by Wayne Bridegroom
I just returned from the 127th gathering of the Modesto Police Department Clergy Council. The Clergy Council has been meeting monthly for over nine years. Over those years, new entities have joined the procession, including the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, the local California Highway Patrol office, the mayor of Modesto, Modesto City Schools, County Probation and the DA’s office. The official business today was “passing the mantle” from our four term, retiring DA to our newly elected DA.
Why is this important? I can tell you that 40 years ago those of us in west Modesto said we were infected with three gangs: the Bloods, the Crips and the Cops. We don’t say that any more.
For context, I look to Luke 13 — the mustard seed and the leaven. Both take time in order to have their full effect. The same is true with our involvement in the marketplace.
A bit over 20 years ago Modesto hired a new Chief of Police, Roy Wasden. His philosophy of policing was community based. Repeatedly he said, “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem. We have to work together with the community.” During our five-year Deptartment Of Justice “ Weed and Seed” endeavor, Wasden never missed a neighborhood meeting. Change started to happen within MPD, and those of us who were movers and shakers in west Modesto had his cell number. Shortly thereafter, Galen Carroll became our Chief and he took things to the next level and helped us begin the Clergy Council.
“Always treat everyone you deal with as if they were a family member,” were his words to his officers. We had his cell number. And now, following Galen’s retirement, Chief Brandon Gillespie continues to move the needle forward as the city is forming a citizens advisory committee. And, you guessed it, we have his cell number.
The above is truly a work of the Holy Spirit. For our part, as a group of multi-denominational pastors and ministry leaders, it has been a continuous effort to build bridges of listening and understanding. In other words, the building of relationships wherein we listen and are listened to. Reconciliation, like mustard seed and leaven, doesn’t happen instantaneously. It is a long and diligent journey. It is about being faithful for the long haul as we interact in the marketplace.
In my 48 years of pastoring, I have been frustrated that more often than not, so much of our preaching has been in an effort to unite our people by making them fear some group or movement. “For God’s sake, don’t send your kids to that pagan UC Berkeley!” Etc, etc. I think Jesus had a better approach. Instead of fear, how about His love for us compels us to develop relationships with whomever “the other” is. Isn’t that what He did when he entered this world? As author Tom Sine put it, that’s Jesus’ mode of operation, it’s “the mustard seed conspiracy.”
Wayne is Associate Pastor of the Catch Ministry
Your message reminds me of a short-lived radio series heard on some Christian radio stations back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The five-minute vignettes had serious social messages that were almost anathema to the staid broadcasters (and their sponsors) and, thus, were usually broadcast late at night.
These were definitely NOT produced by J. Vernon McGee, James, Dobson, Charles Swindoll, Chuck Smith, the Haven of Rest, or any of the other indisputably reputable ministries that Christian broadcasters relied so heavily upon back then.
I wish I could remember the name of the program but I do recall the calm and articulate speaker challenging Christians and business owners (who claimed to be Christian) to do unthinkable things like moving into “undesirable” neighborhoods; to make retail prices affordable in high-crime areas rather than preemptively raising them (to cover anticipated losses); essentially provide other grace-filled services like offer no-interest loans and/or simply give to needy people overtaken by times of distress; hug an AIDS patient; bring a homeless individual a sandwich and maybe even talk with them a little; even more boldly: invite a needy stranger – whether destitute or a child or an elderly person – into your home for a warm meal and friendly banter; if insulted or otherwise verbally assaulted, turning the other cheek;
living out your faith in Christ in the midst of the marketplace that everyone generally avoids.
There were several programs that covered a wide variety of issues and that offered possible suggestions for how Christians could genuinely get personally involved apart from just praying in a faraway church on Sunday’s, or assuaging any guilt by offering monetary donations to a notable charity, or worse: by ignoring the situation.
The announcer, too, made it clear that change would not happen quickly but would be the planting of seeds that, like Modesto, would eventually sprout and grow into the blessed fruits of a loving community’s efforts.
I don’t know how long that “radical” and controversial radio program lasted but I would like to believe it made some inroads into some hearts wherever it was broadcast… and perhaps, like Modesto, those mustard trees are coming into full blossom somewhere right now.
Come to think of it, it was a mighty bold thing for that radio station to do at the time! So, kudos to WBCL Radio in Fort Wayne, Indiana!!
Thanks for a wonderful and inspirational message. Its always about everyone working together just like Jesus Christ with his disciples reaching all the people and still today here for all of us in salvation as the Son of God.