For our final meeting of the 2018-2019 season, we gathered at a new-to-us space: St. Mark's Episcopal Church. It was new to us, but not at all new to Grand Rapids--it has been a downtown presence since 1836. Its Deacon, Rev. Jan Glockerman, has been part of G-RAP for a long time, and its Rector, Rev. Christian Brocato, has recently started coming to our meetings. Father Brocato came to Grand Rapids from ministry in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he said there was no pastors' association, so he is glad to be part of G-RAP. He was also glad to share St. Mark's mission with us: in our meeting room, they feed 125-150 neighbors every Sunday morning, they partner with Degage Ministries, and support 12 social service agencies downtown. They also host a Families Against Narcotics group to help those in recovery from opioid addiction and their families.
Rev. Kate Kooyman led this meeting of debriefing from the past year and looking forward to next year. We had quite a few new people at the meeting, from ministry interns to people fresh out of seminary, so she spoke about who we are as an organization:
It's always good, when you're trying to accomplish something, to take a minute to make sure: Are we doing the things we want to be doing?
These are the speakers we heard from this meeting year:
Rev. Kooyman opened up the floor for suggestions for what topics the pastors would like us to continue to pursue, and whether there are organizations we should hear from: "We're better when we speak together. We're even better when we know what we're talking about."
Pastors would like us to continue to call on the city to challenge developers about what is "affordable" housing, and to make sure that the city is proactive about making affordable housing part of every development plan. They suggested that we invite Ryan Ver Wys of ICCF (Inner City Christian Federation) back; he last spoke to G-RAP in November, 2017: Housing Crisis in Grand Rapids: What Are People Already Doing? What Can We Do? And also Grand Rapids Homes For All, a grassroots organization for housing justice.
Not just local officials
A few pastors suggested that we look beyond the usual local officials, to officials who make decisions that affect lives in Grand Rapids yet don't receive many invitations to speak to groups like ours. Names mentioned included David LaGrand, Winnie Brinks, the Planning Commission Director, the new School Board Director (when chosen), Senator Gary Peters (who has expressed a desire to speak to us), County Commissioners, Senator Peter MacGregor, Representative Mark Huizenga.
Some pastors would like to see us address mental health issues by hearing from Network 180, or the opioid crisis, which is hitting many of our congregations, by hearing from Families Against Narcotics.
Executive Team member Dr. Tim Harris asked a pointed question: "What can we focus on to offer change and not just conversation?"
This prompted a wide-ranging discussion about how we don't have a way to measure what we've been doing--something we were frustrated with the police department about a few weeks earlier. Many pastors were pleased that we are being invited to more tables as community stakeholders, and that's a positive development, but acknowledged that they are disappointed that some of our past conversations didn't go anywhere.
In the course of our discussion about ways to improve follow-through (including writing a letter that details things that we'd talked about and offered to the GRPD in the past), we discovered that the police department doesn't have even one chaplain right now (Walker's much smaller department has multiple chaplains). This led to a conversation about how we could offer to meet that need for the GRPD, even while we continue to be a voice for justice and reconciliation in this city. After all, more than one pastor noted that trauma is a problem for police officers, and if their brains are being triggered by unaddressed trauma, the officers can't do the de-escalating, community policing that we are asking of them.
That was an unexpected direction for the conversation to take, and felt proactive instead of reactive, which was welcome.
We will be on summer hiatus, so we will see you again in September for our new meeting season.
Until then, have a safe summer, full of fun ministry ventures and vibrant worship.