Why I’m Going Downtown

An open letter to the professionals of River City Community Church

It seems like a small thing to most people, going downtown.  A small thing, or an exciting thing, depending on your age and childhood memories of growing up in Chicago.

For me, it’s neither.  It’s a challenge, kind of like Wipeout or old school American Gladiator or one of those Nickelodeon game shows in the 90’s where kids ended up embarrassed and covered in slime.  Just replace “slime” with “blisters from wearing the wrong shoes” and “embarrassed” with “embarrassed” and you’ll pretty much have an accurate picture.

I once went downtown to pick up Cubs tickets for a mentoring program and ended up circling the block for 30 minutes, unable to find somewhere to park for less than the face value of the tickets.  I may or may not have cried on the phone with my executive director.

I went recently for a very wonderful visit with one of my very favorites, Elder Keith, in “the blue building.”  I, however, having failed to look up, didn’t realize the brick building I was standing in front of was blue all the way up except the first four floors.

I tried to meet someone in the Willis Tower and caused a security snafu by forgetting my ID.  I tried again another time to meet someone in the Willis Tower and did the same thing.

I tried to take the kids to Harold Washington Library and left without going into the library at all, having put my children completely to sleep in the 20 minutes it took to try to wedge my minivan into something that looked like a full-size parking garage, but instead was just someone’s gutted out three-flat with a PARKING sign.

I’m going to spare you the details of climbing out the back door of my minivan in a bright pink dress and heels 8 months pregnant because the parking spaces in the John Hancock disallow a door from opening wide enough for mother and child.  You likely get the picture.  There are reasons I live and work on the westside, and parking is just one of them.

And yet, I’m going again, this Friday, to meet any River City beloved ones who work downtown for a Listening Lunch to hear their thoughts, questions, and desires on our recent All in Together series, three sermons that centered right at the intersection where church meets community development (aka My World).  Not only am I attending this lunch, but I actually came up with it.  Against the odds of blisters, embarrassment, and overpaid parking, this seemed like a great idea.

Here’s why.  The mission of R CITY is to bring together the best of our city to build a path for families to walk from cradle to career to the glory of God.  The last part is often the focus.  I’ve been doing so much path-building and cradle-to-careering this year.  It is my heart and my expertise and my love.  In fact, this whole path-building has–if we can sidetrack for a moment–brought me the very best and deepest and most inexpressible things of my life.

It has brought me the best friends of my life, brothers and sisters in arms, a veteran-like group of beloved ones with whom I have shared guardianship of babies and sung praises while neighborhood violence surges hot.

It has brought out the best in my husband, a courage and generosity I never would have witnessed had not extreme circumstances called for it. It has done the same for my children, calling out the kindness and resilience it takes for them to open our home in hospitality.

It has brought me the voice of God truer than anything else;
a view of the Kingdom with unparalleled in my life;
friendships across race, culture, language, and the “razor-wire of class”*;
work and vocation full of meaning and struggle to overcome what is worst in myself to find what is best in our youth and our community.

But–sidetrack ended–it is the first part of the mission that is why I am going downtown.  To bring together the best of our city.  Yes, I want to build.  Yes, I want to walk families down a path.  Yes, I want to dance at graduation parties and celebrate first jobs.  But also, within my beloved community of River City, there are some of our best who must be brought together.

I am not the best at recognizing or honoring the struggles outside the westside.  Gunshots ring out much more loudly than relational wounding or chronic illness or professional devastations.  And yet I recognize that the first part of the mission is to bring together the best of our city–including my professional brothers and sisters who each week faithfully step into my world and worship God in West Humboldt Park.

So brothers and sisters downtown, I am coming to see you.   I want you to know that you are an integral part of the All In Together, and not foremost as donor or volunteer, but as a child of God.  I want you to know that though my work is and will remain building a path in West Humboldt Park for families to walk from cradle to career, I want to hear how our Together work looks from where you sit, to understand what you see from your office that I cannot see from mine.

As a return to the sidetrack: Please know that when I invite you into the work, I am offering to you the very best parts of my life and faith, not a to-do list for you to accomplish.

But this week, Daniel, Brandon, and I are coming first to listen and then to share as you want us to.

…once I find parking.

Elizabeth Galik is co-director of River City Community Development Center (R CITY) and now frequents Chicago’s westside in an easy-to-park CRV that seats 8.  Don’t ask how.

*This term credited to John Hayes in his book Sub-merge.