replaced every year, it’s a daunting and costly task — with one gas pipeline safety group estimating the expense at $1 million for each mile.

 

I think most city residents rightly suspect that the gas and water lines beneath us need to be replaced. $1 million a mile? Fine. The new arena, which I support with a few reservations, will cost $159 million. UGI has something like 79 miles of gas line under the city, the degradation of which was a known issue 20 years ago. Yes, the cost of upgrades will be passed on to consumers without some kind of other chunk of money (ours anyway) earmarked to offset it.  How many miles of water piping need to be replaced?  Whatever it is, let’s do it.

It’s a good thing we’re in line for a hefty Community Development Block Grant.  Ooops.

In the meantime, the new sinkhole, which formed over the last 36 hours or so, is becoming national news:

The $9 Million Amazon Boycott and Priceless Found Irony

An Amazon box on top of a box from the once globally famous, now defunct iconic Allentown retail brand. Found irony.

Speaking of the New Generative Economy (see previous post), donating clean water, trees, construction funds or socks (or buying fair trade items at local stores) works another kind of grace: it takes business away from companies who produce things in unjust conditions overseas and companies who package and ship them in unjust conditions right here in Pennsylvania.  Spencer Soper, the journalist who first broke the Amazon news, reports that almost 13,000 people have signed an online pledge to boycott Amazon via DC-based advocacy group American Rights at Work.

Soper’s new piece notes that 13,ooo people might equate to something like $9 million in sales.  Even if that’s only a drop in Amazon’s global bucket, imagine what that same $9 million could do, even when broken into pieces, for fair trade retailers and generative charities.

Here’ s the ARW open letter to Jeff Bezos, which you can sign and send online.

A Tale of Two Headlines and the New Generative Economy

I don’t typically buy USA Today, but I did yesterday because of this front-page feature about people giving the gift of clean water for Christmas. You may remember that this year, First Presbyterian Church of Allentown took part in the Advent Conspiracy and encouraged people to buy fair trade gifts or to donate to a few important causes in honor of loved ones instead of buying things for people who already have so much. The donation options at FPCA were:

  • Sixth Street Shelter expansion campaign (Allentown)
  • living gifts for a village in Malawi with whom our church has a connection
  • Gifts/socks/sneakers for Roosevelt Community School (Allentown)
  • Living Water International

This was a very successful campaign, and it was wonderful to see the national movement get the front-page treatment in USA Today. I noticed that today’s edition of that paper included this front-page headline: “Holiday Sales Numbers Fail to Dazzle.”

Welcome to the beginnings of the New Generative Economy.

I’m not happy that retailers are hurting, but I am happy that for all of the misery, the global economic crisis might yield some generative good.  When we have less money to spend, we realize how little we need.  Then we start to think about how so many people don’t even have that much.  Since we’re already going to spend less money on stuff, it’s easier to give more resources where they can do the most good.  Giving cash gifts to good organizations in honor of others blesses everyone.  Overheads have probably never been lower, and you can use resources like Charity Navigator to see where your money’s best spent.

If you have the money and the inclination to buy physical gifts in addition to this kind of giving, your local Ten Thousand Villages retailers have beautiful fair trade items hand-crafted by artisans from all over the developing world.

Going to the MATS for Air Quality in Pennsylvania (and Look For Me in the Morning Call Next Week)

Jon Geeting has a cost/benefit quote from Paul Krugman about the new Mercury and Air Toxins Standards (MATS) announced by EPA this week, and some thoughts about the GenOn issue here in our backyard.

As I commented on Jon’s blog:

Jon, thanks for posting on this.  In my capacity as Outreach Director for the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks, I have [a] piece running on related issues in the forthcoming Tuesday, Dec 27 edition of The Morning Call.

We’re applauding the president for the new MATS (Mercury and Toxins Standard), but we’re still looking for leadership on the new Ozone standards EPA proposed, based on the best available science, this past year.  In September, the President disappointed everyone by failing to enact these standards, leaving 2008 Bush guidelines in place that have been widely derided by the scientific community and advocacy groups.

Some of these groups have been pushing hard for GenOn to be forced to clean up sooner than the three year window that now seems to be codified.  My personal preference would be for a quicker total clean up.   Clean air is a fundamental legal right of all residents of the Commonwealth (Section 27 of the PA Constitution).  Krugman is right about the health benefits and cost/benefit of MATS, even as President Obama was wrong about the negative economic impact of better Ozone standards.  It makes one wonder why MATS got greenlit and responsible Ozone standards got punted to a presumptive second Obama term.

As you’ll see in Tuesday’s piece, “political realities” aren’t a good answer on the Ozone failure.  Check out what the President’s frenemies at the American Lung Association had to say about it.  They’re very pleased with the President this week about MATS, and they should be.   But my primary charge as a representative of the Air Quality Partnership is to advocate for and educate about ways we can reduce smog-causing ozone pollution and the production of deadly soot (often called particulate matter).   Mr. Obama, why, exactly, were the crucial updates to the Bush standards (so widely scorned in the progressive community) abandoned without a fight?  Why did you cede the cost/benefit narrative on better ozone protection when the science (and economics) were clearly in the favor of protecting public health?