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GRACE Honors Service to Community at Gala Dinner

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Nearly 200 people gathered at the Dominican Center at Marywood on Tuesday evening, October 27, giving honor to the service efforts of Kuyper College and Westminster Presbyterian Church and offering their support to the programs of the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism (GRACE).

Selected for their excellence in outreach, ecumenism, giving, leadership, innovation and diversity – the main components of the GRACE Ecumenical Service Award criteria – both Kuyper and Westminster received their awards giving thanks and appreciation for the organizing work GRACE accomplishes in bringing the faith community together around the issues of hunger, homelessness and racism.

President Nicholas Kroeze accepted on behalf of Kuyper, whose dedication to integrated faith and learning brings faculty and students directly into the heart of Grand Rapids – ministering to those who are homelessness and living in poverty.  Naming Kuyper a “praxis” institution, Kroeze credited the increase in their student body over the past years to the yearning of incoming students to bear practical witness to the love of God in the community.  It is precisely this practice that earned Kuyper the Ecumenical Service Award. 

Just a few of the ways Kuyper engages in the community:

  • Students have formed a Street Team to minister to individuals living without food and shelter; students, staff and faculty volunteer at missions and other agencies in Grand Rapids Heartside neighborhood. 
  • Social work students have completed research identifying voids and overlaps in services to the homeless at Degage Ministries and will continue assisting the Heartside Agency Group with this work.

As a community that values and welcomes diversity, Kuyper has developed a diversity program that embraces and promotes an environment where people of diverse cultural, ethnic, and denominational backgrounds thrive. Faculty, staff, and administrators have attended GRACE’s Institutes for Healing Racism, Summits on Racism and the Partners for a Racism-Free Community (PRFC) Forums, and in June of 2003, President Kroeze signed the following statement: 

“The West Michigan College and University presidents together commit to combat racism whenever and wherever it appears in our institutions of higher education and in our community. To that end, we commit to education and ongoing training that will enable our leadership, faculty, and staff to better identify and address systemic and cultural racism in our institutions. We will encourage efforts to address the issues of racism, diversity, sensitivity and understanding in curricular and co-curricular ways for all students. And we pledge that our institutions will work together to: share efforts and resources , support activities of other institutions, engage in appropriate reciprocal partnerships with the broader community, hold each other accountable to these goals, cooperate in concrete ways to promote anti-racist efforts and cultural diversity on our campuses.”

Being thus committed to the diversity efforts of the campus and community, President Kroeze continues to be part of this collective of college presidents and multi-cultural leaders, hosting the group on a bi-monthly basis.  Kuyper has also taken the first step in the Standards and Credentialing process of the PRFC – by submitting their assessment they have decidedly demonstrated their resolution to fulfill their pledge to create a racism-free community.

Accepting for Westminster was church member Bruce McCubbin, whose involvement with GRACE began when GRACE and other community agencies collaborated on the creation of the Hard Times Café.  At the time Bruce worked on the Hard Times Café committee, he was a homeless veteran living at the downtown YMCA.  His personal testimony about the change brought to his life (he is no longer homeless) by the work of both GRACE and Westminster was a shining example of the fund allocation policy Westminster follows: community ministry funds are distributed by determining where congregation members volunteer, where they have their hearts and hands employed in ministry. 

Through 22 local partner ministries and extended partnerships in the world, Westminster actively and courageously works in the areas of hunger, homelessness and racism, stating that “together, through volunteering, relationship building, and making financial contributions, we seek to demonstrate the good news of Christ’s justice, mercy, and love to one another.”

Among many other ministries, Westminster operates a key ACCESS food pantry that is home to the Ryan White Pantry, serving high protein food to approximately 35 households struggling to live with HIV/AIDS. At God’s Kitchen, Westminster helped fund a recent remodeling project; they continually work to build relationships with Heartside neighbors by volunteering at Degage Ministries and Heartside Ministries.

Westminster’s Housing Ministries include participation in GRACE’s Congregational Partnership Program with the GR Area Coalition to End Homelessness, where through financial and volunteer support, rent assistance was provided for two households, allowing the families to maintain stable housing.  For the last four seasons, volunteers have traveled to Louisiana and Texas to help rebuild homes destroyed by Katrina and Rita.

Acting on the belief that diversity is one of their greatest strengths, Westminster has hosted and participated in GRACE’s Institutes for Healing Racism, has attended yearly Summits on Racism and the PRFC Forums, and is currently exploring the possibility of engaging their congregation in the PRFC Standards & Credentialing process – an action that clearly expresses their desire to be part of the solution in creating a racism-free community by assessing their organizational behavior. 

Former Grand Rapids Press Religion Editor and keynote speaker for the evening, Charles Honey, relived for the crowd his many years of reporting on GRACE events; events that bring the practical reality of faith – Faith in the Flesh, he called it – into the hearts and minds of the Grand Rapids community. 

Particularly moved by his experiences at an Institute for Healing Racism, Honey credited GRACE with being willing to ask people of faith the tough questions, to engage people of faith in difficult conversations, and to challenge people of faith to broaden their understanding of the meaning of community – a community that is quickly changing in religious landscape.  Citing the numerous Muslim mosques, Hindu temples and “non-believer gatherings” that now exist as neighbors to Christian houses of worship, Honey encouraged the ecumenical crowd gathered before him to reconsider the place of GRACE – a Christian ecumenical organization - in this time of burgeoning religious pluralism.  The work GRACE does, he said, by its own virtue, goes beyond the boundaries not only of denominations, but of religions.

In his closing remarks, Honey asserted that all religions agree on the need for the work that GRACE does – bringing people together to “create a community a compassion and justice”. 

It is for the promise of that community, that just, compassionate, inclusive, diverse community, that GRACE continues its work. 

And to all the people, regardless of conscience or tradition, who work tirelessly to make that just, compassionate community a reality - we honor you, we thank you, we cannot do it without you.

Together, we are the power of many.  Together, we are GRACE.

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