I had just been ordained a commissioned pastor at Coit Community Church when pastor Jerome Burton suggested applying for a Sustaining Congregational Excellence Health and Renewal grant to examine the issue of urban violence.
After receiving a grant, he asked me to oversee it with the help of others. Sustaining Congregational Excellence grants offer an opportunity for smaller Christian Reformed churches to engage in a project specific to their ministry context.
Last year, some 27 grants were awarded for everything from church renewal to outreach to the homeless of Los Angeles to a community garden.
We began our project by bringing in experts and speakers. But soon things got more personal. For the men who met weekly at Coit for a Bible study and meal, violence was not academic.
And so we talked about it. One man unburdened himself, describing the things that had led to him spending more than 20 years behind bars. Another was injured in street violence. When he got out of the hospital, he returned to speak about the incident.
A man talked about the painful death of a loved one. Another described being a soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq. These men also discussed their new, eternal life in Christ.
Comfort came from the Bible and from the fellowship. Some of the men made professions of faith; recently a father and his sons were baptized.
When we got the grant, I was scared. New to the ministry, I wondered if I could handle the challenge. For that matter, violence is a tough topic. How would we address it in a way that made it real?
The stories made it real. The compassion the men showed made it real. The laughs everyone shared made it real. Prayer before and after the study made it real. And Sunday worship made it particularly real.