Thirteen years ago I became the pastor of a downtown church that had once been a major force in the community. At one time, 2,000 people filled its huge sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Young people from across the metropolitan area flocked to its midweek services, and the pastor's sermons were frequently printed in the newspaper.
When I visited a Baltimore neighborhood called Sandtown in 1997, my most vivid impression was that of disturbing, jarring contrast. I remember a whole neighborhood of abandoned houses—each one an oversized skull, with empty darkness peering out of its broken doors and windows and mocking the life that had abandoned it. In the midst of these ruins, however, there was a street teeming with life.