The Grand Rapids Association of Pastors met on January 17, 2019 at Oakdale Park Church to talk with Pastor Nate Moody and others about what we can do as a diverse group of pastors in the aftermath of the racist and threatening phone calls and emails sent to Brown Hutcherson Ministries and Brown Funeral Home last year.
Rev. Emmett Harrison, senior pastor of Oakdale and member of the G-RAP Executive Team, opened the meeting. He noted that there had been a cross-denominational meeting of pastors at Calvin Seminary on December 13, 2018 to begin talking about how those calls have affected Pastor Moody's church and other churches in town. This meeting was our chance to be more focused on what we can do next. Rev. Harrison said,
"The composition of this group is positive in and of itself. We've made some ground as far as unity goes. But what we ought to do now in response to this issue in places of worship and as leaders of faith?"
Rev. Nate Moody led the remainder of the meeting. His first plea was for prayer for the young man who left those messages:
"Pray for Todd Jamison. Pray for him because I don't think he understands the impact of what's taken place. Pray for him because he, too, needs to be ministered to. Sometimes we do things out of anger and frustration and our pasts come out. I think that's what happened to him. I don't want to see him go to prison, but I want him to understand the impact of what's happened here and around the country."
Rev. Moody also asked for prayer for him and his ministers, staff, and congregation at Brown Hutcherson and the staff at the funeral home.
"This opened a door for me and for us to minister and to talk about the disparities that exist for us as ministers. I'm glad it happened to me because it gives us a chance to minister and to talk about our divide. One of the biggest issues that we have is that you as white clergy have to be willing to talk about these issues in your churches."
He noted that he knows some white clergy have to be careful about what they say in their congregation, but that he doesn't have that choice. He said, "When you look at history, the Christian church supported lunching because the pastors did not submit themselves to the Word of God--we cannot have that today."
The threats also served as an unexpected connection point. Rev. Moody said that he's talked with people from white churches that have received threatening phone calls from other white people. They didn't make the news, but it made him feel like we're in this together--it could be any of our churches next, because people get angry at churches.
Brown Hutcherson is having varying reactions to what happened. The staff is afraid. Senior members who moved to Michigan from the South "took a fright." Younger members are angry and prepared to defend themselves.
Pastor John Matias, a minister at Brown Hutcherson and member of G-RAP's Executive Team, told us of his experience:
"As a minister at BHM, I talked with members frightened for their kids, themselves, and our broader community, and after praying about what should be our response, after asking the question, 'What is God doing here?' I had a vision of a combined service. God is giving us a unique opportunity to come together and to practice being one and to live and to breathe that we are one. It's time to talk about this with our leadership and with our congregations."
So what can G-RAP do?
The discussion crystallized into four possibilities that the group will continue to discuss:
1. Citywide unity worship service
2. Every church mention BHM and Todd Jamison in their prayers for a month.
3. A citywide unity march
4. Each pastor commit to meeting a pastor who isn't of your tradition or background for lunch, breakfast, or coffee before summer
Rev. Jack Kooreman noted that this desire for unity, this pull to be together as pastors and act as one during times of racial strife were exactly why G-RAP was started in 2015. Several people at the meeting reiterated Rev. Moody and Rev. Matias's words: this is an opportunity.
Rev. Moody invited Rev. Byron Salguero of Mision de Fe Church to pray for Todd Jamison, and asked Rev. Colleen Squires of All Souls Community Church to close the meeting with prayer.
In many ways, this meeting beautifully demonstrated who we are as a group: we were led by African American, Hispanic, and white pastors of very different denominations as we sought to not only understand the experience of BHM's pastors and members, but also to forge a path towards action, towards showing our city what it can look like when pastors and congregations come together with common purpose for the glory of our common Lord.