A Safe Place to Share about Race

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Is Ferguson showing up in your social media news feed lately? While the trend is to hash out hot topics with hashtags, members of a church in Holland, Mich., gathered recently to share their thoughts face-to-face.

“A Call to Pray: An Evening of Prayer and Conversation” was hosted on August 27 by Maple Avenue Ministries, a Christian Reformed Church-Reformed Church in America union church. Maple Ave.’s head pastor, Denise Kingdom Grier, sensed a need for such an event when several friends and church members expressed anxieties and concerns in the weeks after the police shooting of Michael Brown and ensuing protests in Ferguson, Mo.

The church wanted to provide a safe place “where people can really say what they think,” said Grier, “a place where people love each other.” Such a conversation is a natural outgrowth of the congregation’s commitment to being a multicultural church, she said. “We don’t have to be afraid to talk about race.”

With clear ground rules, a racially diverse group of around 40 people, including children, teens, and adults, shared reflections about Ferguson as well as personal experiences of racism. One participant voiced concerns about inequity in school discipline. Another pointed to the importance of intentionally building relationships with people of different backgrounds. One woman sitting next to her teenage son said, “As a mother, my heart breaks” when she hears stories like the death of Michael Brown. “I immediately think of my own child. I worry obsessively about the fact that he has dark skin” and how he will be treated.

“We have forgotten how to really love each other,” Grier said to the group, emphasizing the importance of conversation. “Be mindful to listen, then to speak and share in the conversation.”

The evening wrapped up with participants breaking into small groups for prayer.

About the Author

Susan Vandenberg is a freelance writer.