A tale of two cities divided : in search of radical reconciliation
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My congregation in St Joseph, Michigan is not racially diverse. They struggle with the differences of the communities that surround them. Because of their fears and differences they have only engaged the community of Benton Harbor, Michigan in very nominal ways. They tend to see little value in a connection with the people on the other side of the river.
In my thesis I begin by exploring the histories of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. These histories show the development of the cities and how their histories have played a big part in shaping how things are today. After probing the history of the area I take a theological and exegetical look at the idea of reconciliation, as engaged in the Bible and the work of practitioners and scholars. The thesis then focuses on interviews I conducted, using the research method of Narrative Inquiry, with people that live in the communities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, and, more specifically, people from Union Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and Zion Evangelical United Church of Christ. Using these two congregations as a baseline for study, I interviewed a cross-section of both churches. The Narrative Inquiry approach helped me to identify similarities that existed between the two congregations. After the interviews were concluded they were analyzed and then presented to the participants from the two congregations for review. As I engaged the participants in this time of reflection I explored how future conversations or collaboration in the area of reconciliation might be beneficial to all parties concerned. I believe relationships were established through this project and that this was a measurable response in my thesis. By this measure, my project was very successful. Before this project I had little to no contact with my neighbors. Now I have a place to start and build upon as I look to the future of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor with a great deal of hope and passion. My final chapter is a retelling of the story of the tensions between the two cities in light of what I learned throughout the project and an anticipation of what steps we might take towards reconciliation.