Since I may be posting here from time to time, and hope to make some kind of ongoing contribution to Church on the Street and discussion about the meaning of its work, I thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself to all COTS supporters and other persons who happen across this site.
My name is Scott Prather, and I’m a friend of Andy’s (that’s “Pastor Andy,” to you). Andy and I met – quite fittingly – when he and his lovely wife, Amy, gave me and my wife some much needed accommodation while we were flat-hunting in Aberdeen, Scotland, about three years ago. Andy was a student of Dr. Brian Brock’s, who is currently my own supervisor at the University of Aberdeen, and who is at least partly responsible not only for our friendship with the Odles, but for the theological kinship Andy and I share. My research at Aberdeen is centered around the work of two modern theologians – Karl Barth, and John Howard Yoder. It explores their understandings of the biblical “principalities and powers,” which are discussed most explicitly in Paul’s letters; it tries to articulate how Barth and Yoder help us think about these powers not simply as abstract spiritual realities, but as related to and intricately involved in human social and political life. In a way that is similar to Andy’s own doctoral work, my interest in theological ethics (what mainstream European and British traditions call “moral theology”) is driven by a concern to understand our human relationships – with God, with one another, and with the non-human creation within which we live and work – as much more than mere “expressions” of our individual identity or moral character. Rather, God gives us and calls us to live within our shared humanity precisely in and through such relationships. As the New Testament repeatedly reminds us, God himself meets us in the existence of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the neighbor. Therefore, as Andy’s last post starkly reminded us: we are all in this together.
This basic conviction – that what is at stake in our relationships with God and neighbor is nothing less than the fruition or suppression of our own humanity – is why I am interested in and inspired by the work that Andy and Church on the Street are undertaking. COTS is helping us re-envision and re-commit ourselves to what it means to be the church – the sign and foretaste of the heavenly city (cf. Isa.52:1; Heb.11:10; Rev.3:12, 21-22) – by taking seriously the claim that God meets and claims us in the lives of the poor, and by reminding us that those who are for many and various reasons displaced in the present city – the “homeless” – are much more than what the dominant economic and political rationale would have us think. The standard line taken by the regnant economic ideology is that the homeless are simply the bottom-end of a moral scale, by which we measure our own and others’ activity and self-worth in terms of our ability and willingness to produce and consume. COTS seeks a radically different understanding and viewpoint; it seeks to understand not just “homelessness” but the homeless theologically – that is, as human beings, and thus as our neighbors; as those whose migrant existence in urban streets and slums stands as a living challenge for us to reckon with the integrity and character of our own cities and dwellings, and with the theological poverty of our customary ways of rationalizing their existence as at best irrelevant to, or worse as an economic hindrance to and nuisance upon, the quality of our own existence and work in the world.
I am inspired by Church on the Street’s commitment to simply be the church by being present on the streets, by its simple desire to remind those who might not seek traditional assistance or want “reform” that they are human beings nonetheless, whose lives are – not in spite of, but precisely in their poverty – still constituted by the dignity of God’s love and by the grace of our human freedom to be present with and to one another. And I look forward to being a part of COTS’s discussion about what all of this means theologically, and looks like in practice.