Champions of Justice - Sheila Holmes

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In celebration of the 50 years of the Office of Race Relations (ORR), we are featuring the stories of people in the CRC who have been actively demonstrating a passion for multicultural congregations and a commitment to antiracism. We call people who have been exemplifying these ideals, “Champions of Justice.” These Champions are the nominees for the Dante Venegas award that will be presented at Inspire 2022 in Chicago next August.

We are proud to introduce Sheila Holmes as one of these nominees. 

Here’s a little about Sheila and her life work in her own words:

In looking back over my life, I thank God for his divine providence that a premature, two-pound baby girl fighting for life would grow up to be a fighter and to live in this world not only for self but also for others. 

In the struggles of life, I’ve learned to trust God and seek his guidance, goodness, and prayers. I thank God for my grandparents who nurtured me in the Lord when my mother was not able. When I was in fourth grade my mother and stepfather moved to Paterson, New Jersey where I felt disconnected and all alone. It was God’s grace that finally directed my family to move up the hill from a new church, Northside Community Chapel CRC. It was a SWIM (Summer Workshop in Ministry) Team walking through my neighborhood that invited me to church. Within a year I was being trained to teach Sunday school because the wife of our Director of Christian Education saw potential teaching abilities and started mentoring and training me. 

God opened the door for me to feel special with a purpose and meaning for life. I became involved in different leadership ministries within the church. There were only two teenage members of the church although the youth ministry had hundreds of youth and teens in outreach ministry. As I excelled in public school, God opened an opportunity to go to Christian School as this a Reformed Church priority. I was so excited with the notion of going to school with Christians. 

This was probably my first face-to-face experience of systemic racism and bias. What I thought was a loving Christian environment became challenging and disappointing. The only saving grace was that the teachers and staff were wonderful - not only academically but also relationally. Through this experience there was a drive empowered by the Holy Spirit within me to make a difference in this world of injustice.

Within the ministry of Northside and the encouragement of my pastor and mentor, Rev. Stanley Vander Klay, as a teenager I was involved in many leadership roles of not only teaching the love of Jesus Christ, but also mentoring young people in knowing that God has made them special and with a purpose. God has used me through Northside’s ministry to encourage many to not fall in the pit of society's strongholds of hopelessness and limitations, but to trust God and dream dreams that will set them free. That freedom starts in the mind and heart of everyone. 

We have seen many not get caught up in the penal system of incarceration and have finished high school. Life has still been a struggle, but they continue to grow in their faith.

As a young adult representing Northside, I have been involved in leadership roles through youth ministries, SWIM teams, SCORR (Synodical Committee on Race Relations), Urban Committee, Dawn Treader Christian School, Multiethnic Conference, and Black and Reformed leadership. 

When God called me to ministry as Minister of the Word, I was certain that it would not be in the Christian Reformed Church. God in his sense of humor had other plans. Thanks to Dr. Reggie Smith who enabled and encouraged me to be part of the denominational Board of Home Mission, I had the opportunity to bring awareness of the needs of inner-city churches.

As the first African American female Minister of the Word in the CRCNA, I’ve had the opportunity to encourage other minority groups to see the importance of actively participating and making a difference in this denomination. God has also enabled me, through the Eastern Mennonite denomination, to meet people from around the world through training and working toward peace and trauma resiliency in which I have facilitated trauma workshops several times through Theological Education of Africa conference. 

I have facilitated Racial and Community Awareness training to Paterson Police recruits. I am a Crisis Chaplain for the city of Paterson Fire and Police Department. I continue to be part of organizations to promote quality of life within our city like “CeaseFire”. 

When it comes to breaking down the barrier and stronghold of racial equality it first starts with one knowing that God has made you special and you have a purpose. Then you can pull down walls of injustice through the Spirit of love which goes beyond words to building relationships. When I have learned to build relationships with whomever God puts before me, he has broken the barrier of division and built a community of understanding and sharing.

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