Generational Views on Being Black and Reformed
Guest speakers and a facilitator recently shared their stories of growing and guiding congregations in the Christian Reformed denomination as leaders of color.
Titled “Black and Reformed: Generational Journeys in the CRC,” the webinar event was hosted by the CRCNA’s Office of Race Relations and Office of Diversity. The ministries collaborated on this webinar with the intent of amplifying and celebrating the voices of African American pastors and leaders in the CRCNA.
Rev. Reggie Smith, director of Diversity, facilitated the discussion and asked insightful questions of two guests, who represented the millennial generation and the baby boomer generation, respectively.
Rev. Kelsi Jones, a millennial, grew up in the Christian Reformed Church and said she fell in love with the multicultural church body at Oakdale Park CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. That’s where she first saw leaders of different ethnicities being elevated in the church and being given places to use their gifts, she said.
“I saw the highs and the lows growing up as a pastor's kid,” she explained. “You really get an inside perspective, and sometimes there’s negativity that can come from within church leadership. So when I began to get that nudge from God to go to seminary, I really fought it; I did not want to listen.”
However, after earning a bachelor’s degree in social work, God’s nudge won, she said, and she attended Calvin Theological Seminary and received a master of divinity degree in 2017. She currently serves as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church Community CRC in Evergreen Park, Ill., and at Grace Community CRC in Oak Lawn, Ill.
Rev. Wayne Coleman, a baby boomer, was the other guest speaker in the webinar. He grew up in Muskegon, Mich., and was originally ordained in the Church of God in Christ — a “more pentecostal, high-worshiping” denomination, as he put it.
The majority of Coleman’s time in ministry, he said, was spent in Holland, Mich., where he served for over twenty years as a church planter and as a community leader for social justice and racial reconciliation. In 2004, Pastor Wayne and his wife, Ruth, were awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Social Justice Award from the City of Holland.
During his time in Holland, Coleman was approached by Jim Boer about becoming ordained as an evangelist in the CRCNA. Wayne decided instead to become trained as a minister of the Word. He was ordained in 2012, and he currently serves as the senior pastor at Madison Avenue CRC in Paterson, N.J.
Jones and Coleman mentioned key people and supportive mentors who were instrumental in their journeys. And they both emphasized that mentorship is needed today in the CRCNA to increase Black leadership.
Coleman pointed to “the need for more coaches and mentors for [Black leaders] – and support – so that they can be successful.” He also highlighted the need for a strong orientation program for African Americans who want to be part of the Christian Reformed Church.
In addition, Coleman suggested there be a partnership between the denomination and other colleges: “We need to partner with HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. Right now I’m on the board of trustees for Calvin University, and they’re talking about a similar thing. You just can’t continue to go after the same traditional-type students.”
Coleman added that the church needs to “go where [the students] are if you want a diverse denomination.”
Jones pointed out that some encouragement is needed in continuing to build a more diverse staff and student body.
“A strong percentage of the student body at Calvin are from white majority areas,” she stated. “They have never spent time in a city as diverse as Grand Rapids before . . . coming to Calvin; this is perhaps the most diverse experience they'll have before they go back to their hometown where they will hopefully be a pastor.”
Jones said that even more intentional work needs to be done to encourage students to embrace diversity and to be more accepting and inclusive.
The one-hour webinar included a few minutes in which Jones and Coleman answered questions submitted by the audience. One question was about how to create racial conversations that actually work.
“I think you are able to bring people together when we keep [the racial conversation] around the focus of Scripture, what God has called us to do,” Coleman commented. “I think that if we spend too much time on the other things that go with that, we [lose focus on] who we really are as one covenant people of God.”
Jones responded with some personal thoughts on the future of the denomination:
“I think that there's so much hope. The Christian Reformed Church has a beautiful history and a beautiful legacy of faith within the churches and among the people who have been a part of it; as we go forward as a denomination, there's so much more growth that will come in the next 50 years.”
She encouraged everyone to “be open to that growth and be an eager participant to help make that growth happen.”