On Friday, November 6 Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby held a hybrid meeting with pastors, both in person and online, to talk about how churches and GRPS can work together to help students who are falling through the gaps during this time of online-only education. The school system does not have a formal program to offer churches, but they said they are at the early stages of putting together a list of what churches are doing so they can invite their students and families in the near future.
We heard from several churches that already host academic-focused programs.
Bethany Hicks of Crossroads Bible Church said that they have continued their relationship with Stocking Elementary through Kid's Hope, but it has gone fully Zoom and penpal. They worked with Kid's Hope and with the parents in their program to secure permissions to Zoom with the children. They have one Zoom time that everyone participates in. The children are funneled into groups with their volunteer, and one leader is able to pop into any group at any time, which mirrors the supervisory function of a classroom teacher when a volunteer comes in to help students. This ensures a level of safety for students, something GRPS is very serious about maintaining. Theirs is an afternoon program--not done while the children are in synchronous learning in the morning (that is, when they have to be logged into their laptops, interacting with their classroom teacher).
Crossroads also sends volunteers to other organizations that are meeting with children in person, such as New City Kids. Hicks noted that the children in their congregation who are taking part in New City Kids' in-person learning pods are thriving.
Jim Bartels, who works with a number of churches on the NE side of town, said that New City Church has a learning pod of 8 regular students, elementary, middle, and high school-aged. They started with morning groups to help students get and stay online during synchronous learning, but are looking at afternoon meetings to help students get their assignments done. La Grave Christian Reformed Church also hosts a morning learning pod for one small group of students.
Boston Square Christian Reformed Church partners with two neighborhood organizations, Community Kids, which has been meeting with 100 children weekly for academic help and Bible study, and The Learning Cafe sponsored by Oakdale Neighbors Association, which has 30-40 children. Both organizations have been meeting outside since COVID, and are looking at how they might safely move indoors now that it is getting cold.
St. Marks Episcopal Church has a relationship with East Leonard School, and they have been working to keep their Student of the Month program alive, putting together goodie bags for children who are doing a good job with their distance learning. Teachers deliver the bags to the students' homes. Public school staff cannot share student information, but students are able to offer information about how they're doing, whether they're attending their classes, etc.
Rev. Troy Evans of The Edge Urban Ministry has had a program for children who are at least one year behind in reading. He was hoping to get connections from GRPS with retired teachers or paraprofessionals to work with students.
Rev. Deborah McCreary reported that Eastminster Presbyterian Church has a Family Leadership Initiative group of fifteen families that has gone fully virtual on Saturday afternoons, with students receiving help with school work as well as biblical lessons. Before the pandemic, she led a group of 25 reading mentors from three churches who went into Mulick Park Elementary School. Now she's hoping for GRPS help with transportation for kids from Mulick to come to a church for tutoring.
First Christian Reformed Church started an after-school (which now starts at 12:45pm, not 3:30pm) homework club. Shelly Ydenburg said about their experience:
Our goal was to provide a safe place for GRPS students who are learning remotely to get assistance with their homework and give their caregivers a much-needed break. We now have 10 kids coming consistently. There have been 20 or so kids who have come in the past on different days. We tried a sign-up but in reality, this did not work for us. In the beginning, we offered the service 5 days a week. This was not sustainable for our church. We reduced the number of days we offer the service to Tuesday - Thursday from 12:45-2:45. We have found that the students do not typically get assignments on Monday or Friday. When assignments are completed, we offer games and supplemental work for the students to participate in. We have found that our model works best with a 1:1 or 1:2 volunteer to student ratio. The kids love the one on one attention.
The one group that was mentioned over and over was New City Kids. They not only host learning pods for 60 students 5 mornings a week in the church they meet in, they have also continued their after-school programs of homework help and music classes with teen mentors. They hired academic specialists to oversee each pod. Christy Carlin Knetsch combed through the Michigan state's Safe Start recommendations and developed a 10-page manual that includes everything from cleaning recommendations to health and decision-making matrixes, to how to do drop-offs and how to manage the hallways.
Knetsch is willing to give any pastors or churches a tour of their facility and help them develop their capacity to work with public school students. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-340-3742. Here are her top ten recommendations, based on their practices:
She asked a few broad questions for consideration. "What would it look like to have GRPS student success coaches come to church buildings to help? Could your church write a grant, or could GRPS provide funds so you could hire an academic specialist to oversee 6-10 children?" Knetsch recommended that churches work with one public school so they can develop a relationship with that school that can expand beyond this time we're in now. She also noted that if you host a learning pod or homework club and you can't provide something fun for children to do, your program should end when school ends.
John Helmholdt, the GRPS Executive Director of Communications and External Affairs, noted that if churches don't know how to connect to families who want learning pods or other in-person help for their children, then GRPS can connect students to churches. They would also be able to "put out an all-call" for volunteers if churches have the capacity in their building, but not the volunteers. Once they have a solid list of church-sponsored programs, they are planning to send flyers in multiple languages via direct mail, email, social media, and chase those with robocalls and text messages. Helmholdt said, "We cannot formally refer students or coordinate services. We can share information about voluntary opportunities that students/families may access."
Superintendent Roby detailed the many needs of their students in this time:
A lot of students are falling through the cracks, either academically or through isolation. Some students need help around the instructional piece, they benefit from interpersonal interaction to help them learn. Older students need people who understand specialized content areas. Some students, especially our youngest ones, need different avenues for making connections in person. We want to have lists we can share: If you need instructional help, here are the places you can go. If you need interaction, these are the places you can go.
Roby said that churches do not need to have 5-day-a-week programs to be helpful. If a church had capacity for only one day a week, either during the morning synchronous learning, or for an after-school homework club, that would be great. The school system would add you to the list for that day and time.
There are student safety considerations with background checks required for all volunteers. The school system would not require formal Memorandum of Understanding agreements with churches, just a general understanding that churches would host students and volunteers and GRPS would provide resources when possible. Helmholdt clarified that, "Churches would be responsible for liability. We as a district could share templates for permission slips, waivers, etc., but we would defer to our friends at Boys and Girls Club, New City Kids, YMCA, and others for guidance on these matters. They have already establish a framework for this with everything from background checks for staff/volunteers, waivers, etc."
Bridget Cheney, Executive Director of Pre-K, Elementary & K-8 Instructional Support wanted to spread the word about the Parent University. It is a resource for parents, grandparents, and organizations to better understand how to help students. It is not only for GRPS families, but for anyone. They have online classes and tutorials that are full of technical tips and classes on how to help a child with math and reading. You can direct families to https://parents.grps.org/. Assistant Superintendent Larry Johnson also wanted to make sure GRPS families knew that if they have a broken, lost, or stolen laptop, then they should not be embarrassed or afraid to call their school principal. The schools have a robust repair and replace system and they will be able to set up an appointment to get the equipment up and running again.
Due to the complexity of programming during COVID times, and the levels of liability that churches will incur while working with vulnerable youth, we recommend that churches take great care in addressing the following considerations before committing to a program: COVID safety and protocols, liability, volunteer screening, parent communication and contact, school communication and contact, technology, transportation, recruitment.
In addition, we recommend that churches take on the recruitment of their own participants in order to avoid any confusion about the levels of support and coordination that GRPS is able to offer. Beginning with the youth in your own congregation, or developing a relationship with a nearby school is a good place to begin.
Churches with capacity and interest in helping serve GRPS are invited to contact John Helmholdt at HelmholdtJ@grps.org or 616-819-3740 to talk through what your local school may need and what your church has the capacity to provide. He will direct you to the right person to speak with, including a staff member who speaks Spanish.
Like all other groups, the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors now meets via Zoom. This fall we have met twice with Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne to talk about what is happening in Grand Rapids. This summer and fall we have seen peaceful protests for justice for Black lives downtown but also a rate of gun violence that we haven't experienced since the 1990s.
In August, Chief Payne Zoomed with the pastors to talk about the GRPD's Strategic Plan. He emphasized that the department has listened to the community, and they are looking for ways to "do policing differently":
I don't want the only thing we're doing is enforcing law. We only exist because of the community. I want us to go out into the community, interacting and building relationships.
The strategic plan includes both things they are planning to do, and things they are hoping to do:
Payne noted that any plans they make, their vision and mission statements--everything--is built on trust: community trust in the police department and police trust in the community. This is baked into their vision: "In partnership with our community, we will become the safest mid-sized city and most trusted police department in the United States."
Several pastors asked how trust can be measured, so the GRPD and the community knows what is and isn't working to shift the current climate of lack of trust. After admitting that they are still working on metrics to measure their progress, the chief pointed to several different avenues and programs:
• Service – Through compassion, empathy and courage, we are driven to meet the public safety needs of our community.
The pastors at the meeting are passionate about the city we all live in, and had a lot of questions for Chief Payne. Pastor Nancy Boote wanted to know more about the neighborhood policing model. Payne said that they are looking for this, eventually: "All officers feeling responsible for their neighborhood and know the people in their neighborhood. Holding accountable the people who are terrorizing their neighborhood." Now, there are 15 community policing officers; Payne hopes to expand that.
Pastor Chase Stancle noted that it was very helpful to have a third party come in to do the investigation on racial profiling in traffic stops. Payne agreed. He said, "We're still working off that 2016 study. It wasn't just put on a bookshelf and forgotten about. We'll be looking at our data again on traffic stops and arrests--not this year, but we will."
Stancle also asked about how they can increase their recruiting of women and people of color. Payne noted that they are doing so well at recruiting women that they've had to expand the women's locker room. Half of the students in one of their classes at Grand Valley State University are female. He knows they are not doing as well with people of color, but they continue to work with Grand Rapids Community College and historically black colleges and universities to recruit people of color.
Pastor Bruce McCoy asked the chief to expand on the issue of diversity in the department. Payne spoke about two initiatives:
Pastor James Jones sought assurances that the CLEAR program would continue to be supported. CLEAR stands for Coalition, Leadership, Education, Advice, Rehabilitation. It is a program in which law enforcement, community resource partners, and returning citizens come together once a week to connect and to ease the citizens' transition to the community. Payne was unequivocal: "We have personnel assigned to this. Our support isn't changing."
Pastor Jack Kooreman asked about the violence after the May 30th peaceful protest. Chief Payne spoke to his belief that "A third element emerged, an organized effort by a few to turn it to what it became." He was grateful that nobody was seriously injured that night--in particular that "noone was seriously injured by our actions, that despite officers having bricks thrown at them, nobody had their sticks out chasing people and beating them."
Pastor Kate Kooyman asked about the two-day suspension for the officer who did injure a person at that protest when he fired a chemical round from his riot device directly at a man and injured his shoulder. Chief Payne said, "The officer made a mistake." He noted that he needs to seek input from their legal department, from labor relations, from the Police Advisory Board, and "determine what accountability can be." He noted that, "The two-day suspension could wind up before an arbitrator and my decision could be overturned for being either too tough or too lenient."
Payne also said, "I am uncomfortable with the statute that officers cannot be held criminally accountable for anything up to using deadly force. I want officers to be held accountable."
This came up again in our September meeting with the Chief. He noted that the reason that officers in departments around the country keep not being indicted for killing Black people while on duty is because of the Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor, regarding use of force by police officers. He said that there is a broader system that needs to be looked at--not just department by department.
We talked again in September about accountability decisions in the GRPD, in particular about the DATE INCIDENT. The Chief reiterated the process that they go through: "I have to bring in labor relations, the city attorney's staff. I talked with the officer, other officers, the man who was shot.... I have to make sure that I follow available laws. After reviewing everything we decided on two days' suspension without pay. The union disagreed and filed a grievance and now we're in arbitration. That's part of the process." He added, "Prosecutor Becker looked at all the things [the officer] could've been charged for and didn't find anything," so the officer was held accountable internally with the two days' unpaid leave.
The meeting last month was dominated by discussion about the Breonna Taylor case in Louisville, Kentucky. Chief Payne said, "Regardless of what happens [with indictments against the officers], a tragedy occurred. It will be part of law enforcement history forever." He wanted the pastors to know that the GRPD has policies against the specific behaviors of the officers who fired into Taylor's apartment, killing her:
"Grand Rapids has not done a no-knock warrant in 6 years. It's now our policy not to do them. Middle-of-the-night warrants are unusual, and we wouldn't do one for a narcotics case. One of the officers shot blindly into the residence and we aren't trained to do that and we don't do that. I don't believe that this type of thing would happen here.... Reform is taking place within our department. It should be an awakening for every law enforcement department: we make mistakes and we need to own up to them and be held accountable for them."
Besides mistakes, there are also opportunities missed. Pastor Jathan Austin spoke about one such opportunity: the Unity in the Community rally for young people ages 12 - 18, which drew predominantly African-American teenagers. Austin said that the police stayed around the perimeter and didn't engage with people, which sent a message of discomfort.
In both meetings, Chief Payne and Pastor Willie Gholston III spoke about ways that pastors can engage with the police department. COVID-19 has changed how the church gathers, so there are not as many events to invite officers to, but pastors can again sign up to go on ride-alongs. Gholston is on the Advisory Board, and they are looking at ways pastors can assist with regards to mental health capacity and de-escalation training. If you are interested in exploring ride-alongs or other ways of interacting with the police department, either personally, or with your congregation, please contact us and we will connect you.
This is an intense season for both pastoring and policing, so we spent the end of each meeting in prayer for each other.
We have fallen off our regular schedule of 3rd Thursday of the month, but we will continue to meet when there is something that can pierce through the Zoom fatigue so many people are feeling in these days. If you are a Grand Rapids-area pastor and are interested in issues of unity and justice and you do not receive our email newsletter, please contact us and we'll put you on the list so you can find out when the next meeting will be.
As Christian leaders in Grand Rapids, we want to stand together to name the painful moment we are in. Our hearts were again traumatized as we witnessed the murder of yet another black male. This man had a name: George Floyd. We heard bystanders pleading with the police officers to stop pressing against his neck. We heard the emotional, helpless cry of a man dying under the knee of police officers. And of those who witnessed his death.
We are moved to respond. We must respond individually, to search our hearts for how God is calling us to change the racism that we have internalized. We must respond as a community here in Grand Rapids, to hold our police officers and city officials accountable to policies which protect the dignity of black and brown people. And we must respond nationally to the overwhelming injustice of racism and the failure of those in power to lead with justice. Our Scriptures tell us that all people of faith are required by God “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The pain of this moment is palpable—we see it, we hear it, and we experience it. Our compassionate God, who dwells among us, feels this pain. The anger, rage, and violence that has broken out in our city is part of this pain. We want destruction to stop. Violence begets violence. And we need the root of this to be faced. Racism is what is breaking our community.
Each of us as religious and civic leaders must work to right this wrong. In Scripture, it is called repentance -- turning from our wicked ways, and resolving to walk in a new direction. We must speak out and be visible, amplify the voices of those who are most impacted and who are leading us toward a more just community.
We, the clergy of Grand Rapids, believe that God is able to work in this community, to make a way out of no way. We believe that God can reconcile us one to another, that God can heal our city and heal our nation. And we recognize that pain is always a part of true healing. We resolve to work together, across the lines that have divided us. We resolve to use our power and platforms to name the legacy of systemic racism that has traumatized people of color.
We love Grand Rapids. We pray for its peace. We know that peace comes with justice.
"May justice roll down like a mighty water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream."
If you are a member of the clergy in Grand Rapids, Michigan,
and would like to add your name to this statement, please go here.
Rev. Kate Kooyman, Grace Christian Reformed Church
Christopher Hall, Elevation Church
Rev. Chris DeBlaay, The Branch
President Jul Medenblik, Calvin Theological Seminary
Dr. Reginald Smith, Director of Diversity , Christian Reformed Church in North America
Pastor Eric Cook, Remembrance Church
Dr. John D. Witvliet, Calvin University, Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Laurie Hartzell, Westminster Presbyterian Church
Pastor Mike Gafa, Reformed Church in America
The Rev. Nurya Love Parish, Plainsong Farm / Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Belmont
Rev. Steve De Vries, Plymouth Heights CRC
Rev. Dr. Willie A. Gholston II, pastor, First Community AME Church
Rev. Colleen Squires, All Souls Community Church UU
Rev. Dr. W. Frederick Wooden, Fountain Street Church (retired)
Amanda Benckhuysen, Professor of Old Testament, Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Jay Blankespoor, Boston Square Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Scott Hoezee, Calvin Theological Seminary
Lyle Bierma, Calvin Theological Seminary
Pastor Amy Schenkel, Resonate Global Mission
Rev. Dr. Geoff Vandemolen - Director of Vocational Formation/ Co-Director of Doctor of Ministry, Calvin Seminary
Rev. Paul DeVries, Brookside Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Jen Porter, Westminster Presbyterian
Rev. Dr. David Rylaarsdam, Calvin Seminary
Pastor Nathaniel Moody Sr., Brown Hutcherson Ministries
Rev. Les Wiseman, Knapp St Reformed Church
Pastor Jesus Velez, President, Association Hispanics Pastors / President of Asociacion de pastores hipanos y lideres.
Rev. Benjamin Bruins, Trinity Reformed Church
Rev. Sarah Van Zetten Bruins, Trinity Reformed Church
Rev. Deborah J. McCreary, Eastminster Presbyterian Church
Rev. Jim Boer, Monroe Community Church
Rev. Emmett A. Harrison, Christian Reformed Church
Artie M Lindsay, Sr., Tabernacle Community Church
Rev. Ruth Bell Olsson, Mayflower Congregational Church
Pastor Dale Dalman, Esperanza Covenant Church
Rev. Stedford Sims, New Beginning Church Intl. Ministries
The Rev. Michael Alan Wernick, Two Churches (Holy Cross Episcopal and Ascension Lutheran)
The Rev. Canon Valerie Ambrose, Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan
The Rev. Hugh Dickinson, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, MI
Rev. Jeremy Bork, Westminster Presbyterian Church
Rev. Kent Rottman, Lee Street Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Elizabeth Vander Haagen, Boston Square Christian Reformed Church
Very Rev. René Constanza, CSP (Rector/Pastor), Cathedral of Saint Andrew (Roman Catholic)
Rev. Jack Kooreman, Grace Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Dr. Brian White, Seymour Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Katherine Lee Baker, Metro Health
Rev. John M Matias, Brown-Hutcherson Ministries
Rev.Gil Suh, CRCNA/Resonate Global Mission
Rev. Susan York, St. Marks Episcopal Church
The Rev. Molly Bosscher, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
Margarita Solis-Deal, Dominican Center at Marywood
Rev. Dr. Jessica Bratt Carle, Spectrum Health/Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rev. David Beelen, Madison Church (CRC)
Rev. Adam Lipscomb, City Life Church
Prof. Ronald Feenstra, Calvin Theological Seminary
Pastor Timothy Mark Harris, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church
Rev. Chase R. Stancle, Unison Christian Church
Mandy Fowler, Director of Faith Development, Cornerstone Church
Rev. Shannon Jammal-Hollemans, Oakdale Park Church
Pastor James Jones, Oakdale Park Church
Pastor Randy Buursma, First Christian Reformed Church
The Rev. William Whiting, The Episcopal Church
Pastor Andrew Vanover
Pastor Brad Knetsch, Madison Church: Ford Campus
Rev. Tim Wilson, Harbor Churches - South Harbor Church
Rev. Dr. Tanner Smith, Harbor Churches
Wally Harrison, Pastor, Walker Harbor (Harbor churches)
Darrell Delaney, Campus Pastor, Madison Church, Square Campus
Tom Elenbaas, Senior Pastor, Harbor Churches
Marcia Van Poolen, Deacon, Madison Church at Ford
Dr. Joy Bonnema, Pastor, Madison Church: North Campus
Rev. Dr. Mara Joy Norden, The Community Church in Ada
The Rev. Jan Gockerman, Deacon, St.Mark”s Episcopal Church
Reverend Ryan Scott Schreiber, Grace Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Steven Koster, Grace CRC
Rev. Brent Kladder, Harbor Life
Rev. John A Rozeboom, Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church
Greg VanderMeer, Lead Pastor, Fair Haven Church
Rev. Jeremy Kreuze, Harbor Churches
Min. Christy Knetsch, Madison Square Church
Rachel Reinink, Pastor, Harbor Churches
The Rev. Molly Bosscher, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Sarah Schreiber, Grace Christian Reformed Church & Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Cindy Nawrocki, St. Andrews Episcopal Church
Pastor Jordan Stonehouse, Wyoming Harbor Church (a part of Harbor Churches)
Rob Housman, South Harbor Church
Rev. Jeff Sajdak, D.Min., Dean of Students, Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Michael Hoogeboom, LaGrave CRC
Pastor Russell D. Atherton, Lifestream Free Methodist Church
Rev. Elaine May, Mayfair Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Deb Koster, CRCNA
Rev. Andrew Mead, Church of the Servant CRC
Rev. Steven D. Cron, St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church
Rev. Adam Rodeheaver-Van Gelder, Pastor of Congregational Life & Youth Ministry, First CRC
Rev. Joe Graham, Harbor Churches
Dr. Mary L. Vanden Berg, Calvin Seminary
Cory Willson, Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Carl Kammeraad, Grace Christian Reformed Church, associate pastor
Bishop Eric L. Barnes Sr., Royal Priesthood Ministries PDFI
Dr. Lisa Marie Barnes, Royal Priesthood Ministries PDFI
Al Heystek United Church of Christ Clergy, East Congregational Church
Rev. Peter Homeyer, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
The Rev. Alan C. James, Grace Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids
The Rev. Dr. Duane E. VanderBrug, , pastor emeritus, Grace Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Karsten Voskuil, Bethlehem Church
Rev. Brian P. Madison, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Rev. Dr. David Wheeler, East Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Al Mulder, Stated Clerk to Classis Grand Rapids East of the Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heys, Calvin Christian Reformed Church
Archbishop Michael J. Hillis, Reconciliation Old Catholic Church
The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr., Bishop, The Episcopal Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan
Rev. Troy Bierma, Church of the Servant
Rev. Dr. Julián Guzmán, Iglesia Vida Plena
Dallas Lenear, Journey Church
Tom Elenbaas, Senior Pastor, Harbor Churches
Rachel Reinink, Pastor, Harbor Churches
Rev Scott Stark, Campus Ministry at GVSU
Pastor Karen Campbell, Church of the Servant CRC
Rev. Joshua Wall, First Reformed
Daniel Parker - Lead Pastor, Kingdom Life Ministries
Rev. Sean Baker, Christian Reformed Church in North America
Pastor Stanley Couch, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church
Pastor Sheldon Thomas, Davis Memorial Church of God In Christ
Moses Mares (Worship Pastor), Fair Haven Church
Rev. Howard C. Earle Jr., D.Min., New Hope Baptist Church
Pastor Ron Carter, Kings Bible Church
Rev. Dr. James C. Stokes, New Life Tabernacle COGIC
Ben Post, Campus Ministry @ GVSU
Wally Harrison, Pastor, Walker Harbor (Harbor churches)
Rev. Howard C. Earle Jr., D.Min., New Hope Baptist Church
Rev. Terrence Dudley, Pastor, New Covenant Community Church of God
Rev. Cody Zuiderveen, Campus Ministry at GVSU
Pastor Rich Rienstra, Church of the Servant
Rev. Christopher Roe, Fountain Street Church
Pastor Nygil Likely
Pastor JR Pittman
Pastor Roy L Hampton
Rev. Sarah Albers
Rev. Cindy de Jong, Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church
Moses Mares, Worship Pastor, Fair Haven Church
Samuel Rijfkogel, Grand Rapids First
Matthew J Tuininga, Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary
Rev. Ruth Boven, LaGrave Ave Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Peter Jonker, LaGrave Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Jen Holmes Curran, Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Tony Holmes Curran, Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church
Pastor Ellen Jeltema, Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Al Gelder, Pastor to Pastors, Classis GR East, CRC
Rev. Nate DeJong McCarron, Fuller Ave. Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Erika Plunkett, Faith Church of Grand Rapids
Pastor Ronald Radcliffe, City Chapel
Pastor Craig Van Hill, First Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Izzy Rhodes
Rev. Cindy Nawrocki, St. Andrews Episcopal Church
Rev. Duane Kelderman, Neland Ave. Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Jen Porter, Westminster Presbyterian
Rev. Mark Bennink, Christian Reformed Church Pastor
Rev Nola Opperwall Galluch, emeritus, Church of the Servant
Rev. Kristen Meyer, Exalta Health
Rev. Dr. Bernard Ayoola, African Resource Center of West Michigan
Prof. David B. Kennedy, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary
Dr. Rev. Mariano Avila, Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Nancy Boote, Madison North
Dr. Jeff Fisher, Kuyper College
Rev. Kim DeLong, Wyoming Park and Courtland Oakfield United Methodist Churches
Pastor AJ Gretz, South Grandville Church
Allison Colberg, Director of The Micah Center, sent this phone call guideline and script to a member of G-RAP's Executive Team, Rev. Jack Kooreman, and she graciously permitted us to adapt it and share it here. Now that pastors are unable to care for their congregations through in-person visits, that care is going to move to the telephone and to video chat (FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, etc.).
Because the whole situation of having to cancel worship services, figure out how move your worship online, how to to provide practical aid to those who need it, negotiate leaving the house, possibly with children underfoot is overwhelming, and adding a whole new way of providing pastoral care on top of that can add to the overwhelm, having a guideline can hopefully dial down the stress. This can also be helpful to share with any of your leaders who will be making pastoral calls to your members.
G-RAP is planning to hold a ZOOM meeting soon for us to talk about how we're doing. Watch for an email newsletter once we have a date, or contact us to let us know you're interested.
Use this script as a tool to guide your one-to-one phone calls with members in your institution. The purpose of the phone call is to strengthen your relationships with members in your institution -- you will accomplish this by calling members to check-in and understand their needs or concerns.It will be very important to report to your leadership team what you are hearing in your calls. And your core team should reflect together on the needs that are surfacing.
How should I go about doing a Relational Meeting over the phone/online?
If they don’t already know you, they need to know:
The person also needs to know:
Hi ____, this is ______. (If not the pastor: I am a role at your institution.)
I am calling on behalf of (institution name) and (the pastor, rabbi, principal) because personally I wanted to check-in in an effort to talk to everyone in our congregation during this challenging time.
We want people to know we are here to support each other and we also want to hear stories to see if there is a pattern of things we might act on within our institution or regionally.
So, how are you doing in these troubling times?
This will be an opportunity to truly listen to what they say and not worry about moving to the next question. Listen for words and when appropriate say something like, “How does that make you feel?” or “How is this situation affecting you?” It is important to ask open-ended questions so they can truly reflect and ponder with you.
Be prepared to share something real about your life during this epidemic to set the tone of the conversation… be vulnerable in a way that is appropriate to your public life.
● “I was just at the store trying to purchase groceries, and noticed ……”
● “I too have been struggling with ……”
Are there (church members/other people) you’re concerned about or some you may have spoken to?
Is there anything you or your family need help with?
(Be prepared to share any information/ updates/ or support from your congregation, city, self-knowledge etc. You may want to know what you plan to do about funerals, in case you are asked about it. [Here is an article about how faith leaders around the world are dealing with the issue of funerals and mourning.)
● “We want you to know that we have a lot of teams that are primed to help. If you need someone to pick up a prescription for you or just call and chat. Would any of these things be of interest to you in the upcoming days and week?”
● “Did you know the school district is offering breakfast and lunch meals Monday-Friday at different school sites for all students? I can send you the information I have.”
● “With the current mandated shelter in place (quarantine), people may still go to the grocery stores, banks, pick up medicine, basically any essential task is permitted.”
Last thing, I’d like to confirm your physical address, email, or phone numbers, how do you best receive information (text, online, phone)?
Make sure you have/get their accurate contact information and how to best reach out to them.
So good to talk with you. If it's alright I will call you again. Is that okay?
(If they ask you why you want to call again… you may say something like, “I’d like to call again to check-in and see how you’re doing/ if there’s any new concerns/ etc.”)
In the meantime, if you have any questions or hear any emerging concerns or stories from other people please contact me.
Thank you, take care, bye.
Practical Resources to Share
The abilities of non-profits and government organizations in Grand Rapids to provide help are constantly changing, so here are some good resources to stay up-to-date on as you make these phone calls:
If you know of other resources, please share them! Contact us and we will add your resource to the list.
All Belong Center for Inclusive Education
Guidelines for phone calls to persons who are isolated
Phone Call Guide Accommodation ideas:
On Saturday, March 21, a few dozen Grand Rapids-area pastors took part in a ZOOM meeting with Teresa Branson and Dr. Nirali Bora of the Kent County Health Department and Dr. TaLawnda Bragg of Spectrum Health. Their purpose was to educate pastors about the seriousness of the novel coronavirus pandemic and convince them that the only responsible choice in the face of COVID-19 is to stop communal, in-person worship services.
The call took place two days before Governor Gretchen Whitmer's "Stay Home Stay Safe" Executive Order 2020-21 (now extended to April 13), which only served to emphasize the message from the health experts:
Subject to the exceptions in section 7, all individuals currently living within the State of Michigan are ordered to stay at home or at their place of residence. Subject to the same exceptions, all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring among persons not part of a single household are prohibited.
That order surpassed the earlier order banning all gatherings of 50 people or more, and the suggestion that groups of not more than 10 should meet, which was the order the pastors were being educated about. Honestly, that meeting felt like it was a month ago, but the heartfelt pleas of our medical and public health community were powerful, so we will share them here.
Teresa Branson addressed pastors' feelings that faith-based organizations were being singled out, but she assured them that all businesses and organizations were being asked to follow the same guidelines. On a personal note, she said, "We're not asking anyone to do anything we aren't doing ourselves. My church isn't meeting and we're a small church. We're talking about the health of our children, for the future."
Dr. TaLawnda Bragg spoke plainly and powerfully:
I am a Spectrum Health physician and a believer. I've worshipped with many of you and listened to your teaching. I will be honest and transparent, because in order for you to make the best decision for the people you are charged to shepherd you need to have the best information. I want to try to make things as clear as possible. This is a dire situation. Our cases in Michigan have skyrocketed over the last few days.
Dr. Nirali Bora, the Kent County Health Department Medical Director, also emphasized that, yes there are legal orders that we need to follow, but that "it's a moral issue or caring for each other." Dr. Bragg circled back to it in response to a report that the governor will exempt, or at least will not punish churches:
This is a moral thing we want to address. Don't just avoid punishment, but keep your people safe. Bringing ten people from across ten different places across the community brings together everyone they're in contact with. Just like healthcare is going down to bare bones and using technology to reach our people, we're asking you to do the same.
To any faith-based leaders who were still feeling "targeted," Branson reiterated that the Health Department is making the same changes they are asking other organizations to make. But, she said, "we are imploring you to influence your congregations" to follow good practices:
Of course, our people and our community still depend on the church as a source for practical aid, so pastors wanted to know how they could provide help safely. The main thing that the health department officials recommended was to maintain distance between people and limit touches, so drop off food at people doorsteps, or move from a food pantry to a food giveaway. Instead of interviewing people asking for help in person, move to the telephone or a video chat platform. The current order does permit churches to continue providing food assistance:
The abilities of non-profits and government organizations in Grand Rapids to provide help are constantly changing, so here are some good resources:
When asked what the future looked like, whether churches could hold services again after April 13, or by the summer, the experts could not give a solid answer, because the situation is so in flux. I apologize for not know which person said this, but it was one of the doctors (there was no photo to accompany the speaker):
From a medical standpoint, we do not have real numbers and real epidemiology of what's happening now and we do not have testing to the degree we'd need to made educated guesses as to what the future looks like. To people who think this is going away in the summer: in Malaysia, it's 95 and humid, and they have COVID. Our bodies have not seen this before, which is why it's everywhere.
The implied answer was that we should also be prepared for these changes in our faith communities for the next few months.
To that end, G-RAP is looking at ways we can still get together and be a support to each other as pastors as we adjust to this new reality. Along with everyone else, we are looking at holding a ZOOM meeting, specifically to talk about moving our pastoral care from in-person visits to virtual ones. Allison Colberg of the Micah Center has offered to lead this training, and talk about how we can make this a real relationship-building time for our congregations. Look for information to come about that soon in the email newsletter, or contact us to let us know you'd be interested in being part of such a meeting.
Thank you for all you are doing already. No seminary or Bible college or ministerial training program likely prepared any of you for dealing with this. Stay safe out there!
On Friday, March 13, 2020, the Kent County Health Department met with urban pastors in Grand Rapids to talk about what COVID-19 meant for our churches. City Commissioner Rev. Joe Jones and the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation's Khary Bridgewater helped put together this last-minute meeting. Jones wanted to make sure that urban pastors heard from the health department directly and got the opportunity to talk with each other about resources, because their churches don't always have a financial model that allows them to withstand a few weeks off. Bridgewater said,
"We've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, since hearing about the case in South Korea where the center of transmission was a church. The Urban Church Leadership Center is closed now because the seminary campus is closed, so that staff is one hundred percent working on helping churches with anything they need. What creative ways can we find to worship together? Go small, short, and sweet? Multiple sessions? Move to online viewing and online giving? Pastors should contact Rev. Julian Guzman at email@example.com to mobilize that help, including using the UCLC website to host your videos if you decide to suspend services."
The information from the health department was clear, helpful, and did what Joann Hoganson, Community Wellness Director, wanted it to: it brought some anxiety down.
Size of gatherings:
How is the virus transmitted:
What you can do as a church:
We heard from Teresa Branson, the Deputy Health Officer, Steve Kelso, the Marketing and Communications Manager, and Joann Hoganson, the Community Wellness Director. Branson told us that although this is a situation that is fluid, and that things are constantly changing as information comes in and as the state makes decisions, the Kent County Health Department put its Incidence Command Structure in place a few weeks ago. Adam London is the Commander, and all decisions come from him (he was unable to be with us because he had new meetings to attend after 3 cases were confirmed in Kent County), Branson is the Deputy Commander; they also have a Safety Officer who is concerned with the health of health officers, a Lead Epidemiologist who takes the lead with quarantined individuals, and a Medical Liaison who maintains frequent contact with infectious disease specialists and disseminates that information. Although this is a new virus that they keep learning about, they exercise and train for events like this, and they follow the incidence command structure.
Pastors are also part of the who's-who. Kelso began his remarks by thanking the pastors:
"Thank you so much. The work you do in the community is so important and we appreciate it. Our role as public health isn't to stop the spread--that ship has sailed--it's to limit the spread of the virus. It's such a simple message. Wash your hands. Stay home if you're sick. Cough and sneeze into your elbow. You folks are so important as we are at this point in communicating these things to people. We don't have legal authority to stop gatherings of more than 100 people, so your cooperation will be key to slowing this thing."
Questions and Answers
One of the pastors asked about testing kits and Kelso admitted that testing is not very available. He noted that when people with fever and cough come to the emergency room, they are first tested for the flu, and that our flu numbers are higher than last year and above the 4-year average. But if they don't have the flu, then hospitals look at whether there are other things in that person's life that would indicate using one of the few tests Michigan has. He said that the safest conclusion is that COVID-19 is here.
Another pastor asked about how to handle funerals and funeral repasses, both because they often draw more than 100 people and because there is typically a lot of physical contact. Kelso was definitive about no handshakes, but admitted, "There's going to be a lot of hugging, and that's good for the soul." Branson chimed in and repeated the litany of limiting touches to hard surfaces and providing hand sanitizer if possible. She suggested that churches put signs about handwashing and coughing hygiene in bathrooms and on tables. And, as difficult as it would be, let people know that they should stay home if they are sick. She also recommended that meals be served or catered so servers could wear gloves while handling utensils to limit touches to hard surfaces.
City Commissioner Rev. Nate Moody noted that he's been seeing a lot of hostility in people, getting into arguments and hoarding goods. Branson lamented the national failure of not having enough supplies of certain materials, but said that part of the reason Governor Whitmer declared a state of emergency was to help Michigan get supplies more quickly. She said,
"Don't meet hostility with hostility but with compassion and do what you can to calm them: people fear the unknown."
Kelso emphasized the fear behind the hostility:
"People are afraid and want somebody to blame. Let people know there's no one to blame and we're all in this together. Helping people understand that may be enough to calm some people."
Hoganson was the source for the wonderfully clear information at the top of this article about how COVID-19 is transmitted. Her husband is a pastor and she spent 18 years as a missionary in Brazil, so she was very at home talking with a room full of church folk:
"We can't take away the church because it is a stabilizer for people who are anxious. Be creative about how you will supply spiritual support. Divide into groups. Spread people out. No handshaking or hugging. People are going to stay home, so that'll bring numbers down. Clean between services. Make a phone tree and assign people to call the elderly. Put your focus on your most vulnerable people. Meet outside! The virus is heavy and if sneeze or cough droplets fall to the pavement or grass that's safer than if you're indoors."
She gave us good information as to the difference between quarantine and isolation:
Pastors can still visit congregation members. Hoganson told us about the protocol her nurses use. When they call to make an appointment to come to someone's home they ask: Are you sick? Is anyone running a fever? Does anyone have a new cough? If the answer to any of these is yes, they schedule a phone or video meeting. If the answer is no, then the nurse comes to their house, washes their hands before and after the visit, avoids touching surfaces wherever possible, and tries to maintain a safe distance. The focus of the questions is purposely, "Are you sick?" and not "Do you have coronavirus?"
Rev. Julian Guzman asked the question on all our hearts: How long? But there was no answer. Branson noted that things are happening that none of them had ever seen in their careers in public health: closing schools, ordering gatherings of 250 to be cancelled. She said, "We're not getting information daily or hourly, but moment to moment. So keep up with these measures until we hear otherwise."
A pastor asked about their plans for managing the number of available beds in hospitals and Branson reassured us that that working with local hospitals on that is part of their incidence command structure; they are also already at work identifying other places people could use for isolation before shortages happen.
The question about the virus and any danger in handling money was answered with: limit touches, wear gloves, wash hands, encourage online giving.
Hoganson clarified the question of, "Who wears the mask?" A person who is sick wears a simple mask to present passing on their illness. A health care professional wears an N-95 mask that needs to be professionally fitted to protect them from getting ill while their are providing care.
When a pastor asked what people without health insurance should do about getting tested for COVID-19, Branson said that they should go to the emergency room if they are having symptoms, that they will be seen and tested whether they have insurance or not.
We will let Hoganson have the last word:
"There are a whole lot of sheep that need healthy shepherds--so take care of yourselves!"
Rev. Henry McClendon, pastor of the Berean Chapel in Detroit and the Michigan representative of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), had a big day in Grand Rapids on Thursday, February 20, speaking with the Restorative Justice Coalition, C.L.E.A.R., the pastors of G-RAP, and in a panel on “Becoming a Restorative City” that evening. We are grateful that he was able to speak with us about restorative practices and the differences he’s seen those practices make for people in great conflict.
Rev. McClendon worked for many years in prison fellowship, training men to be mentors to those coming out of prison, helping them make the transition back to society. In ten years of doing this, they didn’t have anyone who graduated from their program go back to prison for a serious crime—and many of the returning citizens had been at a high risk for recidivism.
Traditional Model vs. Restorative Practices
To introduce restorative practices to us, McClendon first outlined the current model for what happens when the law is broken. The tradition model asks:
This process is adversarial: the victim and the perpetrator are separated, and the perpetrator is separated from society. It validates the law.
The result of this model in the United States has been incarceration rate of 716 per 100,000 people. The next four countries’ rates are: UK, 147; Portugal, 136; Luxembourg, 122; Canada, 118. In 2016, 36 U.S. states incarcerated more of their citizens than any other country in the world—and Michigan is in that group of 36. Moreover, our country imprisons more of its African American population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
On the other hand, the restorative model asks:
Everyone here means the victim, the offender, and the community. This process is communal. It cares why the offender did what they did. There are formal questions to ask, answer, and there must be a commitment to listen to the answers. Entering this process doesn’t make the harming action less wrong, but it asks what support the offender might need to make sure they don’t do something like this again. McClendon said plainly,
“Warehousing does not hold people accountable.”
The primary aim of restorative practices is “to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and restoring relationships.” He observed that it takes advantage of something basic to human nature:
“People are happier, more productive and cooperative and able to make change when people do things with them, not to or for them.”
First, McClendon pointed out that there’s one bad question to ask, that most parents know is a question that never produces a satisfying answer: “Why did you do that?”
Instead, he encouraged us to use the questions that the IIRP prints on business cards to make them easy to pass out and refer to: “Stick to these and trust me, it’s transformational.”
RESTORATIVE QUESTIONS I
TO RESPOND TO CHALLENGING BEHAVIOR
* What happened?
* What were you thinking at the time?
* What have you thought about since?
* Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
* What do you think you need to do to make things right?
RESTORATIVE QUESTIONS II
TO HELP THOSE HARMED BY OTHERS’ ACTIONS
* What did you think when you realized what had happened?
* What impact has this incident had on you and others?
* What has been the hardest thing for you?
* What do you think needs to happen to make things right?
(Copyright 2016 IIRP Graduate School)
McLendon described one situation where he was brought in, kind of by accident. He’d done a restorative practices training at a school and was dropping by to check in on them when the principal brought him in to the office because sitting there was a girl and a boy who’d gotten into a physical fight, and the parents were on the way. He agreed, and got the parents to agree to the process, although they were “livid.” The kids answered QUESTIONS I; the parents answered QUESTIONS II.
He said that the real difference in the meeting came when each child’s parent answered, “What has been the hardest thing for you?” The girl’s mother said, “The hardest thing for me is I’m afraid for you because you think you can hit boys and what happens when it’s a bigger and a bigger one?” The boy’s stepfather said, “I’m the only father you’ve ever known and you’ve never seen me raise my hand to your mother and the idea of my son doing to a young lady what you did today...” Before going through the process, the parents hadn’t been calm enough to express these deeper fears and emotions.
The result of going through a restorative practice was that the students came up with better solutions to make things right than the standard suspension rules and, as the principal later told McClendon, “the young man grew up in that meeting.” McClendon said, “Don’t waste a crisis. Conflict is an opportunity to build community.”
When asked by one of the pastors how long after a violent offense is this approach effective, McClendon told stories about gang members who’d taken contracts out on each other who are now brothers, and about a woman who went through a restorative process with the man who’d murdered her daughter 14 years earlier who she wound up forgiving and essentially adopting into her family. His preacher voice came out at the end of our time together:
“It’s redemptive. It works. I want everyone to have this opportunity. An open wound we haven’t allowed to heal is a sin. The power of the gospel is what will transform lives. The blood of Christ is sufficient to heal. The world is desperate. We’ve got to be the light. We’ve been given the ministry of reconciliation.”
The IIRP is a graduate school that currently offers a master’s degree, and soon a Ph.D. in restorative practices; you can also take a one-day training to become a certified RP Trainer. Their website, www.iirp.edu, has several free recorded webinars, as well as a store where you can buy the business cards with the questions on them (in English and in Spanish), https://store.iirp.edu/restorative-questions-cards-pack-of-100-english-or-spanish/.
Please put Thursday, March 19, 11:30am – 1:00pm on your calendars for our next meeting.at the NAACP offices at 1530 Madison Ave SE.
(speakers to be determined).
Please contact us if you are a pastor in the Greater Grand Rapids area who is interested in issues of unity, reconciliation, and justice and would like to be on our email list.
On Thursday, January 16, 2020 Allison Farole spoke with the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors (G-RAP). She had been the Grand Rapids Emergency Manager for a few months at that point and, as she said, "This is my first time living in the Midwest, so people keep acting like I'm going to die. But I'm fine."
Farole first came to Grand Rapids for a conference a year ago. She liked the city, but the biggest draw for the position was "the chance to built a program so a city wouldn't have to go through what we went through in Charlottesville."
Before taking the position here, she was the Emergency Services Coordinator during Charlottesville, Virginia's Unite the Right rally and the resulting violence that occurred on August 11-12, 2017. In fact, there was a KKK rally one week into her work there, with Unite the Right five weeks after that. While she managed the disaster response to an Amtrak derailment, plane crash, tornado, major flood, search for a missing person, and a category 5 hurricane, she said that the lessons learned from managing civil unrest "made me who I am today."
Since G-RAP was started in 2015 following civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, we wanted to hear more about those lessons learned. Farole told us:
"In 2017 there were a lot of errors, chief of them the inability to coordinate between state and local police, so they couldn't be on the same page. Communication and coordination are the two keys to managing any emergency, but particularly in civil unrest situations. Moving forward, the state police sent all their deputies to incident command training so they would be using the same language as the city emergency officials. Things were very different after that. In 2018 officials did much more explaining of what their plans were and why they were doing what they were doing. These two Cs made things different--not everyone was happy, but things improved."
Until Farole came on board here, Grand Rapids' emergency services were managed through Kent County, but one of the reasons for creating her position now was because of this federal election year: "We are on the map politically, and we're getting a lot of attention, so the city wanted to make sure we were set with our own preparedness." Her work is done through the Fire Department.
She noted that the city does not have an Emergency Operations Plan, which is a plan that lays out who all the stakeholders and decision makers are and who has what responsibility. The process will take a year, and she said that she'll be contacting pastors over the course of that year, both to get to know our community better, and to understand what resources the churches of Grand Rapids have to offer:
"I want to connect with everyone. I've met with you, with neighborhood associations, with a safety commission. Next is the Red Cross and other backbone organizations and individuals. I want to know when things are happening, to work with you as you see things that happen around the country. But I also want to know what resources you have in your facility to help in a disaster, both during and after. What can you help with? What can I help you with?"
One of the pastors asked her to be specific about the ways that churches can be useful--and unhelpful. She said that the main way that a church can be unhelpful is to respond to the feeling of vulnerability that an emergency can cause by closing its doors and shutting out help.
But there are three things that churches can do to be useful in an emergency:
Farole talked about the four stages of an emergency:
She said that people like to talk a lot about preparedness and response, but that recovery is the stage that lasts the longest and that communities do very little work on ahead of time: "Having a good recovery plan and knowing the resources we have in the community to help us recover are crucial." She wants Grand Rapids to be asking, "What can we be doing now to make sure we can recover?"
One of the pastors noted that people who live in the urban core historically get the short end of the stick in recovery and mitigation after a disaster, particularly because there are more renters than property owners. Farole said that she sees insurance as being key to this issue, more so than the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA); she'd like to see a group insurance policy be developed to make insurance more affordable for renters. She said,
"Housing is the biggest need after a disaster and affordable housing is difficult enough in good times. We need to make sure that every single person has proper insurance because that means people get back on their feet quickly. It might mean working with local insurance companies or rolling is into housing subsidies--we need to figure that out."
Farole also noted that, with shootings happening at churches around the country, the safety and security of our facilities is a concern for pastors. She encouraged us to contact her office and put her expertise to work. For example, she can direct us to grants: FEMA has a Nonprofit Security Grant Program to help nonprofits make changes to their buildings. We can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and (616) 456-3900 ext. 3212.
We are grateful to Allison Farole for taking time out of her schedule to speak with us--we enjoyed hearing about her years in college when she spent time in India, and studied the effects of apartheid on women in South Africa, and orphanages in Tijuana, Mexico. And we look forward to working with her and being useful to the city during emergencies.
At our October 2019 meeting, the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors were pleased to welcome two speakers: Kathi Harris, the Census Coordinator for the City of Grand Rapids, and Alison Colberg, the Director of the Micah Center.
Kathi Harris sees her work with the Census as a natural extension of her work with get-out-the-vote campaigns:
“Everyone has the right to vote and everyone has a right to be counted.”
Her goal is to get 100% of the people in Grand Rapids counted. Ten years ago, they estimated that 75-77% of the population was counted, and she’s determined to “find that other twenty-five percent!” This is important to the community because we get funds for services depending on how many people are in our community.
Harris recognizes that this will be a difficult task because of federal policies and some communities' resulting fears about immigration status and ICE. She was clear that, “there are 9 or 10 questions on the Census and none of them are about citizenship. They’re all just basic information. And it’s against the law for enumerators to share any of your information.”
The city is prepared to do everything it can to address people’s fears. They have four ambassadors who are available to do events—including events at our churches. Her office has already reached out to the African Resource Center and the Hispanic Pastors Association. They have staff who speak multiple languages, and fliers available in many languages. They’ll even translate their fliers to any language you need. Just a couple of weeks after this meeting, an Ambassador came to Grace Church’s food pantry to talk with its patrons about filling out the Census and applying for work.
She also suggested that we encourage our congregation members to apply for jobs with the Census, particularly if they’re from communities who have reason to mistrust or fear the process. People can go to 2020census.gov/jobs to apply. Harris noted that they need assistance centers for people to go to with questions about the Census, and our churches could serve in that way, as well. We would need a trained person and a computer, and we’d be able to set our own hours. If you want to speak with Kathi Harris to schedule an ambassador to come to your church or to a community event your host, or to pursue becoming an assistance center, you can reach her at email@example.com.
Alison Colberg resonated with the conversation about both the difficulties and the necessity of the Census:
“The Census work illustrates why I do what I do—because there are a lot of needs and issues and broken relationships in our community, and the broken relationships prevent us from addressing the needs and issues effectively.”
Colberg has spoken with G-RAP a few times about justice issues, but this time she came to speak about churches around the country that have organized together around specific issues. She told us about Durham Congregations in Action (http://www.dcia.org/) in North Carolina, an interfaith coalition of over 12 congregations that have been working together in areas of hunger, housing, and other unmet community needs since 1969. She told us about East Brooklyn Congregations (http://ebc-iaf.org/), which our own Dr. Tim Harris was part of before he came to Grand Rapids, a coalition of congregations, schools, and homeowners associations that has built 5,000 affordable Nehemiah homes and apartments, opened two public high schools, and funded $5 million in park renovations. And she told us about a group of congregations working together in Metropolitan Houston that has gotten funding from the mayor for workforce development programs.
Each of these three multi-church groups are organizing, raising their own money, and choosing their own issues--they're also part of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) (https://www.industrialareasfoundation.org/). Colberg pointed out that each of these coalitions was crossing lines that divide us both within institutions and in our communities, and that G-RAP does the same. She went on,
"Broad-based organizing crosses these lines and then uses those relationships to mobilize people to act out of their shared interests to address problems in their community. This is more necessary now than ever before. Divisions across our community are bigger, our relational fabric feels like it's tearing and it feels like it's endangering our democracy."
The Micah Center is working with the IAF to help congregations in Grand Rapids explore broad-based organizing. This looks like different things. At some congregations, it looks like relationship development within the institution. At others it looks like leadership development for "regular folks." Colberg said, "We're hoping to create a vehicle for folks to act on what unites us."
She introduced us to two people who have been taking part in these processes. Sue Ellis of Oakdale Park Church described herself as very skeptical about broad-based organizing, so she started with one-on-one conversations with people in her congregation. That created so much energy that it led her to calling house meetings and speaking to the consistory (governing board) of her church. Because of the relationships they'd built through that process, the consistory came to the Micah Center to help them take next steps.
Alvaro Gonzalez told us about a friend of his who had been in the U.S. for 20 years and who was deported on his way to work one day--leaving his child waiting alone in a school parking lot for a father who was not coming. Gonzalez said,
"I wanted to be obedient to the government because I thought it was what God wanted me to do, to be quiet, but God does not joy in unjustice. Development of leadership is a big deal. I did not go to college, but here I am talking to the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors. I want to see more of this in my community."
Colberg invited the pastors of G-RAP to become part of the broad-based organizing conversation--literally. At base, it is a relationship building process: "We help congregations talk within themselves and with each other. We help them figure out how to address issues outside of charity programs. This is organizing as a way to reinvigorate trust in institutions." She noted that the biggest hurdle is patience. Relationship building takes time, especially if trust has been broken in the past.
The Micah Center does regular free trainings that are available in English and in Spanish. There was one on November 8-9, 2019, and another on February 18, 2020. Watch their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TheMicahCenter/) for the next one, or if you're not on Facebook, contact us and we'll put you in touch with Ms. Colberg.
This event happened in our own Grand Rapids community this past week: Rabbi Michael Schadick arrived at Temple Emanuel Sunday morning around 8 a.m. and found threatening and disturbing posters at the synagogue. One had a picture of Hitler with the words, "Did you forget about me?" The other read, "A crusade against Semite led subhumans." The posters were credited to the Vorherrschaft Division, an extremist neo-Nazi group.
As pastors of the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors, we condemn this evil, cowardly action and all hatred of its kind. The data shows that we are experiencing an explosion in incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League has reported that acts of anti-Semitism are at historically high levels. We all remember with horror the events of April 27, 2019, when an anti-Semite brutally attacked congregants and the rabbi of Chabad of Poway synagogue with an assault rifle. We remember the Pittsburgh synagogue rampage, killing 11 worshippers. We remember the Charlottesville rally where neo-Nazis chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
We believe that as Christian leaders we have a moral obligation to vocally condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms. Moreover, the command to love God and neighbor precludes anti-Semitism. A Christian cannot in good conscience do either of those things and be racist and anti-Semitic. Both of our faiths confess that all persons are made in the image of God and we cannot love our neighbor if we hate them and spread lies about them.
We need to stand with and stand up for our Jewish neighbors, learn from them, and show solidarity with them. Remaining silent is not an option. Please pray for the Temple Emanuel congregation in your services Sunday.