By Minister Judy Stack
It is Monday. After the morning food give away, as Pastor Jeff and I walk to get some lunch a few blocks from the church, he talks about the neighborhood. “Did you hear about the shooting? [I hadn’t.] Reports say a man was shooting a gun in the air and police showed up and he didn’t put down the gun, so they shot him. We’re hoping things don’t get tense…” We walk. “See that house? I think 15 kids live there. I don’t know how many adults. I have tried for years to connect with those folks. Sometimes some of the kids come to Sunday school for a while, then they turn 14 and drop out of Sunday school and join gangs. I don’t know how to reach them…”
We eat lunch. We talk about the community and its needs. As we are wrapping up, I say, “Remember when we were students at Luther and we’d go out for coffee and talk theology and look around at the people in the coffee shop and say, ‘I wonder what God is up to here….’? Twenty-five years later, we’re doing the same thing.” “We are.” We toast with our soda bottles: “Cheers!” But it is a solemn toast.
Later in the afternoon at the church, an African-American woman comes in the office: “Hey, Pastor Jeff, I’m Doneesh*. I’m the cousin of the man who was shot. We’ve been having vigils at the place where he was shot, but people get kinda hungry. I wonder if you have some hot dogs or something…” As we walk through the church to get some food to send, we hear a familiar theme: the story initially reported in the media is not what witnesses say really happened. Her cousin was a good man, a family man. He was minding his own business. His kids were there with him. “The BLM folks want to come and protest, but we told them no. We don’t want all that hubbub.”
As Doneesh prepares to leave, she says, “My cousin, he didn’t have a church, but if we was to have a service for him….” “Yes,” says Jeff. “Of course you can have it here.”
My mind goes back to the question at lunch: what is God up to here? Here in this community, and in this church as it is part of the neighborhood. Why does Doneesh come to a place like Gethsemane in this moment?
I think about all the uncertainty of this story. Who is telling the truth—media, police, bystanders? Is Doneesh telling the truth—telling the truth about her cousin, telling the truth about there being vigils or is she just trying to get some food? And who has the best interests of those affected here in mind and can be trusted—BLM, police, social workers, neighbors, a church?
I realize that the whole story is really about trust. Who can we trust? Whom do we distrust? When trust erodes, community disintegrates. Trust is the glue that holds community together—whether it’s a neighborhood or a family or a couple or a church or a people and its civic institutions (like police and courts and schools). Kids join gangs looking for trust, looking for people they can count on. We’re all looking for people we can count on.
I believe Doneesh came to Gethsemane because the neighborhood knows that it can trust us. That, as a church, we will show up—show up with food and with prayer and with the willingness to gather people to mourn together and grasp hope. That they can count on us. Because we believe—we trust—that God is up to something. In the individual lives of the people of the neighborhood and in the community as a whole. We’re looking for that. Listening for that. Trusting in that work of the spirit and building trust—trust in each other and in God and God’s work in us and through us.
*Not her real name.