Alternative ministries trip yields new ideas and rainbows in Baltimore

by Sandy Irby

Spring break was not the stereotypical beach trip for a group of 11 students and three staff members who, instead, headed off to downtown Baltimore, Maryland, for a weekend “alternative ministries” immersion experience. The three-day road-trip was sponsored by Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Communities of Learning program. In this action-packed, eye-opening, and soul-stirring weekend, students gained invaluable insights into new and exciting ways of doing urban ministry.

For most of those in the group, urban ministry requires a certain amount of boldness, as they step outside their comfort zone.  Nevertheless, the Baltimore trip presented a welcome opportunity to take that step. As one student said, it “seemed like a personal invitation from God to ‘walk the walk’ in the big, uncomfortable world out there.”

The weekend included conversations with leaders from The Center Baltimore, BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), and The Slate Project. Students also met with local pastors who are intimately connected with their communities—and had the opportunity to get to know some of their parishioners and participate alongside them in service work in the surrounding community.

The importance of building relationships and ministering not just to one’s congregation, but also to the local community emerged as dominant themes of the weekend experience— a concept that led one student to re-think her idea of ministry as not so much a “top-down action” of one person ministering to another, but rather as intentional interaction with others in such a way that “recognizes the way the spirit of God works through us all.”

This intensive experience was without a doubt a formative one—leaving students with greater clarity regarding their own call to ministry. Beyond that, though, their time in Baltimore proved wondrously transformational as well—revitalizing their hope for the church and the world.

How fitting it was that as the group departed one of the churches they visited—a church located in a community fraught with urban decline, systemic suffering, and despair—they were greeted by a double rainbow. Arching dramatically across the Baltimore skyline, it seemed a sure sign of a way forward in hope—or, as one student put it, “a clear glimpse of the Kingdom of God, where it is indeed possible to love God and to love neighbors as ourselves.”


Sandy Irby is director of the Communities of Learning program, an innovative summer orientation program at Union Presbyterian Seminary that helps new students transition into seminary by better preparing them to engage the academic curriculum and its processes of spiritual and vocational formation.