Rev. Sheila Holmes, longtime pastor of Northside Community Christian Reformed Church in Paterson, N.J., was honored this spring for her lifelong work in ending gun violence. Paterson’s Operation CeaseFire recognized Holmes at its annual celebration dinner, May 31.
Operation CeaseFire is a national organization with local chapters working to prevent gun violence. The Paterson branch annually recognizes members of the community in the categories of Law Enforcement, Educators, Community Outreach, and Faith Base; this year, they recognized seven individuals.
Even before Paterson Operation CeaseFire began, Holmes made “trauma awareness and resilience” the main focus of her ministry.
“I believe if cities, churches, communities, and families would have a proactive mindset, we could deal with a lot of the violence,” Holmes said.
In answer to the anxiety and suffering in her community, Holmes began a prayer-walking initiative 12 years ago. For two hours every Saturday morning, she and a group of other pastors and church members would walk in their communities, praying with people they met. After a few years, the community began to see a decrease in violence.
“The key to prayer walking,” Holmes said, “is meeting people where they are instead of expecting them to come into a church. The presence of God can be seen in us wherever God calls us to go. We must listen to his voice and be willing to follow where he leads.”
A Grand Rapids pastor recently tried doing a prayer walk for the first time in his community, following a series of shootings near his church.
Holmes is participating less often in prayer walks today, due to physical limitations, but she’s finding new ways to care for her community.
This past February, she and Rev. James Staton became the first two Crisis Intervention Chaplains with the Paterson Police force. Staton had suggested the force create such positions after a Paterson police officer was killed in the line of duty in 2018.
The chaplains are meant to minister to the unique needs and experiences of first responders. Less than six months in, Holmes said patience in the early stages is one of the hardest aspects, as practical details and politics surrounding the positions are ironed out.
Holmes believes in the power of faithful communities of believers to ignite change, but she expressed her frustration that the church is not doing more.
“My desire is that the church … will step out in faith and make a difference,” she said. “Too many people in the pews feel scared and powerless in this dark world, but Jesus said that we are the salt and light of the world. Light exposes the darkness, and Christians must be committed to be the light. … This is how we become witnesses touching one person at a time.”
Holmes also serves the Christian Reformed Church as a member of the Council of Delegates, the body that carries out the work of the denomination between synods (annual general assembly). She previously served as president of the Board of Trustees, as the COD used to be called.