Suffer the Children...

I wonder if you saw an article in the Atlantic from this past July with the provocative headline: “The Future of the City is Childless.” Author Dereck Thompson cites both census data and anecdotal evidence to demonstrate that, while cities are economically booming, they are trading away their children in the process: “Today’s cities, however, are decidedly not for children, or for families who want children. As the sociologists Richard Lloyd and Terry Nichols Clark put it, they are ‘entertainment machines’ for the young, rich, and mostly childless.” Seattle ranks among the ‘superstar’ cities that favor capital and profit over family, have increase costs of urban living, neighborhood amenities that cater to millennial tastes, and economic inequities that invite the highly educated childless set while giving low income families the distinct message that, “this place is not for you.”

A response blog post published on the Brookings Institute website, “The future of the city doesn’t have to be childless,” counters that cities can make choices that result in more economically inclusive and family friendly urban areas. The authors focus on access to fundamental neighborhood amenities, transforming public spaces to promote youth development, and connecting communities with dialogue and trust. So how do these observations play out closer to home?

A headline in the Seattle Times from April 2019 seems to contradict the childless trend here: “For the first time in 50 years Seattle has more than 100,000 kids” – until one reads far enough into the reporting to discover that Seattle ranks 48 out of the 50 largest cities in the US for percentage of population under 18. Only Boston and San Francisco have fewer children. It also happens that the largest density of children in the city is in – you guessed it – West Seattle. Specifically, in the Highline neighborhood – a part of the city that, according to a 2017 article in the Seattle Magazine, has been an area of intentional economic redevelopment of the sort described in the Brookings Institute blog (though it still lacks walkability to grocery stores, or easy access to public transit). Makes a pastor wonder what else God has in mind for us in partnership with Highland Park elementary school...

Beyond this City Serve intersection, why the survey of articles and blog posts on families in Seattle? Our mission focus – to welcome families with young children – has me curious. We believe that there is a gospel imperative to seek and serve families in urban environments where raising a family is hard. Welcoming children has been in the DNA at West Side ever since the education buildings were constructed to make space for over a thousand children gathering on Sunday mornings. Loving families is who we are and what we are called by Jesus to do.

So how do we do this? What challenges and inequities are families facing that go beyond the universal pressures on parents raising kids in the city? What is unique to Seattle, and specifically, to West Seattle? How is the good news of Jesus best translated to parents and single parents of young children and youth in Seattle? Let’s ask our families where their experiences align with the observations in these articles. Ask parents you meet what their experiences are as they raise kids here. Let’s learn from them why the gospel matters – and how the reality of God’s gracious provision and love can be communicated in real ways, real time and real lives.

I do not know the exact choices Jesus is calling us to make in order to love families in our era. I do know that these choices will be characterized by the same open armed, unapologetically encouraging and absurdly generous welcome that Jesus made to the children and mothers that the harried disciples were trying to shift to the side. The future of the city may be childless – the kingdom of heaven is not (Matthew 18:3-4).

~ Pastor Laurie
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