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Golden Gate’s urban training celebrates 25th anniversary

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–For a quarter century, Francis DuBose has helped more than a thousand Christians from around the world leave their hearts in San Francisco.
The senior professor of missions at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., has led the Urban Training Event, an intense four-day visit to various churches and ministries around the Bay Area, since 1974, after experimenting with a few urban missions emphases and field trips.
A morning at a soup kitchen, a walk in gang territory in San Francisco’s predominantly Hispanic Mission District and viewing the annual Gay Pride Parade, which attracted more than 200,000 people from all over the world, were part of this summer’s class, along with visit to various Baptist and non-Baptist churches.
“The purpose of the event is to deepen sensitivity to the needs of people and expose Christians to creative ways of doing urban mission,” DuBose said. “It is completely feel-oriented. There are no lectures. This format offers a constant exposure to things in urban life. The experience is deliberately not cognitive, but left for each student to interpret according to his or her own identity.”
For 24 of the 25 years, Larry Rose, director of missions for the Tarrant Baptist Association in Fort Worth, Texas, joined DuBose and brought more than 1,000 pastors and church leaders with him. Rose was a director of missions based in Waco when he started bringing pastors with him. Then as executive director of the Center for Urban Church Studies, he brought denominational executives and directors of missions with the pastors. Up to this year, he invited 14 church personnel from the Tarrant County association every year to join him. He died from a brain aneurysm July 16 at age 59.
“California and San Francisco in particular has set trends in the U.S. for years,” he said last year shortly after his 24th Urban Training Event. “If you look at San Francisco and the Bay Area now, you look at the U.S. in the future. Twenty-five years ago, the gay lifestyle that was unheard of anywhere else is now widespread. The changes in music and lifestyle that originated in the Bay have affected all Americans heavily. The opportunity to help others realize that we’re going to see some of what is in the Bay Area come to us has been very excellent.”
Among others, former Home Mission Board President Larry Lewis has taken the Urban Training Event as well as “Experiencing God” author Henry Blackaby during his days as director of missions in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Professors and students from Southwestern and Southern Baptist Theological seminaries have attended, along with foreign missionaries. DuBose said groups from England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand have participated in the event as well.
“People reflect on the event for years and translate the experience to their own situations,” DuBose said. “One African seminary student who earned his Ph.D. in Nigeria after coming here started a multiethnic church while teaching at a pastors’ school. Intertribal churches are very rare in Africa because tribalism is so strong. He got the idea from the event and seeing the multicultural churches here.”
Golden Gate faculty members have also taken the course, including Gary Pearson, director of the supervised ministry program and associate professor of ministry. “My overall impression was a greater awareness of the diversity of ministry in the Bay Area,” Pearson said. “I met some gifted people with a vision.”
DuBose and Rose, who served as consultant for the event, fill each of the four days with various activities and visits. The first day of this year’s June 26-29 training included visits to the San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association, the Bridge Community Church, Greater Calvary Hill Missionary Baptist Church, Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church and its associated ethnic congregations, a Middle Eastern restaurant for lunch and the Golden Gate Bridge for a late-afternoon walk. That night, the group from Tarrant Baptist Association visited BayMarin Community Church, one of the fastest- growing Southern Baptist churches in the Bay Area. The next day had the whole group serving nearly 1,000 people at a soup kitchen at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco’s seedy Tenderloin neighborhood, followed by a time of reflection at Grace Cathedral, a tour of Chinatown and a Chinese meal.
The third day, a Sunday, the group attended services and met with leaders at the large African American Allen Temple Baptist Church, East Oakland, and went to the Glide Memorial church service. The group also viewed the annual Gay Pride Parade. The last day featured visits to Bethel Christian Church, a mildly charismatic church in the Mission district in which is based a ministry to gang members, and a visit with Monsignor John O’Connor, who discussed Roman Catholic beliefs with the group.
Still, with the vast variety of ministries and churches in the Bay Area, DuBose said he has taken groups to other places as well and led them through some interesting experiments. Instead of working at the soup kitchen one year, DuBose arranged for the class to dress roughly and go through the line at St. Anthony’s Church’s feeding program.
“Every Christian minister should have some kind of close exposure to homeless people,” DuBose said. “That can happen whether you’re preparing food for them or you’re standing in line with them for an hour or more.”
Another exposure was the Plunge. Each participant had to give up all of his or her money and keep only an I.D. card. Then DuBose turned them loose in the city without breakfast and they had to meet him across town and raise money for transport and meals during the day.
“Our group was pretty mixed,” he said. “We had a Japanese man, a Hispanic student, an African American and some Anglos and got some varied reactions. One guy hocked his watch. One guy within 15 minutes had all the money he needed for two meals and bus fare and spent the rest of the day sleeping in Golden Gate Park. The Japanese student felt he couldn’t beg so he did without food and walked back.”
One experience DuBose remembers is a student who posed as a homeless man before a church service. None of the congregation members invited him into the church, he said, but the student had worked with a church member to stage his entrance.
“When the congregation started singing, the student slipped in the back,” DuBose said. “A member said there was no preacher that morning and asked if anyone wanted to speak. The student came up holding a paper bag with a Bible rolled up inside. He opened the bag to the shock of the congregation, took out his Bible and said, ‘I’m your speaker this morning.'”
Some students in past years, however, didn’t adapt to the experience very well, DuBose said. “One student cracked up on us early in the weekend. He started sobbing deeply and heavily and asked the rest of us why could we take this standing up. Another guy just dropped out and left. It was more than he could handle.”
First-year student Sharon Bowers said sometimes over the weekend this year she became emotional. “I found much of it so heart-wrenching,” she said. “But although I saw the needs across the whole spectrum of the city, God reached in and twisted my heart with one thing, and that was the youth involved in gangs.”
Second-year student Alan Cross found the event very meaningful and gratifying, but also unsettling. “All weekend, I felt a lot of anger,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep one of the nights over the weekend. I’ve been working with the homeless for two months, and working one-on-one with them, I felt a hope that something could be done. But this weekend, I felt overwhelmed. The gay parade showed me this city is lost. Yet, this weekend has helped me realize that the ideas I brought here may not work, and God has to show me what to do.”
Julio Guarneri, pastor of the predominantly Hispanic Gethsemani Baptist Church, Fort Worth, said the weekend encouraged him to continue talks with fellow attender John Hanson, pastor of the mostly Anglo Riverside Baptist Church, about combining churches.
“The congregations are about the same size and a mile away from each other,” Guarneri said. “The community around both of our churches is Hispanic, and we are in the middle of talks to merge the churches together and combine the resources of the buildings, finances and staffs. We both talked about it at length over the weekend, and we tried to find things that would apply to us.”
Larry Rose said the Urban Training Event is an experience from which anybody — seminary student, professor, pastor or layperson — can learn. “Action/reflection is one of the great learning tools that we have,” he said. “There is nothing like getting in the front lines and smelling, touching, feeling and doing. You get a different view.”
DuBose said Rose’s death was an enormous loss to him and the kingdom. “Larry was a true soul brother of mine as a colleague of urban mission,” he said. “He was one of the most knowledgeable, personal and involved men in the field of mission in the city and will continue to inspire.”
Rose’s funeral was influenced by his contacts in the Bay Area. Amongst attenders were Karl Ortis, director of missions for the San Francisco Peninsula Baptist Association, and J. Alfred Smith, pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland. Sam Williams, pastor at BayMarin Community Church, San Rafael, and assistant professor of pastoral leadership at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, preached the funeral. Furthermore, the Tarrant Baptist Association voted to send staff and area pastors to next year’s Urban Training Event as a 25th memorial visit to Rose’s ministry.
“He put his arm around me the last day of the event this year and said each one becomes more special as neither of us knows if we’ll make it the next year as we get older,” DuBose said. “That will always be a special moment to me.”

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