Seminary Student Builds Relationships in Tough Neighborhood
By: Kristen Harris
Editor: James Stone
Published in: “The Logsdon Window” ed. Winter 2010.
Building relationships with residents in one of Abilene’s toughest neighborhoods is ministry Andrew Mason enjoys.
“A lot of people have walls up,” said Mason of his ministry at New Haven Community Church in Abilene’s four-corners area, “and it’s sometimes difficult to find common ground with some of our friends there.” Mason, a Logsdon Seminary student, initially joined the New Haven staff as Worship Pastor in January of 2009. He quickly saw his role expand to include responsibilities as the Pastor of Community Ministry, a position which places him in direct contact with those who live in homes near the church building.
“We are literally trying to love our neighbors as ourselves,” says Mason of the church’s efforts to build relationships though meeting needs. “We do our preaching by our action.” New Haven is located in one of the lowest income, highest-crime areas of the Abilene community. The church began its life as West Side Baptist Church, a mission of Abilene’s Pioneer Drive Baptist Church.
As a church with a heart for the people who live near it, Mason adds, ”We don’t want to just be a church in the neighborhood…we want to be a church of the neighborhood.”
Despite the fact that New Haven has been working at developing relationships with their neighbors for ten years, not many people from the surrounding community attend their Sunday services.
Ministry at New Haven has helped Mason discover the reality of ministry in the difficult context of poverty and crime. Mason notes that he has learned it takes a long time to develop healthy and trusting relationships. As a way to eliminate the walls of distrust which separate the church from its neighborhood, Mason recalls how just sitting outside and being a visible presence has helped encourage the development of ministry relationships.
“We will sometimes just sit out on the front porch and wave at people as they walk or drive by. Being outside and letting people see us opens us up to people coming up and talking to us,” said Mason. “Most of the time we don’t mention anything about our personal beliefs, it’s just small talk. That is where our relationships are built.”
The ministry at New Haven has significantly shaped how Mason sees the church’s primary goal in exercising the great commandment before the great commission – a goal exemplified in the New Haven’s purpose to live in Christ “for the betterment of the neighborhood.”
In addition to the lessons Mason has learned through service at New Haven, he attributes his study in the Missions and Cross-Cultural Track of the Master of Divinity Program as being helpful for enhancing his effectiveness.
Mason points to courses like The Church’s Mission in North America as especially beneficial to his ministry because of the course’s focus on the changing culture of North America. “I’ve realized the church might need to adjust their practices for the sake of building ministry relationships,” Mason quips with a big smile.
“Knowing a church’s constituency is crucial to being in ministry,” said Mason. “You have to know the needs, the wants, the mentality, the culture, why people do the things that they do, and why they live for the things that they live for. There’s so much there that I feel like I’m already learning with my Ministry and Cross Cultural track that is relevant to my ministry at New Haven.”
Prior to beginning Seminary at Logsdon, Mason graduated from Hardin-Simmons with a degree in Speech Communication with a minor in Religion. This August, he married Ramie Stewart, a Hardin- Simmons Nursing School graduate.