A Church Gets Unexpectedly Involved in a Community March

2020-09-19_14-45-49
Trevor DeVage
Lead Pastor
Christs Church
Mason, Ohio

When Trevor DeVage, Lead Pastor at Christ’s Church in Mason, Ohio, a CDF Capital partner church, learned that a march in support of black lives was taking place in their city, he was encouraged. For years Christ’s Church has embraced a call to diversity in their predominantly white congregation.

“The gospel of Jesus is characterized by love, healing, and life,” Trevor observed. “And I believe our mission is to be ambassadors of that gospel. The church’s response to racial issues must be the response of Jesus: to love, bring healing, and nurture life.” Ultimately he was thankful that there were people in the community that were also taking racial issues seriously.

But when Trevor learned that the event was scheduled at Christ’s Church, he was genuinely surprised.

“The church’s response to racial issues must be the response of Jesus: to love, bring healing, and nurture life.”—@trevordevage

A Church Surprised

“Someone texted me a screenshot of a flyer for the peaceful march. The starting point start was our parking lot. I didn’t authorize it and neither did any of our staff and elders,” Trevor said.

After some investigation, they discovered that the march was organized by a group of female high school students. Since the event was only mere days away, church leadership faced a unique challenge. Regardless of how they responded, Christ’s Church would face criticism. They scheduled a meeting with the ladies and local law enforcement officials to discover exactly what was planned.

The students revealed that they innocently selected the church parking lot as the starting point because of its size and location. “Plus,” one of the march leaders added, “one of us has a dad who’s a bishop here so we thought it would be OK.”

It was actually the daughter of one of Christ’s Church’s elders.

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Christ's Church, Mason, OH

“We told the ladies, ‘if this is a peaceful protest, we’re interested in supporting it,’” Trevor recalled. “But we also asked them if the march was an official event for the organization Black Lives Matter or if were they just saying, ‘black lives matter.’” For the church, this was a critical distinction. “If the march was about the organization, we have some key theological differences with them,” Trevor clarified. “But if it’s about the statement, we can get behind this. Now, more than ever, it’s important for people to know that black lives matter.”

The high schoolers explained that they had no connection whatsoever with the organization. They merely wanted to let people of color in their community know that they are loved and supported.

Christ’s Church agreed to allow the students to use their parking lot. While they insisted they wouldn’t put the church’s name on the event, they offered resources and helped to collaborate with local police, who were also supportive by providing more than a dozen officers and blocking off a safe walking route.

Initially, the students were only expecting 50-100 people to show up. On the day of the march, over 2,000 people were in attendance.

Trevor arrived early and introduced himself to the participants. Nearly every person he met thanked him and the church for helping the girls with their march. Almost a dozen couples said it would influence them to attend a worship gathering at Christ’s Church.

“Even though we received positive credit for this, all we did was open up our campus to the community to use our space,” Trevor reflected. “If our community wants to use our space so that other people could feel loved, then we do it. There were no theological discrepancies between what happened there and how God calls us to love our community.”

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Christ's Church, Mason, OH

A Church Prepared

The march was both peaceful and edifying. While Christ’s Church didn’t instigate this event, its leaders responded in confidence. Trevor admitted, “while we couldn’t foresee the racial tension scaling to where it’s been in recent months, I feel like God positioned our church and prepared us for this moment.”

How was Christ’s Church prepared to speak into issues of racial reconciliation?

1. Deliberate Positioning

Not long after Trevor was named Lead Pastor at Christ’s Church, almost eight years ago, he was motivated to grapple with the issue of race. He recalled a conversation with his youngest daughter. Their family had moved from a diverse community in Dallas, and she observed that there were more white people in Mason, Ohio, than in their previous neighborhood.

This interaction was on his mind when, the following weekend, the Devage family went to a local ice cream spot. Trevor commented that it looked like a gathering of the United Nations. “After doing some demographic studies, I discovered there was a lot of diversity in our community—our church just didn’t reflect it.”

As a result, Trevor strategically ensured that the church engaged with awkward conversations about race.

“A few years ago, our church went through a sermon series about ministering to your loved ones who are involved in various sins,” he explained. “One of the messages I preached was entitled, ‘I Have a Friend Who Is Racist.’ In that sermon, a couple of us on staff washed the feet of some black leaders and apologized for the ways white churches have hurt our black brothers and sisters.” Trevor believes that this sermon brought the issue to the forefront and helped the church begin to process their personal views.

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Christ's Church, Mason, OH

2. Intentional Hiring

As he continued to pursue how Christ’s Church could further embrace diversity, Trevor directed his attention to the makeup of the staff. He noted that it lacked diversity and knew that in order to communicate this value to the community, this would need to change.

“You need to look at who’s on stage, who’s on staff, and who’s in your leadership. If you’re not willing to hire for it—you’re not willing to reach to it.”—@trevordevage

In recent years, Christ’s Church has made diverse hiring a priority. This intentionality has impacted various aspects of the church’s ministry, most noticeably musical worship. In virtually any church, changing the worship style is an invitation for critique, and Trevor fielded complaints from some who objected to the changes. Yet even when a few people left because of the changes, he knew the church was accomplishing their mission.

“Our leadership has accepted that we’re OK with losing people to achieve the goal of making our church more diverse,” noted Trevor.

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Christ's Church, Mason, OH

3. Bold Reacting

It was these years of deliberation and intentionality that prepared Christ’s Church when the students selected the church parking lot for the starting point of the march. Yet Trevor and all the church leaders recognized that they were in a catch-22.

“If we told them they couldn’t start on our campus, then we’d be communicating a conflicting message to our community (that we don’t care about diversity),” said Trevor. “But if we let it happen, there would be some in our church who would disagree with it.”

While the staff and elders agreed to let the march proceed from their church, they still knew it would come at a cost. “We had people on both sides angry with us. Some thought that we were supporting organizations that were heretical. Others thought we weren’t doing enough to make a statement.”

“They weren’t marching for an organization; they were marching to say that my black life matters.”—Chaz Carney

But in the end, Trevor felt that the bold decision was worth it. Christ’s Church showed their community that there are believers who care.

“If Christians continue to ignore all this, or worse, to say it isn’t true, the situation will never change,” Trevor concluded.

Chaz Carney, a longtime member of Christ’s Church, agreed. “They weren’t marching for an organization; they were marching to say that my black life matters. I thank God for this church’s leadership and for this community.”

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