By Pastor Lynne Faris Blessing
Originally Published July 2015
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from Emerald City Bible Fellowship (ECBF) was talking about the Worshiping Together service we held last November. At one point in our conversation she said, “That was all I needed.” She was referring to when pastors Allen Belton (ECBF) and Jeff Schulz (Seattle First Pres – SFPC) prayed for Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
I’ve heard from a number of people that this was an especially poignant part of the service — two pastors, one black and one white, standing alongside and praying for our city’s new, white police chief. Their prayers reached deep into our souls because it happened at a time when tensions were running high in our country. We were longing for signs of hope. We needed to see that relationships between police and people — particularly people of color – could grow and that we could take steps together towards reform. We bowed our heads. We humbly turned to our great God. God’s Spirit helped us take a step together in the direction of right relationship, which is the essence of justice.
The idea to invite Police Chief O’Toole came up during one of our monthly Worshiping Together planning meetings, not long after Ferguson became a daily headline. Chief O’Toole enthusiastically accepted our invitation to join us. She was all smiles during the November 16 service and afterwards lingered and connected with people during lunch.
I want to tell you how our ties with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) have deepened since then.
Chief O’Toole encouraged us to stay in contact with her. Early in the new year we started planning how that might happen. Glenn McCray of Urban Impact (UI) agreed to be our main liaison with the SPD, and he arranged a meeting with O’Toole for February.
In God’s wonderful timing, Tim Burgess (Bethany member who serves as President of Seattle’s City Council) was available to meet with our Worshiping Together planning group two days before that meeting. Tim shared his perspective on how we might best connect with the SPD, encouraging us to help them succeed in their efforts to bring reform to their operations. He said that as a faith community we bring a unique and important voice to the table. After learning that we would be meeting with Deputy Chief Carmen Best instead of O’Toole, Tim gave us really helpful background on Chief Best, telling us how impressed he was with her.
At that February meeting, a number of us from the Worshiping Together community met with Chief Best and Detective McNally – Pastor Harvey Drake (ECBF), Pastor Jeff Schulz (SFPC), Glenn McCray (UI), Mark Russo (Behtany PC), Jon Abe (Urban Impact’s KCYC Chaplaincy ministry), “Coach” Dominique (“180” ministry) and I. What a positive meeting it was! We began the process of getting to know each other. We brainstormed ways to connect with other members of the SPD. We committed to staying in touch. A spirit of collaboration and community permeated the room.
Following that meeting, Glenn met with Sgt. Adrian Diaz, as well as SPD Chaplains Charlie Scoma, Jeremy Wade, and Ken Alford. After meeting, we were all encouraged by the possibilities and committed to following up with one another.
On our June Worshiping Together planning meeting, SPD Chaplain Charlie Scoma joined us. We broke bread in our usual potluck style. (I think it was a coincidence that someone brought donuts.) Chaplain Scoma also serves as a pastor at University Presbyterian Church, and we discovered many mutual friends.
Chaplain Scoma told us about the chaplains ministry and how they seek to: minister to police officers who have experienced trauma in the line of duty, hold a weekly Bible study and try to connect officers with people in their precinct neighborhoods. As we brainstormed ways for our congregations to connect with and support the SPD, these ideas emerged to build rapport, trust, a sense of working together:
- Encourage our folks to join precinct picnics to meet the officers (see the SPD website for dates, locations, etc.).
- Invite officers to use our facilities to write-up their reports.
- Challenge the SPD to a softball game (See below for more info about a Worshiping Together softball game on August 1).
- Work with the officers who come to the chaplains’ weekly Bible study.
- Encourage people of color to consider being trained to be a SPD officer.
- Hold “community conversations” or maybe a Wednesday night series co-led by SPD and our Worshiping Together community members.
- Invite officers to join us for fellowship hour gatherings.
After Chaplain Scoma left our meeting, our discussion turned to the topic of repentance. We acknowledged that each of us holds deep-seated biases about the police department. Some come from a place of trust, some come from a place of distrust. We are wondering if our next Worshiping Together service (November 8 at SFPC) might be a place to ask God to work in our hearts and minds so that there is more room to love, encourage and seek God’s justice together. Please pray with us for discernment about how God would like us to shape that service.
It does seem that God has us on a path of learning about and addressing the injustice found within the justice system.
Bethany’s commitment to connecting with the justice system is not new. About five years ago, we had a book study with ECBF on Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow. We went together to hear her speak in Seattle in January 2011. We wrestled together with the question: “How do we engage in this area of the justice system?” It’s such a huge system.
Urban Impact has been working extensively with youth in the King County Detention Center. Bethany has financially supported UI’s King County Youth Chaplaincy ministry. Through the help of Job Abe, the head of the Chaplaincy ministry, several people from Bethany have volunteered with their Sunday evening chapel service in the Detention Center. Henrik Mansfield is working with KCYC this summer. Barbie Kelly and Milt Smith serve on their board.
During our recent book discussion with Chris Hoke (who is a chaplain in the Skagit County prison, serves at Tierra Nueva, and recently published the book Wanted), someone mentioned that the number of people in prison in Washington state is about the same as the number of churches in our state. What if each church walked with one person who has left prison, surrounds them with loving care and does everything we can to help that person get on their feet and on a good path? Might God be calling us to this kind of ministry?
The steps we are taking with the SPD and with ministries related to the justice system often seem small and slow to me- but we are taking steps. We are not just reading headlines. And now when I do read the headlines, I think of Chief O’Toole’s and Chief Best’s warm receptivity to working together. I think of laughing with SPD chaplain Scoma as the Worshiping Together team brainstormed and prayed with him. And with every little step in the direction of right relationships, hope grows and justice shines brighter.
If you have any interest in participating in our efforts to connect with the SPD (or other ministries mentioned in this article), please feel free to contact Lynne Faris Blessing, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Glenn McCray, email@example.com.