Article and photo by Sarah Thompson, Urban Alliance’s Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization.
Racism, income inequality, struggling public education systems and violence are among the many justice issues that impact our communities. Yet, one group of local leaders have been tackling these complexities head on, through transparent dialogue and a commitment to generate action in their congregations and neighborhoods.
Since September 2017, Urban Alliance has facilitated a monthly meeting of a diverse group of 20 pastors from churches in the Urban Alliance network, with the goal of fostering opportunities for the group to develop deeper relationships across racial, cultural, geographic and denominational lines so that their churches can more effectively serve the community together. Urban Alliance has partnered with the Ogilvie Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary to utilize their Micah Group model as a tool for facilitating dialogue on pressing justice issues.
With opportunities to share and learn from each other’s very different perspectives and life experiences, trust quickly began to build among group members.
“During one of the meetings at the very beginning we prayed together, which created a sense of unity that ushered us to trusting relationships,” explained Pastor Esther Mwangi from International Gospel Fellowship Church in Windsor. “It was as if a window was opened to see each other’s hearts.”
“It got me to enter into difficult discussions with other people who don’t look like me,” shared Pastor Frank Termine from Calvary Church of West Hartford. “I had the opportunity to get to know a cross-section of diverse pastors and begin discussions on social issues that plague and divide America. It taught me that many, if not all, of our social issues are complex and interrelated. The group showed me the need for the whole truth, not half-truths and opinions.”
The group’s growing unity was anchored in sharing stories and celebrating its diversity.
“It became a judgement-free zone where, in my view, the members spoke without apprehension,” said Mwangi. “We had numerous chances to discuss how race plays a major part in keeping the church separated. Our racial identities should not be a dividing factor in serving the Lord. Our differences should make the body of Christ richer.”
According to Pastor Termine, the positive ripple effects of the group are large and growing.
“Participating in the group solidified my commitment to the necessity of diversity in American churches—in the pews, ministry leadership and on staff,” he shared. “It ignited me to include social issues in my preaching and even to focus on a few of the issues in stand-alone sermons.”
Pastor Michael Bailey from The First Cathedral in Bloomfield added, “This group is a steady reminder that we are called to engage with one another in spite of our cultural differences and affiliations. Love will never drive out hate if we don’t understand each other’s contexts.”
Another often unspoken gap that the group has helped address is social isolation for pastors.
“As a pastor, I need relationships with other Christian leaders to deepen my faith and broaden my understanding of how to lead in these times,” shared Pastor Clark Pfaff of Valley Brook Community Church in North Granby.
Pastor Jeremiah Karanja of International Gospel Fellowship Church in Windsor added, “Relationships with other pastors are critically important since this helps in building a foundation in deepening unity in the church around this area. I am beginning to feel the support I always longed for. There is a reduction of loneliness and I am enjoying it.”
The Micah Group has created closer relationships between pastors in the group and some have already held joint church services, allowing multiple congregations to merge and express oneness.
“We all came to the table committed to cooperation within other denominations, associations and partnerships,” explained Pastor Termine. “We conservative Christian evangelicals will preach and teach the gospel to mobilize people toward Biblical personal responsibility, but are we willing to be moved by the gospel to fix systemic causes of our social problems?”
With the goal of deepening unity to practically serve and engage people in our communities, the group is hopeful and excited for what’s to come.
“Various pastors have expressed the desire to share their pulpits with others,” added Pastor Mwangi. “I am encouraged that a new day has dawned—my hope is renewed and I am assured that the Lord is doing something great in the Greater Hartford area.”