The Rev. Dr. Mark Pumphrey
Pastor, South Broadway Christian Church, Denver, Colorado
Phillips MDiv, class of 1977
DMin class of 1995
Tell us about your place of ministry: the context, the mission:
South Broadway Christian Church is a historic, 124-year-old congregation and the only surviving church on the corridor into downtown Denver from I-25. Our church once was the center of life in the area known as South Denver. With the social upheavals of the ‘60s and ‘70s and migration into the suburbs in the wake of forced busing, the congregation began a slow decline. Our mission, since 1934, is, “To be warmhearted, open minded and full of an adventurous spirit.”
What did you find when you started?
When I arrived in early 1997, the church was near rock bottom. In my first two years, I worked to earn the congregation’s trust, not make changes. I officiated at dozens of funerals and a few baptisms. I spent most of my time in the neighborhood, which was just beginning to show signs of renewal and life. The church had $600,000 in cash savings and gave three percent to mission. The members wanted the church to thrive, but they did not know how to make their dreams come true. The head of the search committee said to me. “We need you to help us look like our neighborhood.” It occurred to me that I was serving in a missionary outpost, that South Broadway was completely surrounded by a secular world.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
On a personal level, it was the shift to living in the most diverse neighborhood in this part of the country. I came from serving 11 years in the San Luis Valley, a rural setting. We moved two miles from the church to an even more diverse neighborhood called Capitol Hill. It was a strategic move that gave me street credibility with those whom I would come to know as neighbors and friends. At the congregational level, my challenge was gaining the people’s trust. I did that by being a guest in their homes, visiting them in the hospital, caring for their families, and preaching and teaching in a way that honored and challenged them. We partnered with Historic Colorado, funders of historic preservation, in a $1,000,000 project to clean up, restore, and transform. We contributed $400,000 from cash reserves and raised another $250,000 in capital money. We brought the building into the 21st century.
Tell us a story of success or that gave you hope.
Six years ago I met with the head of the Denver Post UMS (Underground Music Showcase). He described for Chris Vitt, our extraordinary office administrator, and me how 400-plus musical groups would be playing in the five-block area near the church for three days. He asked, “Would you be willing to allow for three nights of performances in your space, plus setting up an outdoor stage in your park and parking lot?” We looked at each other and said, “Sure.” We welcomed 2,000-plus folks into our space and heard the best “indie music” in Denver. Now we are the preferred venue for this music and we often hear from visitors, “I have been here before, for the UMS.”
What about your theological education have you found most useful in meeting the challenges you face there?
From 1992-95, I did a DMin at Phillips. It was the most helpful educational experience of my life. At its heart was the question of, “Know your context. What is your understanding of the Gospel compelling you to do there?” Everything I did in the DMin was focused on the praxis of ministry in the context in which I live and serve. When I came here, I approached it as a giant DMin project using all of the skills and theological reflection I had practiced during my studies. I cannot say enough good things about how helpful that has been.
If you could go back in time to when you started your current ministry, and knowing what you know now, what would you say to yourself that would help you be better prepared for the road you’ve traveled?
I would have taken better care of myself. I have experienced two miracles in my journey since then. In 1987 I got into recovery. My experience in 12-step work has so shaped my life and faith that I can no longer separate one from the other. In 2013 I started a plan of diet and exercise that I carry out every day, which has given me amazing new strength and vitality. I am minus 80 pounds. Self-care is talked about but rarely practiced in both seminary and ministry.