Recently Apex went through the sermon series entitled Fear vs. Love. In it, Pastor Rob Turner and Randy Chestnut have called our attention to the discussion of race relations and our involvement with minority cultures. They challenge us to love one another as God loves and remind us that perfect love casts out fear. So what does it look like to love our community as God loves our community? Do we truly see each other as co-image bearers of God? Do we see each other as natural co-sinners before God? Do we see God’s use of a multi-colored nation to bless a broken world? And where can we step in and join God in the ministry of reconciliation?
Race and reconciliation are never easy to talk about. Though following the recent events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and the local Wal-Mart of Beavercreek, maybe it is one we can no longer avoid and push to the back burner.
Sheriff Phil Plummer of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department has opened the discussion for ways to improve race relations and build trust between community members and local law enforcement, media, government agencies, and urban churches. The group is called IMPACT, which stands for Improving Modern Policing and Community Trust.
One recent IMPACT idea was to encourage a number of local churches to throw community block parties. The Celebrate Dayton block parties were held in eight different communities throughout the Miami Valley with the goal of bringing together police departments, media representatives, various government agencies, and different churches to merge beliefs, create a sense of unity, and share life together. It was a time for the different community groups to come together and interact, so they are not interacting for the first time when something happens.
The Sheriff’s Department has decided to take it a step further and open the discussion up to the suburban church, where Apex joined in. Jesse Bowers, leader of the Going Ministry at Apex, received the call after IMPACT’s initial meetings. “We were asked to host a larger discussion on race relations within our communities pertaining particularly to police, but also within the church as well. We hosted the Sheriff’s department and multiple African American churches to discuss where we are going and what we are going to do.”
“We called in the Dayton Dialogue on Race Relations, or DARR. Their mission is to build trust between people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds through dialogue and action. Their structured conversations encouraged us to listen to the experiences of one another which were often very different from our own.”
The journey has led to continual meetings to talk about how to improve community relations within Dayton. Various police departments have sat down together to share their positive and negative experiences. From this, common misperceptions have emerged as well as ways to rethink what was once considered the norm.
According to Jesse, “God has really moved this into something we need to pay attention to. Our network of house churches means that our own experiences can be very diverse. If we are to be faithful to what is going on in the church we need to be at the table, to hear what’s going on, and hear what God is saying. The IMPACT group has grown to include ten different police departments and more churches continue to join. We continue these conversations to build a unity that really isn’t there right now in our community.”
At the IMPACT meetings, people come to share their personal experiences, albeit good or bad, with the police, and media, and church leaders, and from the other side, community leaders discuss their experiences with the community. Apex has taken the posture of being active listeners, to come alongside people as they share. “We want to let them know their experiences are valued. We want to learn and share in the sights and sounds of the city. Individually we talk about the things that we’ve learned from our family past. I got to share my story about what my growing up was like. It’s interesting when you start talking through these things; you see how your life can have a different trajectory from other people’s lives. Getting to share helped me process through what it means to really take stock and listen to someone who’s story is completely different than mine.”
According to Jesse, God is slowly and faithfully revealing blind spots through the difficult discussions of the IMPACT group. God is gracefully pushing Jesse and the other staff members of Apex to explore these areas that haven’t historically been explored. “We are responding to the challenge of being bearers of reconciliation through staff training and the sermon series of Fear vs. Love.”
When I asked Jesse where his participation with IMPACT would proceed from here, he had an incredibly insightful response. “I think what can be used to trip me up the most, is we really want something to show for what we’ve done. It’s a part of our productivity mindset, ‘you put this effort into this you get this result.’ I think when we participate in something like IMPACT, we tend to rush toward a finish line. But there’s a process we have to go through. That process is even recognizing the issues at hand and our roles in them that may be part of the problem in the first place. Only then can you start discussing what to do next. There’s a lot of humility in that.”
“God is showing me I am nowhere near getting to the point of recognizing how the issues can be solved. He’s taking me to a place where he is removing the blinders and helping me see through the eyes of others. He is challenging me to openly follow what he has for me. It has to be God who makes the change and, however, I can walk in that I am ready to take that step.”
How will God call you to step in and join him in the ministry of reconciliation?
Author: Carrie Kempisty
Photographer: Hilary Tebo