Pastors at local church tackling racial issues head-on within congregation

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS – Grace Church St. Louis has been sitting on the top of Creve Coeur Mill Road for 42 years now. Although racism, social injustice, and police brutality are not new issues, they are finding new ways to approach them within their congregation.

“For us as a church family, if we’re going to be a family, we have to feel each other. That means we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. So, those honest conversations and taking the necessary time to have them is critical,” said Wes Martin, the Associate Pastor at Grace.

Grace has always embraced and welcomed diversity and it shows through their members and staff. Pastor Martin says around 30 percent of the congregation is black, so conversations around race, equality, and systematic oppression happen and are encouraged. 

“It’s important as me as a white guy to take the necessary time to understand my black friends’ perspective that I don’t get,” said Martin. “I can’t feel their pain, but as I get to know them in dialogue and see their perspective – I can do that.”

Lenny Barber is the head student pastor at the church and is a black man in America.

“I’m dealing with my own emotions right now as well.  I think the problem with, not only myself but especially young black males because that is who I work with, the main problem is helping them navigate an outlet for everything that they’re feeling,” said Lenny Barber, student pastor.

Barber is in a unique position. Not only is he helping teens manage their emotions regarding racism and injustice within the church, he is married to Jenny Barber, a white woman, and raising four children who are biracial.

Their family shared an emotional moment together after all having seen the George Floyd video.

“Our 12-year-old comes up the stairs bawling and literally asks, ‘Is this going to happen to me one day?'” said Barber. “The number one thing for Jenny and me is being that listening ear for how they’re feeling. Us being their parents, we still don’t want to assume how they’re feeling over these issues.”

Barber continued with how he and his wife have had to sit with their kids and discuss how to interact with police. Lenny and Jenny have also had to help their children navigate through the racial identity barriers that can come with being biracial.

Lenny Barber has engaged in open dialogue within his own home, and Grace Church is not far behind. They have hosted Zoom discussions and conferences tackling these tough topics, have invited guest speakers to the church ranging from police officers to social activists, and plan to do more to bridge the gap.

“That’s not only what we do, that’s who we are. We’re Christ followers. We are supposed to be a light in the darkness. Giving hope is the biggest thing for us,” said Barber.

Pastor Martin and Pastor Barber are encouraging anyone in the community who is hurting or in need of someone to talk to during these times to join them for service on Saturday or Sunday. They can connect you to a small group or meet with you one-on-one.

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