A bunch of us moved into Gloucester City prior to planting Circle of Hope in South Jersey (circa 2007). We wanted to live in an urban outpost in the shadow of Philadelphia where we could be real Christians and struggle with big issues: racism, community, poverty, relationships, addiction, disappointment, and whatever else came our way. In the middle of settling into our little experiment in incarnation, we got inspired to plant the church together, too. It was a second experimental front. Realizing that we needed to be a regional connector, we planted outside of Gloucester City; existing in Camden, Collingswood, and finally resting in the borderlands of Pennsauken (easily accessible to everyone). More people moved into Gloucester City over the next few years, but more importantly we steadily connected others throughout the entire region. The dual experiment… being the church in Gloucester City (where I live) and forming the church in the region (where I live) has been exciting. If you live in my neighborhood, are a part of the Marlton and Crescent congregation, or are a part of Circle of Hope in general, you’ve been a part of the excitement. I’ve been forever changed by the experience.
This week, I’ve been trying to interpret some data that came out. I haven’t fully processed it all, but thought it was worth sharing.
For starters, the number of educated young adults that have moved into the Philly metro increased by 22% over a decade span. Center City has felt the most increase, which is great for what Jesus is doing with Circle of Hope… but arguably the whole region has experienced the growth effects of young people moving here. People are moving into South Jersey, too… especially along the transportation routes. The PATCO stops in Camden, Collingswood, Westmont, Haddonfield, and the Voorhees region continue to be up and coming places to live in the region. My prediction is that the River LINE stops in Pennsauken, Palmyra, Riverton, Cinnaminson, and Riverside aren’t far behind. And if that River LINE extends into Gloucester City, Woodbury and all the way down to Rowan (see my blog from last week)… those places will experience growth as well. I also think (if the data is right) the whole little South Jersey region we’re in (along all those public transit lines) is going to see a trend of moving millennials who want to raise families in the Philadelphia region but not actually in Philadelphia.
Then last week, two of the towns/cities in the region cracked the top 15 of “towns on the rise” – Haddonfield and Gloucester City. Between 2009 and 2012 [the actual data is here], both towns saw increases in median income (Gloucester, a 17.25% increase and Haddonfield a 4.25% increase). Of the top 10 cities on the rise, only Gloucester City saw a slight decrease in younger workers but it’s overall growth remains impressive. The mayor was quoted as saying, “Good things are happening here. And this is a great location across from Philadelphia.” He’s right, and when I look around the neighborhood, diverse young people are moving in. I think my friends and I were on the cutting edge of the movement… more people are going to come.
It’s a great opportunity to keep wresting with all the deep issues, and great opportunity to meet he next person. I told my congregation the other night that if Jesus is doing it, giving it a try is a good place to start. One of the things that I see Jesus doing is traveling the transportation lines (a great benefit of the so-called Pax Romana of his day) and connecting to all of the little cities and villages. He meets people, calls disciples, and and brings foreshadows of resurrected living as he heals and brings wholeness. I want to do that, too.
I’m thankful this morning for the brave friends that I have who are living purposeful lives in the region, figuring out how to be the church in the towns/cities they live and in the region we share. As we travel throughout the whole region, planting cells and connecting new friends, I’m excited for the next wave of people who need a Circle of Hope. You’re out there, right?