This changed after I met a youth pastor named Art Erickson. He originally came to Park Avenue in 1967 during a challenging time for the church. The church had a history of being an all-white church in an affluent neighborhood. In the late sixties after the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, many neighborhoods began to diversify, and the neighborhood surrounding Park Avenue began to change in a drastic way. As Native American and African American families moved in, many of the members of Park Avenue wanted to relocate to the suburbs. The senior pastor, Phil Hinnerman, was committed to staying in that neighborhood and lost some of his more affluent members because of it. He strengthened the church’s commitment to this changing neighborhood by hiring Art Erickson with a job description that called for 50% of his time being spent with kids in the church and 50% of his time being spent reaching out to the now mostly ethnic kids in the neighborhood.

Because of white flight in the church, Art faced limited financial resources for his youth ministry as well. From his previous experience on staff with Young Life, Art was used to having to raise money, so he began to hit up downtown Christian business leaders to donate money to take students on camping and ski trips and to hire support staff. This led to the creation of the Park Avenue Foundation, which today houses a health clinic, computer learning center, and a summer program for teens and their families. Through the development of this Christian community development foundation, the church is able to provide a professional and resourced ministry to young people.

Youth Minister = Fund-Raiser

For most ethnic-led churches today, though, not much has changed since my early days at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. I worked in urban youth ministry in Minneapolis for close to ten years, and I never heard of an African American or other ethnic-led local church that was in a position to hire a full-time youth pastor. I spent my time in urban youth ministry working for para-churches such as Hospitality House Youth Directions and the Minnesota Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and in both cases I had to play a role in helping to raise funds.

I found out during these years that to be a successful urban youth minister you not only had to be able to be effective at reaching out to and nurturing youth in their faith, but also be a good fund-raiser. I had a harder job than my suburban counterparts, because I had to raise money, recruit more volunteers due to lack of paid staff members, provide transportation to youth whose families had no other mode of transportation besides the city bus, and still plan all the events and hang out with kids.

Meeting my peers from the suburbs was often a depressing experience. Watching the continual white flight and the new upper- and middle-class black flight was so depressing that I left the world of urban youth ministry to do the same thing. I took a youth pastor staff position at a large, suburban, and mostly-white church called Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio.

Culture Shock

This church had a weekly attendance over 3,000. I not only had a budget so that I didn’t have to raise any money, but I also had two full-time and two part-time staff working with me. It was at this church that I first found out about events like the National Youth Workers Convention. I also came to realize how hard it is for poor, urban youth workers to ever get to events like that.

All the time that I was at Ginghamsburg, I loved the resources that were available to me, but my heart never left the city. Though it wasn’t easy being urban, it was my ultimate calling and passion, so I moved back to Minneapolis to be youth pastor at Park Avenue United Methodist Church. The city is definitely where I’m called to minister, but it didn’t take long for me to face once again the challenge of limited resources. I was also the only full-time, African American local church youth minister in the city of Minneapolis.