I recently met with Stephanie Klinzing, the Mayor of Elk River, MN. The city is 35 miles NW of Minneapolis, and has a population of about 23,000. Since 1996, pastors, business leaders, and government leaders have met weekly to pray for Elk River. Many things have grown out of the prayer and relationships. For example, a local bank was started that offered prayer as a free banking service. In 2004, the New York Times wrote a 10 page article about that bank and Elk River, as an example of the faith at work movement. Many churches in Elk River began seeing their congregation as not just their members, but everyone in the city. Churches collaboratively worked together to reach and care for everyone in the city. In 2000, a network called Love Elk River started to provide "individuals and families with spiritual and physical needs by offering them a relationship-based network of support." Earlier this year, they had a contest to see how many random acts of kindness people in Elk River could do in one month.
Those involved talk about how Elk River used to lead the nation in its per-capita teen suicide rate. After the prayer network had been active for a few years, there was a stretch of years where there were no teen suicides. The Mayor also talks in detail about the economic and safety benefits of this movement. But the primary indicator that the group is aiming for is "the elimination of systemic poverty."
I don't agree with everything about the approach that informs the Elk River movement. My approach would be more interfaith. At the same time, I know that I have a lot to learn from it. I'm especially drawn to prayer, relationship-building, and cultural change that works for the elimination of systemic poverty. Most spirituality in the U.S. is so individualistic and focused on the benefit to individuals. I'm excited about this approach, which also focuses its spirituality for the benefit of cities and nations. I'm very interested in helping connect folks in Elk River with researchers interested in tracking indicators in the city and helping evaluate the influence that this movement is having in the city. If you are interested, please let me know.
What do you think about the spiritual transformation of cities? Are you scared? Ready to call the ACLU? Curious? Inspired? Ready to sign up?