The Grand Rapids Association of Pastors opened their 2023-2024 meeting season at City Life Church with presentations by Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington, Deputy City Manager Kate Belens, and Office of Oversight and Public Accountability Director Brandon Davis. We were grateful that he brought his assistant, Assante Cain, to run the technology!
Rev. Dr. Willie Gholston opened the meeting and introduced Washington as a "colleague and a brother," which is literal -- they are both ordained pastors in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Gholston expressed his gratitude to Washington for the work that he's done in the city, and for bringing his team.
When Washington took the floor, he recognized Commissioner Joe Jones, now senior pastor at Brown Hutcherson Ministries, for calling him back in 2018 when Washington was considering coming to Grand Rapids, and telling him this was a good place to be.
Washington spoke to the twenty-five gathered pastors:
"Thank you for all you do in the body of Christ, and in the community. We find ourselves in the need for prayer, and also in the need for partnership.
He is glad that Grand Rapids has a strong history of partnering with faith-based groups, most recently in the establishment of a warming center at Crossroads Church for unhoused people. But even while we were talking, he had an insight into how the city can do better: develop a faith-based component to the next neighborhood assessment. In the 2023 Neighborhood Summit, his office engaged with 357 attendees in 21 breakout sessions all over the city -- but none of the pastors had heard of the initiative.
Washington touted a number of programs and statistics:
He said, "Grand Rapids is a hidden jewel -- I don't want to keep it hidden. The world is starting to see this as a great place to work, to live. Of course, we have our issues." Deputy City Manager Kate Belens spoke about one of those issues: unhoused people.
Belens noted that the city addresses this issue in three main ways: through facilities, services, and enforcement. While the city invests in facilities that assist the unhoused with temporary housing, and has a dedicated and trained Homeless Outreach Team, she recognized that the enforcement side usually gets the most press. In the last year they did clarify already-existing nuisance and disorderly conduct codes, detailing what kinds of behaviors rise to the level of an enforceable misdemeanor. The definition of loitering now specifies being in a doorway without a purpose. And accosting is defined as repeated approach in a way you can't easily remove yourself from or you feel puts you at risk. They also specified how much personal property a person can have in a public place, and laid out rules for how the city can remove and store belongings, and how a person can get those belongings back.
Both Washington and Belens said that the city works on facilities, services, and enforcement, and focuses on enforcement from a public safety perspective, because, as Washington said, "We want to make this a community where everyone can be."
Washington spoke about how much the city has learned through the aftermath of the shooting of Patrick Lyoya by Officer Christopher Shurr in July, 2022. In particular, how much they learned about the African community in Grand Rapids.
Brandon Davis said that it is the role of the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability to recognize and address the breakdown of trust between the community and city officials, including the Grand Rapids Police Department. He noted that, "You can't build with trust on a rocky foundation." One of the OPA's roles is to look at policy with an eye to equity, identifying laws that were created to be disparaging to certain communities, and seeking to make them equitable. He highlighted the year-round expungement service the city now runs, helping eligible people get their record of criminal convictions erased.
Washington spoke to the tension that can exist between public safety and civil rights, and highlighted that tension with the city's new drone policy. He's looking forward to using drones to help existing staff get eyes on a troubled situation quickly, but recognizes that this brings with it fears of civil rights violations and discrimination.
The pastors asked all three officials to answer the same two questions. What weighs heavily you about your job? What is the most encouraging thing pastors could to do address that?
The city manager said that crime and violence prevention is what weighs heavily on him. He'd love to see pastors help the city engage families to build relationships -- between each other, their neighborhoods, their wider city. When he went to South Korea this year, he said it was eye-opening to see the lack of poverty and crime, largely because of huge investment in community-building.
Davis said that sharing truth and countering misinformation weighs on him, and his answer was the same as Washington's: pastors can help him connect, engage, and build relationships with people in the city.
What weighs heavily on Belens is whether she is pushing herself hard enough to move the systems that keep people in poverty. She'd love to know that faith-based organizations are challenging their members to do all they can to effect change.
Our question time included conversations about churches ministering to unhoused people downtown, reckless driving by motorcycles, and sustainability efforts by both the city and churches. The last question made Washington realize that the city has been engaging businesses and neighborhoods on issues of sustainability, but not faith-based organizations.
Washington detailed three takeaways from our meeting, and emphasized that he'd like to come back to G-RAP to do more listening than talking.
We are grateful to Rev. Christy Lipscomb for hosting us at City Life Church.
Instead of moving around from church to church for our meetings this year, we are going to have all our meetings at the same time and place: the third Thursday at 11:30am at City Life Church (574 Division Ave. S.). Except this month! We are welcoming City Manager Mark Washington back for a listening session, Thursday October 26, 1:30am - 1:00pm. If you are a pastor in Grand Rapids who is passionate about justice, please come to a meeting! Click here to RSVP or learn more.
**Image from a screen capture due to bad photos at the event.
The Grand Rapids Association of Pastors met on Friday, June 9 at City Life Church -- our first ever Friday meeting. It was a pleasure to get back to our pre-COVID habit of eating lunch together. Rev. Jack Kooreman reminded those gathered of how G-RAP started in 2015 after the events in Ferguson, MO with a diverse group of pastors who met together to address issues of justice and unity in the Grand Rapids community. We often talk about denominational and racial diversity, but this meeting also demonstrated the occupational diversity of ordained people. There were senior pastors, chaplains, counselors; leaders in non-profit organizations addressing homelessness, environmental issues, and families in crisis; a clinical ethicist for a hospital system; and the manager of diversity and inclusion for a major corporation.
Farewell Father Brocato
Before moving to the official business of the day, we said farewell to Father Christian Brocato, Rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church. He has come faithfully to almost every G-RAP meeting, hosted lunch meetings, and showed up to pray whenever we put out the call. He is moving to Philadelphia and we wish him much joy as he lives close to his family again.
Tenisa Frye, the brand new CEO of Family Promise of West Michigan, told us about the vital role congregations play in their work of helping families get free from the cycles of poverty and homelessness. Local churches can act as a host congregation or a support congregation. Host congregations dedicate some of their building space to give a family emergency shelter for a week. Family Promise provides the furnishings, but the congregation supplies meals. Support congregations come alongside the hosts to assist with meals. The family will rotate through the host churches until permanent housing is available. Frye said they started with 12 churches in 1997; now they have 40.
There are a number of other ways they help families with housing, including partnering with Mel Trotter, giving families a title to a mobile home, and acting as the lessor and subleasing to a family. In addition, they work to give families the financial planning, career preparation, and mental health tools they need to prevent them from returning to homelessness.
Congresswoman Hilary Scholten
The main event of this meeting was to hear from Congresswoman Hilary Scholten. Scholten previously spoke with G-RAP in November 2018 when she was an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC): Busting Myths and Leaning into Local Issues About Immigration. This time, she described what propelled her to the U.S. House of Representatives.
"If you would've told me I'd be the first woman in history to represent West Michigan, I wouldn't have believed you. Growing up in somewhat conservative West Michigan, I didn't know a Democrat until I was a senior in high school."
She described her parents as being "deeply service oriented." Her mother was a public school teacher and her father a local sports reporter who made his job more about seeing people and telling their stories than about reciting scores. Scholten took that service orientation and became a social worker and then an attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. After 2016, when her work at the Department of Justice meant having to participate in family separations at the southern border, and the Muslim travel ban, she left: "I made an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, so I left the job I wanted more than anything else." Her family moved back to Grand Rapids and she worked at the MIRC with immigrants who were impacted by the policies that prompted her leave Washington D.C.
Scholten persevered after her loss in her first run for Congress and won in 2022. She said, "In hindsight it's easy to see the path God was calling me to, but at the time, it was tough." She went to Washington hoping to be a leader who can put partisanship aside. Within six months, she's been able to introduce a bipartisan immigration bill sponsored by three Republican women and three Democratic women: "It isn't perfect, but we showed that we can agree, even in an environment with such division."
Question and Answer Time
In response to a question about the lane she sees for common-sense environmental policy, she detailed her determination to get a committee assignment that would allow her serve the environmental needs of her district, which runs from Grand Rapids along the Grand River to Muskegon and Grand Haven. She was one of 5 freshmen selected for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (out of 50 who applied), where she serves on the Water Subcommittee. Here, she's hoping to work on alternative energy, while "gently and enthusiastically learning to push back" against colleagues when they go "too far."
One of the pastors asked Scholten to address the issue of a southern border wall. She began by noting that she's been working on immigration from a variety of angles since college, including enforcement, and she says she knows there are border security issues. To people who say there aren't, she responds, "Twenty-four thousand human trafficking victims a year disagree." But she notes that, "A wall sounds wonderful and is an immediate response, but it is not the best or most effective way to address the problems." She told us that no material they could build the wall with lasts more than ten years, so by the time they finish building where they physically can, the earliest sections are degrading and crumbling and they have to begin all over again. She'd rather harness people power and technology, the latter via drone support.
When asked what she didn't know when she started in Congress that she wish she had, she said, "Always keep snacks in your bag because there's no time for lunch!" The best advice she received was from a mentor who also had children: "The kids are going to be alright." Speaking of the kids, young people are what give her hope -- young people who worked on her campaign, high school groups she meets with.
She is proud of what her office has been able to get done, especially returning over $7 million back to her constituents via tax benefits and retirement credits. They hold Funding Fridays calls every week to talk about grant opportunities for people in her district. She says, "Even if there's gridlock in Congress, we're doing good work in the district, with caseworkers out there all the time."
We were grateful that Congresswoman Scholten took time out of her schedule to talk with us. As we always do with our guests, we closed the meeting by praying for her, her family, and her work.
We typically take July and August off from regular meetings, but change may be afoot. If you are a pastor in the Grand Rapids area who is passionate about justice issues and you do not receive emails from us, please send a message to email@example.com and we will make sure you get on the list.
To everything there is a time and a season. This is a time for anger.
We, ministers of Christian churches in Grand Rapids, call for accountability for the killing of Patrick Lyoya. Black residents of Grand Rapids, and all people of color in this community, need to feel safe. To that end, actions must be taken. We stand with our colleagues in the Black Clergy Coalition, and echo the NAACP, the ACLU, Urban Core Collective, A Glimpse of Africa, and other leaders who represent those most impacted by this incident in the following:
Prophetic voices in our community have been crying out for change in the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) for decades. We hear in these prophetic calls to action the declaration that each person is created in God’s image. We recognize the call of the scriptures to do justice without showing favoritism. And we see the ministry of Jesus, who was and is not only a reconciler of humanity, but is also the coming judge to set things right.
These prophetic voices cried out for change when Black boys were threatened with GRPD guns while walking home from playing basketball at the Kroc Center.
These prophetic voices cried out for change when evidence showed clearly that Black motorists are twice as likely to be pulled over by the GRPD.
These prophetic voices cried out for change when 11-year-old Honestie Hodges had a gun pointed at her, and was then handcuffed by GRPD in her backyard.
These prophetic voices cried out for change when Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a U.S. citizen who was carrying multiple forms of identification, was given over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the GRPD.
The death of Patrick Lyoya has devastated families – most acutely his parents and the many members of the Congolese community and other immigrants from Africa. It has also devastated every person who watched the video of Patrick’s death and understood that blackness itself is considered a threat. Too often it is, itself, a death sentence.
Yes, this is a time for anger. Our anger is appropriate, it is justified, and it is even holy. This anger is rooted in our deep belief in the dignity, the image of God, that dwelled in Patrick Lyoya. It is anger that is rooted in our ongoing belief in the dignity, the image of God, that dwells in Officer Schurr. It is anger that comes from admitting that we have created, accepted, perpetuated a system that trains an officer to discern that his best choice in that moment was to reach for his gun and pull the trigger.
The gospel of Jesus calls us to work against racism. We commit to being agents of change in any system that makes this community less safe for Black and brown people -- for as long as it takes to see change come. We commit to this over the long-term. For the short-term, we join with other organizations in Grand Rapids to call for the five points above. That is how our government can bear witness to the humanity and dignity of Patrick Lyoya.
If you are a Christian pastor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and you would like
to add your name to this statement, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Katherine Lee Baker (Reformed Church in America)
Bishop Dr. Eric L. Barnes, Sr., Royal Priesthood Ministries Full Life Center
Apostle Dr. Lisa Marie Barnes, Royal Priesthood Ministries Full Life Center
Jay Blankespoor, Boston Square Christian Reformed Church
Joy Bonnema, Madison Church
Rev. Nancy Boote
Rev. Joyce Borger
The Rev. Dr. Christian Brocato, Rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Benjamin Bruins, Trinity Reformed Church
Rev. Kelly Buist, Calvin Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Sarah VanZetten Bruins, Trinity Reformed Church
Rev. Jerome Burton
Pastor Randy Buursma First CRC
Fr. Mike Cruickshank, Cathedral of Saint Andrew
Rev. Jen Holmes Curran, Sherman Street CRC
Rev. Tony Holmes Curran, Sherman Street Church
Rev. Chris DeBlaay
Rev Cindy de Jong, Neland Ave CRC
Joanna DeMoor-Tannor, Executive Director, Madison Church
Rev Joel DeMoor, Neland Avenue CRC
Pastor Paul DeVries
Rev. Andrea DeWard, Reformed Church in America
Rev. Dr. Royce A. Evans Grand Rapids Theological Seminary of Cornerstone University
Rev. Eula C. Gaddis, DMin
Rev. Eula C. Gaddis, DMin, The Prince of Peace MBC
Willie A. Gholston II, First Community AME Church
Laurie Hartzell, Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Muskegon
Rev. Tisa Herbert, The EDGE Urban Church
Rev. Rebecca Jordan Heys, Calvin Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Al Heystek, United Church of Christ
Pastor Kenneth W. Hoskins, Alpha Omega Ministries
Pastor James Jones, Oakdale Park Church
Duane Kelderman, Neland Ave Christian Reformed Church
Pastor Brad and Christy Knetsch, Madison Church: Franklin Campus
Rev. Jack Kooreman, Pastor Emeritus Grace Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster, Grace Christian Reformed Church
Rev. Deb Koster, Christian Reformed Church
Matthew Laidlaw, Open Circle
Pastor Kristi Lewis (Madison Church-Square Campus)
Rev. Adam Lipscomb, City Life Church
Rev. Christy Lipscomb, City Life Church
Rev. Deborah J. McCreary, Eastminster Presbyterian Church
Rev. Andrew Mead, Church of the Servant CRC
Rev. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap
Pastor Samuel Moffett
Rev. John Mondi, Pr. African Community Fellowship Church
Al Mulder, CRC Minister Emeritus
Rev. Dr. Julie Nemecek, retired Baptist minister
Rev. Daniel Nguyen, Vietnamese United Methodist Church
Rev. Dr. Mara Joy Norden, The Community Church in Ada, MI
Rev. Ruth Bell Olsson
The Rev. Nurya Love Parish
Rev. Jen Porter, Westminster Presbyterian
Rev. Anna Radcliffe, City Chapel
Rev. Ronald Radcliffe, City Chapel
Rev. Adam Rodeheaver-Van Gelder, First CRC
Tala Sakala - Madison Square CRC Franklin Campus
Rev. Byron O. Salguero
Pastor Amy Schenkel
Pastor Paula Seales, Madison Square Church
Reginald Smith, Director of Diversity, CRCNA
Rev. Stedford Sims, New Beginning Church
Rev. Lynette Sparks, Westminster Presbyterian
Rev. Colleen Squires, All Souls UU
Garrett Stier, City Chapel
Josiah Stryd, Coit Community Church
Chaplain JoAnn Swart
Pastor Peter TeWinkle, Oakdale Park Church
Urban Family Ministries
Rev Elizabeth Vander Hagen, Boston Square Christian Reformed Church
Rod Van Solkema
Rev. Andrew Vanover
Colin P. Watson, Sr., Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church of North America
Rev. Dr. David Wheeler, United Church of Christ, retired
Lori Wiersma, Classis Grand Rapids East Racial Justice team
Pastor Darren C. Williamson, Living Word Ministries
Patrick Lyoya was a 26-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who had moved to Grand Rapids in about 2015. He was shot and killed by a GRPD officer on the morning of April 4, near the intersection of Griggs and Nelson SE.
There has been very limited information supplied by the GRPD to date. GRPD has said that the initial traffic stop occurred because of a license plate discrepancy. They are saying that after the stop, Patrick Lyoya fled, and a chase and altercation followed. During the altercation, the body camera was dislodged and the officer’s gun discharged, killing Patrick.
There is dashboard camera footage of the event, and this footage has been viewed by the family and by their pastor who also serves as their interpreter. There is also reportedly a cellphone video taken by a witness, whose phone was taken by police. City Manager Mark Washington has said that he anticipates that body-worn camera, in-car video, doorbell camera, and cellphone videos will be released this week.
The family’s account of what appears on the video disputes the GRPD’s version of the events. Patrick’s father, Peter Lyoya said (through his interpreter), “Patrick’s hands were on the back. (The officer) took the gun and put it on the head and they shoot Patrick on the back of the head.” Patrick’s pastor and the family’s interpreter, Israel Siku, who also viewed the video, said at a community forum at Renaissance Church of God in Christ that Patrick was on the ground, the officer had his knees on him, and the officer pulled his gun and shot him the back of his head, killing him.
Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom has said the video of the incident will be released by Friday at noon. We don’t know exactly when it will be released. The release of the video will almost certainly bring an outcry, potentially even nationally. The expectation is that there will be continuing demonstrations, of which we as the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors will be a part. Many of you have already been involved in protests and in the community forum on Sunday.
The hope of G-RAP is that area pastors will come alongside and stand with the Lyoya family. The Coalition of Black Pastors has been advocating for justice and should serve as leaders for us during this time. We invite all participants of G-RAP to stand together with them, demanding the release of all information, full transparency and justice for Patrick and his family.
As you hear of opportunities to be engaged, please forward all information to Natalie Hart, the Administrator of G-RAP, who serves in Grace Church. The phone number at Grace is (616) 452-8920. Her email is email@example.com.
We will continue to keep you informed of opportunities to bear public witness to this tragedy and the need for transparency and accountability.
Please be in prayer for our city during what will be very difficult days.
G-RAP is coming back! On Thursday, July 1 we met in person for lunch at Grace Christian Reformed Church, our first in-person meeting since February, 2020. We are grateful to the scientists and the public health professionals who made the COVID-19 vaccine rollout such a success in Grand Rapids, and enabled this safe re-opening.
This meeting came about after our Executive Team member, Pastor Jack Kooreman, spoke with Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne during a weekend that included a massive outdoor gathering that devolved into over 100 gun shots fired; three people were injured, and at least one shot found its way into an area hotel. After that conversation, Chief.Payne asked to speak with the pastors of G-RAP about the issues the police department is facing, and how they are trying to address violence in the city.
Chief Payne began with an apology for how the GRPD used to do policing. He noted that there used to be a lot of collateral damage in the neighborhoods after a crime, that community members not involved with the crime would get swept up by the heavy post-crime police presence for things like a tail light out. He said, "We don't do that anymore."
Instead, they re-structured their policing model, from the community policing model that was put in place in the 1990s, to neighborhood policing. Using this model, they have taken over 200 illegal guns off the streets this year.
They are working with over 100 fewer officers than the GRPD had in the late 1990s. Then, they were able to have one officer assigned solely to dealing with abandoned cars. Now, there are fewer than 300 sworn officers, 22 working the day shift and 25 working the night shift.
As they did last summer, they have partnered with the Michigan State Police to use their helicopter on targeted weekends. He noted that the use of that helicopter has been controversial, but Chief Payne insisted, "It's great to have an eye in the sky when you're going after guns. I don't want a repeat of last year with 38 homicides."
There is technology the Chief is interested in exploring: "Drones are less intrusive than helicopters, but some are against it." He's also interested in a gunshot alert system called Shot Spotter, but there has not been city support for it.
Payne is looking forward to working with Cure Violence: "I'm an advocate. I want to try it." He's impressed with the success they've had in Chicago and hopes they have similar success here with training neighborhood members in how to interrupt violence, because, as he said, "Law enforcement alone cannot solve this."
Longtime members of G-RAP will remember that we've been hearing about this potential partnership with Cure Violence since our May 2018 meeting: A Bridge Between the Community and the Police: Grand Rapids and the Cure Violence Model. This year, the city started to look for a local organization to lead the initiative. The deadline for that application was last month, so hopefully the matter will come up before the city commission soon. For more information about this group, go here: https://cvg.org/.
He'd hoped that the city youth employment program, Grow 1000, could have served as a violence prevention tool, but only 400 youth signed up for the program this summer.
As always, Chief Payne wants to work with local clergy. Clergy on Patrol is a new program wherein a clergy member commits to 5 hours of riding along with an officer every month. If you are interested in participating as they expand the program, contact us.
In spite of their efforts at prevention, crime is up all over the city. Calls for shootings are up 35% from last year, and stolen vehicles calls are up 40%. There have been several large outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people that police have had to break up multiple times a night, some of which have resulted in shootings and/or vehicle accidents.
Motorcycle riders have become increasingly brazen, gathering in rides of up to 50 bikes on local streets, disrupting traffic, riding on sidewalks, racing, and running red lights. This is a frustrating situation for the department because their policy on high speed pursuit means that they do not pursue for traffic violations. Despite a lot of discussion, they have not figured out a way to address this without also endangering law-abiding drivers.
The Chief scrolled through one night's worth of calls and noted that officers often have 20 calls waiting for them to work through at any given time during a shift, which has meant that response times can be very slow.
Chief Payne reminded the pastors that the city charter may require a minimum of 32% of the general fund to go to policing, but "that fund is smaller than it used to be."
The pastors asked about service calls the police could offload, such as mental health calls. Payne spoke about the pilot program they have with Network 180 to go on those calls together, "but that's a call we should never have to go on. We train our officers in crisis intervention, but we have no training or resources for follow-up. Now the people go to jail or to the hospital. Where's the follow-up?"
Despite the success of their long partnerships with the Boys and Girls Club (83 years) and CLEAR (an organization that provides support for returning citizens), they may have to revisit having officers assigned there so they can have more officers available for patrol. He said, "Patrol and investigation is the core of what we do. But it's crucial to have officers positively involved with kids." He highlighted the work of Officer Derek Learned, who is assigned at the Steil Center Boys and Girls Club. Officer Learned noticed that some teens were having a hard time with employment because of bus routes and schedules; he connected with Century Driving School to get them driver's training and will help them get their driver's license. Chief Payne doesn't like the idea of losing these "feel-good stories," but is prepared to.
As the summer goes on, Chief Payne will continue meeting with community partners. GRPD officers are participating in the On Base program run, now, by the Parks and Recreation Department, teaching kids how to play baseball and taking them to a White Caps game. Payne will request resources from outside law enforcement agencies, which will likely include those helicopters again--"I don't want to, but we needed them last year." He will ask neighbors to hold each other accountable.
There are a number of ways pastors and churches can get involved and work on having a relationship with the GRPD:
We ended the meeting as we always do: in prayer for our speaker and for our city.
While we do not have plans for an August meeting, we will likely be back to monthly in-person meetings this fall. If you are a Grand Rapids pastor interested in issues of justice and unity and you are not on our email newsletter, please let us know. We'd love to add you and keep you informed.
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!