Know Your Church's Context

In order to participate with God’s mission in your neighborhood, you have know something about where you live.  In the case of my church—Northminster Presbyterian Church—it has been a huge help to learn about the history of Clairemont, the community in which my church is located.

The Founders of ClairemontThe Founders of ClairemontAs you might expect, the community of Clairemont has played an important role in shaping Northminster’s identity over the years.  In fact, in order to best understand the challenge my church faces—or that any church faces—you have to understand the church’s local context.  So, here’s a little bit about my church’s context.  As you read this, think about the context of your congregation.

Clairemont Back in the Day

Clairemont, a suburb of San Diego, California, was founded in 1950 by Lou Burgener and Carlos Tavares and is named for his wife, Claire Tavares.  Clairemont was one of the first post World War II suburban developments built in the 1950s and 1960s.  It was designed not with the traditional grid system but with mildly curving streets that flow with the contours of the hills and canyons. 

In those early days, most husbands went to work, wives stayed home with the children, families owned only one car, and most of today’s streets in Clairemont were still dirt roads.  Long-time residents recall the baseball field that is now a MacDonald’s, or the “store bus” that brought groceries to residents, because there was yet no easily accessible grocery store.  They remember the days when everything east of Genessee Boulevard was nothing but open prairie with a few unpaved roads.

There is no question that Clairemont has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. While a few canyons still remain untouched by development, thanks to action taken by local citizens in the 1970s, all that was once prairie now is paved and developed.

Clairemont Today

The changes, however, involve more than merely geographical development. Clairemont has changed in other ways as well.

The people of Clairemont have become more diverse. Only 75.7% of Clairemont residents speak English at home, while a full 38.5% speak Spanish at home.  Approximately 55% of Clairemont’s population today is considered White; the next largest population by race is Hispanic at 18.3%, followed by Asian at 9.4%. 

Socioeconomic diversity also has increased. The estimated median income in Clairemont is $66,494, but 13.2 % of residents live below the poverty level.  This becomes evident just by looking around. As you drive through Clairemont’s neighborhoods, you can observe many beautiful homes with canyon or ocean views; but you’re also struck by the small duplexes and crowded apartment buildings, in other neighborhoods.  Clairemont today definitely no longer consists of the same homogeneous population of yesteryear.

Northminster's Challenge

Part of Northminster’s challenge is to embrace the reality of Clairemont today.  We still have a good number of church members who moved to Clairemont in the 1950s and 1960s.  We also have quite a few people who have lived here for only a few years. 

For me, bringing the two groups together—and leading them to engage in mission together—is not only the challenge, but also the joy, of being the pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church.

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