The first GRAP meeting after our summer hiatus presented a unique opportunity: one of our founding pastors, and member of the Executive Team, Rev. Nathaniel Moody, is now the Grand Rapids City Commissioner for the Third Ward. He was our guest on September 20, speaking with us from his perspective as a pastor and a city official.
In case anyone there was uncomfortable with a pastor talking politics, he laid out his point of view: "Some say politics is the devil's work, but if Christians don't get into it, how are we going to keep the devil out?"
Many of the issues he spoke about stemmed from inequality--both of opportunity and of economic impact. In terms of housing, he said,
"The city of Grand Rapids is doing a whole lot of changing in terms of housing and in terms of business and economics. It's a housing crisis to some and a housing boom to others. People are displaced because they don't have economic opportunities to stay in the place they've lived for many years."
For the Third Ward in particular, he noted that it has received less funding than the First and Second Wards, and that businesses there are not booming the way businesses in the other two wards are. When asked why this was, he said,
"The more I see the big picture, the more I see it goes both ways. Some of that is bias--we have to call that out. But some of that is not enough people in the Third Ward advocating for what they want. People have to demand action, as well as their commissioners. Neighborhood Associations are really important. When they know what they want, and show up at meetings, then they are very powerful in the city. We want to see the funds go to things that are concrete, not just another event, so businesses grow and startups take place."
He also noted that pastors carry a lot of weight in City Hall:
"Grand Rapids still looks for pastoral leadership--we're not using it as effectively as we should. When GRAP got involved with the police unions, they took a look at their policies. We took the summer off, and now [negative] things are happening again. Our voice is important. Write letters, make phone calls, attend meetings, talk about what the people in your church are dealing with. You've got more power to make change than you know."
Rev. Dale Dalman encouraged pastors to take action, as well: "I've met with with Mayor of Kentwood and the Chief of Police in Walker about experiences of my people and I was the first pastor who'd ever called them. We heard the stories, and we need to pass them on."
Rev. Moody sees one of his roles on the City Commission as pointing out how connected the wards are, both in terms of decisions that have negative consequences for some parts of the city, and in demonstrating how increased economic opportunity in the Third Ward can positively affect other wards, particularly in those business districts that straddle two wards.
There are some thorny issues coming up for the City Commission. He spoke about zoning decisions regarding medical marijuana facilities in the city, as well as the upcoming state-wide vote about legalizing recreational marijuana. He said, "It'll be big business--people are coming in from all over to open marijuana businesses in Grand Rapids. A lot of people are going to take advantage of this big money, and we want to make that Grand Rapids people get in on the ground floor. And, of course, other people don't want it here at all." This tension was apparent at our meeting, as well, with one pastor sharing Network 180's Board of Directors' statement against legalizing it, and other pastors speaking about the difficulties of young people who wind up with a felony record because of marijuana use, and the benefits of the drug for those with chronic pain.
He also updated us on decisions about how to spend the five-million-dollar, 5-year community development grant: "They're waiting for us [the community] to say what we want." (To read about our earlier meeting regarding these funds, click here.) There are different proposals on the table. The police department is hosting Policing at the Speed of Trust listening and discussion sessions. The first one was held on June 27, and some of our pastors participated in those. On the Facebook page for that meeting, the department says: "This will be an ongoing opportunity for community members since all 295 GRPD officers will eventually participate in a session. Therefore, even if you are not able to make this opportunity, please reply to TrustGRPD@grcity.us with your interest in a future session." Moody noted that there are other local organizations, such as the Cultural Intelligence Center in Grand Rapids, that could lead initiatives, as well.
While there are no easy answers to issues like these, Rev. Moody called on the pastors to make their voices heard, to tell the stories they are privileged to hear, to partner with organizations that are open to community input, and to pray for city officials. He also invited us to email him at his new city address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to Dr. Tim Harris and Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church for hosting us in September. Our next meeting is on Thursday, October 18, at 11:30am, place and speaker(s) to be determined. We also extend hearty congratulations to Rev. Robert Dean for his 50 years of preaching, 44 years of marriage, and 38 years of ministry at New Life Church of God in Christ!
Please note these two upcoming events regarding justice and urban ministry in Grand Rapids:
Saturday, October 13 * 9am - 4pm * 2nd Annual West Michigan Restorative Justice Conference * Explore how Hope, Healing, and Radical Reconciliation is possible—and restorative justice attainable—for those affected by incarceration. Lunch will be provided, and attendees will have time to visit booths of local organizations and non-profits to see how they contribute to restorative justice efforts in the state. For example, the Civitas Lab will feature a new application they created consisting of an interactive map of re-entry resources provided for those affected by incarceration. Speakers include Dr. Nicholas Woltersdorff, Father David Kelly, and Rev. Dominique Gilliard. * This conference at Calvin College is free, though registration is required. Click here to register and to get more information.
Tuesday, October 16 * 7pm * 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Urban Cohort Program * Join Grand Rapids Theological Seminary at Cornerstone University's Christ Chapel for an evening of worship and gratitude for what God is doing through this decade-long blessing. This commemorative night features a keynote address from Dr. Charlie Dates, senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill.; incredible music; recognition of Urban Cohort participants; and a reunion reception. This is a free event, but tickets are required. This event has reserved seating, allowing you to select the location of your seat(s). Click here to register and to get more information. At Christ Chapel at Cornerstone University, 1001 East Beltline Avenue NE.