SETTLERS IN THE WILDERNESS EMPIRE
The history of the world is a story of cities that rise and fall.
This is a brief history of the Ford City neighbourhood where New Song Church’s main campus is located. In the century of Henry Ford’s worker town we saw expansion and growth through immigration from Eastern Europe. At its peak, the Ford Motor Company had 14,000 employees at this location. The prosperity meant that the new citizens could build homes, churches, schools and a thriving business district.
Along with the growth came the typical issues with crime and social ills. The Chicago gangster Al Capone frequented our street during Prohibition when he illegally shipped whiskey across Detroit River. In winter months, he had an arrangement with a corrupt priest at Holy Rosary Catholic Church. A light in the belfry was used as a signal to let the gangsters know when they could drive across the ice to the Ford City docks.
In 1935 Ford City merged into the expanding city of Windsor. The year 1945 saw a 99-day workers strike when the streets were blockaded and the problem solvers created the now infamous Rand Formula[i] as part of Canadian Labour Law.
Our once bustling main street (Drouillard Road) eventually succumbed to the economic realities of bigger and better homes and shopping in the suburbs. The subsequent vacancy and decay on ‘Main Street’ affected the homes of the neighbouring streets. The 1970s were difficult years where a dark, urban reputation meant that people avoided the area. It was not viewed as a safe place to be. Drugs, violence and poverty replaced the vision of its founders.
In 1993, I stood near the railway tracks on a foggy, summer night and gazed down the ghost town corridor and had an apostolic insight. I thought, ‘What a perfect place to have a church!’ In 1997 our three-year-old church moved in to an old bar.
The Kingdom of God is counter-intuitive to the surrounding culture. When everyone runs and avoids, the people of God move in with hope. We have become an integrated part of our neighbourhood and part of making it a safer and hopeful place to live. The Kingdom of God is entrepreneurial, hospitable and compassionate.
Today we sit at the table with other community builders and serve as best we can. This is an ancient idea we read about in the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah records a letter to the exiled people of God who found they were displaced and struggling to find meaning in Babylon, a city that represented all that had destroyed their lives.
God loves Windsor. That is why we need to love our city and seek its peace and prosperity. We need to seek God for ways to be settlers in the wilderness empire of cities.