Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
The Local Church: Mosaic and the Renewal of Little Rock 72204
August 11, 2014
By Mikael Pelz
This article is the third installment in a series on gentrification.
In the first article of this series, I argued that gentrification should first be evaluated based on whether changes taking place in a neighborhood successfully bridge the new with the old.1 Moreover, gentrification along these lines also can foster diverse and participatory communities, with the leadership of citizens, churches, and local developers. I applied this framework to West Greenville in the next article in the series, which highlighted the role of active citizens in neighborhood transformation. In this installment, I discuss the work of Mosaic Church in low-income neighborhoods in Little Rock, Arkansas. This church’s commitment to the people of Little Rock has created stable neighborhoods, modeling the power of an integrated multi-ethnic community.
Mosaic Church was founded by Mark and Linda DeYmaz in 2001. Motivated by the sober reality that Sunday morning is often the most segregated time of the week, they established one of the first multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches in the U.S. The focus of this church was not racial reconciliation but on “reconciling men and women to God,” recognizing the spiritual component of building community. Similarly, Mosaic’s model for community transformation is holistic, addressing the spiritual, social, and financial needs of members of the community. Thus, unlike other examples of gentrification which revolve around remaking a place, the mission of Mosaic is to restore the people within a place. This pursuit of social justice goes well beyond the common trappings of gentrification.
Mosaic Church made its home in the southwest quadrant of Little Rock. Mosaic refers to this part of the city as the “72204 corridor,” which encompasses several neighborhoods. The majority of the residents in the 72204 corridor are African-American with significant numbers of Hispanics and Caucasians. Historically, this part of Little Rock has been plagued by crime and has often been called “the hood.” These neighborhoods have also suffered from a lack of investment. Many residents live in subpar rental properties owned by people living outside of the neighborhood. It has also been difficult to attract new businesses to the area.
Mosaic Church has first served these neighborhoods through many targeted ministries that focus on the specific circumstances of residents in the surrounding community. The Orchard provides low-income residents with food, clothing, furniture, and assistance with employment opportunities. As members of Mosaic Church, my wife and I had the privilege of serving in this ministry from time to time, and became acquainted with the struggles of residents. Teen MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) is a faith-based support program for young mothers in the area. Immerse Arkansas serves older and former foster youth concentrated in these neighborhoods as they transition into adulthood. The Evangelical Alliance for Immigration Services (EAIS) largely attends to the needs of Hispanic residents by providing family-based advice on immigration policy with the hopes of reuniting and strengthening immigrant families.
Perhaps Mosaic Church’s greatest impact on the community stems from how the church operates. Mosaic Church is truly a multi-ethnic church, with approximately equal numbers of African-American, Hispanic, and Caucasian congregants. Mosaic has succeeded in this effort because of their model of shared leadership. Rather than simply catering to one group, decisions, worship, and ministries at Mosaic reflect a rich exchange and appreciation of different ethnic traditions and customs. This approach has made Mark DeYmaz a noted spokesperson on the subject. It also serves as an important template for community building in the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition, Mosaic Church has become one of the largest investor in the neighborhood, purchasing a 100,000-foot old K-mart facility and raising $1 million for the renovations of this space. These investments are a powerful signal to residents that Mosaic will continue to be rooted in this area.
After being engaged for over a decade, Mosaic’s work is associated with an economic and cultural revival in this part of the city. According to long-time residents, the streets are safer, in part because businesses are moving to the area. For example, Ten Fitness is the latest company to open a location. These developments have brought new job opportunities to the area. People are also relocating to the area, seeking to be part of a multi-ethnic community or simply a vibrant local church. These are certainly hallmarks of gentrification. However, the story of Mosaic Church demonstrates that churches can be important agents of neighborhood transformation that escape one of the most difficult problems with gentrification—that of exclusion.
Special thanks to Tyfnae Benz for sharing her insights on her neighborhood.
- Mikael Pelz is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Calvin College.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”