Skip to main content

A Bronx chat

Two longtime NYC pastors, Tim Keller and Ray Rivera, meet to discuss the future of the urban church

A Bronx chat

Ray Rivera and Tim Keller (Handout)

A New York moment: 

On a warm, rainy night last week, I took the train up to the South Bronx to join a room of mostly black and Hispanic church leaders listening to pastors Ray Rivera and Tim Keller talk about the future of the urban church globally. 

Rivera and Keller both planted organizations in New York City about 30 years ago, though serving different populations. Rivera, a Reformed Pentecostal pastor, founded the Latino Pastoral Action Center in the South Bronx to help churches develop holistic ministries. Keller founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and now works full-time with Redeemer City to City, a global church planting organization.

Four years ago Rivera and Keller had a conversation about the future of the urban church on Keller’s home turf at Redeemer. Last week Keller went to Rivera’s turf in the Bronx for them to continue the conversation. The evening’s talk produced the rough material of a book that many would find useful, I thought.

While Manhattan churches like Redeemer tend to get attention and resources, Rivera noted that “things have been happening in the South Bronx for a hundred years.” 

“Revival is not going to be one church, it’s going to be many churches of many colors,” said Michael Carrion from City to City, who moderated the conversation. City to City recently started an incubator in Queens for Latino church planters, and it said the demand has been high. “The Latino community at one time ran from Reformed theology,” Carrion said. 

As a pastor in a low-income community, Rivera had several words of wisdom for the white church. He said the white church needs to be careful not to communicate the subliminal message that being poor means someone is less than. He also urged affirming the world of color, because Africa, Asia, and Latin America are growing, and he urged church leaders to listen to more non-American voices. Because the Church’s global growth is concentrated in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, he also encouraged an openness to “the world of the Holy Spirit.” 

Keller echoed some of these themes. Both Keller and Rivera talked about how it is particularly difficult to reach young people now. Keller said youth ministry “is going to have to be more relational than it’s ever been,” requiring more youth workers per church.

Keller described seven ways cities are changing, which I could see as chapters in my imaginary book that these two are writing together. One thing he mentioned was “atomization”: As neighbors are increasingly distant from each other as a result of trends like gentrification, “churches are going to have to become the neighborhoods that the neighborhoods are not.” Young black and Hispanic leaders swarmed the two pastors afterward for more conversation.

Worth your time:  

I covered the measles outbreak here in New York a few weeks ago and received a good bit of reader mail with concerns about vaccines. Many cited the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program as evidence of vaccines’ harm. As an additional resource, I would recommend this Atlantic article detailing the injury program’s history. It seems like a level-headed assessment of the program to me. Some very interesting data is in there: For example, the article concludes that, based on the program’s payments, the rate of vaccine injury is about 1 in 4.5 million doses. 

A friend of mine is a nurse here in the city, and in the current measles outbreak she has treated children with measles in her hospital’s intensive care unit. She is straightforward that vaccines do cause bad reactions in rare cases—as the piece above details—but emphasizes that people have forgotten what vaccines protect children from, and how serious measles can be. 

This week I learned: 

Now 28 percent of American households are people living alone, up from 23 percent in 1980. The number is expected to climb as more millennials and elderly live alone.

Culture I am consuming: 

Ninety-one-year-old Clara shows how to make a “poorman’s meal,” which her family ate during the Depression. Done right, YouTube is a treasure trove. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org