On November 17, we gathered at City Life Church on Division SE to talk about how our congregations were faring after the election, and to explore our public response as faith leaders. The key question we considered together: What is most important for us to say, to do, and to be?
Our table conversations were shaped by the practice of restorative circles: for each table, there was a "talking pen," and whoever held the pen was the only person talking. When each person had answered the question at hand, the pen was passed to the next person without discussion until everyone had spoken. It was a simple and effective way to ensure that everyone had a chance to be heard.
After several times round each circle, the discussion was opened up and we shared what we'd talked about at our tables. The three most often mentioned responses:*
1. The church should not be afraid to be prophetic: "We have to risk raising the prophetic voice."
2. The church should stand with the vulnerable: "Whatever else we do, we have to stand for those who are most vulnerable to injustice."
3. The church must do something, and not "wait and see."
Many options were suggested, from statements to sign to 100 days of prayer to yard signs for our church buildings. The Executive Committee, Rev. Jack Kooreman, Rev. Nathaniel Moody, and Rev. Angel Ortiz, plus Rev. Kate Kooyman, are meeting to pray over and debate all the options. They are still taking suggestions and comments, so if you were not at the meeting and you have something to contribute, please let us know. We do not meet in December, so there is time before our next meeting in January to make your voice heard.
It was clear that our churches are hurting. One pastor spoke of intending to have one moment for a prayer of lament in the Sunday service after the election, but it turned into a service-long pouring out of the people's pain. A pastor of a majority-Hispanic church begged for people to reach out to the Hispanic community in Grand Rapids; he said that his church already tends to isolate itself, and after the election rhetoric of mass deportations and blame of immigrants and refugees for the ills of society, they could retreat even further. Other pastors spoke of their struggles in politically and racially mixed congregations, where their people were both angry at each other and walking on eggshells.
It was also clear that we draw strength from the Lord. A number of pastors spoke to the need to remind people that God is in charge. One pastor spoke about how the baptismal promise they make in their church informs everything they do: "We promise to strive towards justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of all made in the image of God." As always, the pastors pointed to prayer as the right response, no matter what the question is: "We need to pray because we're all suffering separately and being face-to-face means we suffer together."
The Grand Rapids Association of Pastors will continue to work toward unity, reconciliation, and justice. Please let us know what you'd like to see us do in response to the election and the current cultural climate.
We pray for you, our pastors, that you will experience miraculous moments of joy and peace as you lead us in this very, very busy church season. We will see you again on January 19 at 11:30am (location to be determined).
* I chose not to quote pastors by name so as to not inhibit their ability to speak freely.