A church plant is no place for wallflowers. Amy Fishbein knew that by joining Midtown Church in St. Louis, she was committing to high involvement. When pastors Mark Tucker and Aaron Turner asked her to be part of the outreach team, she was excited to share their vision.
Fishbein appreciated Midtown’s commitment to being relevant without being relativistic. Events such as chocolate tastings and game nights offered comfortable settings for real conversations about faith among the kinds of people Fishbein says are “scared of church.”
But Michael Brown’s death during an August confrontation with a police officer in nearby Ferguson took Midtown’s “relevant” outreach to a whole new level. Images of buildings boarded, broken, and burned filled the news as angry protestors reacted to the killing of the young black man by a white police officer. With limited resources — but a strong desire to bring the peace of Christ to the people of Ferguson — Fishbein worked to find partners to help sponsor “Hope for Ferguson,” a multifaceted event with the theme of peace and reconciliation.
On an October Saturday, several hundred Christians came to Ferguson to shop at businesses affected by the August riots (a “buy”cott) and to enjoy a family-oriented festival and hip-hop concert in a local park.
In November, a second wave of demonstrations occurred after a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson. Midtown Church responded again. Because the buycott worked well before, the outreach team encouraged people to do their Christmas shopping in Ferguson. On Dec. 13, a few dozen participants gathered to pray in a coffee shop and then went out to shop again. Others continued to come throughout the Christmas shopping season.
For Fishbein, a critical feature of these events is that they have expressed unity even in disagreement.
“The great thing about the buycott is that we can agree on so much!” she explains. “First, that these businesses did not deserve to be damaged. But also, that we would need the hope promised in the Gospel even if the legal outcome had been different.” It was important, she says, that Hope for Ferguson has been about supporting stores, not taking sides.
Fishbein has also been personally affected by reaching out to people in pain. In talking with one business owner, she realized that determining what is “right” or “true” was less important than meeting hurting people where they are. “My role is to be there with them and show them Christ as Truth,” she says. “It’s easier to look at all sides of a story when I remember that.”