Tending My Patch of the Vineyard: Laura Pritchard
February 14, 2017
Updated March 29, 2018
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Family members know each other’s stories. This Black History Month, the Office of Race Relations will share parts of the Black CRC story, as told Black CRC members themselves. Today, we're hearing from Laura Pritchard, Director of Multicultural Living at Madison Square CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"This is the patch of the vineyard that God has called me to tend to." - Laura Pritchard
What brought you to the CRC?
I first entered the CRC on Christmas Eve in 1992. I went to an evening service at Madison Square CRC (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and heard a message that brought peace to my disquieted soul, by Rev. Allen Likkel. It was just the message that I needed to hear at the time.
What made you stick around?
Two things: the word was preached there, and that I connected with the worship. I grew up in a small, nondenominational church. The gospel I heard at Madison resonated with me. I had been involved in ministry for years, working for a local Christian radio station and publishing house. But at Madison I was approached by another African American woman who was involved in a ministry to girls at the church. She told me that they needed more African American women to minister to the African American girls who were coming to Madison Girls (a program similar to GEMS). I said yes, and I found my place in ministry!
How did you get involved in conversations about race at Madison?
While I knew I was needed serving in the ministry for girls, I didn’t always feel valued. I found that when I expressed the feeling of being devalued to our head leader, she heard me and responded accordingly. That is how I started having these deeper realizations and conversations, inward and external conversations.
What gifts do you think the church — both Madison and the CRC at large — has to meet the needs of our culture today?
Five things: First, I see a willingness to engage in conversations about diversity, especially on the part of the leadership. People are willing to take an honest look at our history — as a country and church — and repent. Second, there is a strong sense of family, and belonging to each other. Third, there is an emphasis on truth, both knowing it and living it, that is really important today. Fourth, I value the presence of other people of color who are committed to staying in the CRC, even when it gets hard. Finally, I appreciate the white allies that work alongside me to see the church grow in diversity.
Along the same lines, what challenges do you see facing the CRC as it seeks to engage in our culture today?
Legacy and tradition both shape our identity in profound ways. These things are both gifts and obstacles. We started as a denomination for Dutch immigrants because there was a need for it. But the need has since changed. I want people in the CRC to recognize the blessings that different people bring with them to the body of Christ. I’d also like to see us trust that God’s truth and God’s sovereignty are not threatened, but enhanced, by the diversity of the body.
God’s presence will be made more evident by the enfolding of others who are different from us, not less.
Right now there is a welcome mat at the door of the CRC, but those of us who are not from a Dutch background are keenly aware of our status as guests. I long for the day when that won’t be the case anymore.
What gives you hope for the future of the church?
When I have the opportunity to be in a room with a diverse group of people, hosted by the CRC, and hear courageous conversations about race, like we had at the Engage Conference last summer, I am hopeful.
When I can be invited to a gathering of African American leaders in the CRC, I am hopeful.
When I attend a prayer summit hosted, designed and led by our Korean brothers and sisters, I am hopeful.
When I see the anti-racism team at Madison, when I see an African American campus pastor, and when I see women serving as pastors, I have hope.
When I see people of color in leadership like Colin Watson, and white allies in leadership like Kate Kooyman, I have hope we are taking steps in the right direction. This is why I stay engaged.
I also find hope in the volatile places, the places where we wrestle with tension. Conflict is where growth happens. Unity will not come without it.
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Laura, I appreciate your words and wisdom because I know you're tried and tested! I'm late responding but now is as good as ever. You mentioned "legacy and tradition." I'm looking forward to our Black brothers and sisters to provide leadership in preserving and celebrating our legacy and tradition in informal and formal ways, along with others. May God's vision for all peoples be our vision! The best is yet to come! Thank you again for sharing!
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