It has been a difficult start to the summer in the neighborhood around Oakdale Park Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids, Mich.
On June 4, a 21-year-old man was shot to death less than 100 yards from the church property. Then on June 23, a 10-year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound to her leg in a drive-by attack—while the girl was inside her home, across the street from the church.
These shootings, as well as other recent shootings in nearby Grand Rapids neighborhoods, led Oakdale Park to host two “prayer walks” on successive nights at the end of June. About 40 people, including members of other CRC congregations around Grand Rapids, turned out to knock on doors, meet with nearby residents and pray with them for the violence to cease.
“I think what’s going on is the deterioration of the family, a moral sense of life. A lot of these young people don’t have a sense of what life is all about. They’re living in a fantasy world,” said James Jones, pastor of congregational care at Oakdale Park, who organized the prayer walks.
Jones said the church has hosted prayer walks in the past, but this is the first one where prayer walkers have met with residents and asked to pray with them. “We’ve never had anything like this before—not like this,” said Jones, who has served the congregation as pastor for 20 years.
When Arlan Palmer, neighborhood chaplain at Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, heard that Oakdale Park was holding the walks to pray for peace in the city’s neighborhoods, he did not hesitate to join in.
“We’re all in this together,” said Palmer, who has mentored teens in his neighborhood as part of his work.
Natalie Hart, who attends Grace CRC in Grand Rapids, also came to pray.
“This is like my neighborhood. I drive past (Oakdale Park) all the time. I go for walks in the cemetery nearby. This is where I live. I really wanted to come out and pray for the neighborhood,” said Hart, who is an administrative assistant for the Grand Rapids Association of Pastors.
Some of those who attended the prayer walks also showed up at a community forum later in the same week where they met with the Grand Rapids city manager, police officers and elected City Commission members to offer ideas on ways to stop the violence.