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Pastors Bridge Political Divides to Address Violence

They came from across the spectrum of Christian churches – evangelicals and progressives, large churches and small ones, downtown congregations as well as those east and west.

They gathered to explore ways to work together to address the issues of violence in the Madison area.

“Our churches are the strongest institutions in our community,” said Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. But  too often, he said, they are missing on the scene of a crisis and too often, they are not working together to make a difference.

As he talked about the series of murders in the Madison area this summer, he said that “none of have the answers but this is heartbreaking to watch.” He urged that the 16 pastors in the room to think about “how to connect our ministry outside the walls of our congregations.”

Many congregations have a variety of outreach programs that were mentioned as the pastors introduced themselves during the lunchtime gathering at Covenant Presbyterian Church, but what is missing, in Johnson’s words, is a coordinated response to the needs of the community whether it is violence, education, employment or the overarching racial disparities here.

Johnson talked about the work of the Focused Interruption Coalition, started last year in response to the growth of violence in the community. It is build around a 15-point plan (see the 15 points below) and has gotten some city funding to start hiring grass-roots community people to respond quickly after a shooting or other crisis.

Henry Sanders, publisher of Madison365 and one of the founders of Selfless Ambition, talked about how that effort is seeking to get churches working together in their neighborhoods. He invited the pastors to come to the Sept. 23 Selfless Ambition gathering at the Goodman Center that will have a host of top community leaders sharing ideas.

Sanders urged the pastors to first do a community assessment to hear what the needs are and Johnson suggested they then have a retreat to define a vision, set measurable goals, hire someone to keep things moving forward.

“Come up with something that is uncomfortable for you all,” Johnson said. He highlighted the need to “leave our comfort zone, stretch our congregations.” He reminded the group, “You’ve got a lot of power.”

The pastors at the meeting are in the process of setting up a follow-up session to define how to move forward and to engage more pastors in the process.

Focused Interruption 15-point plan –

1 Recruit and train peer support coaches for violence prevention 

2 Recruit and train peer support coaches for recidivism reduction 

3 Madison Peace Project 

4 Awards and Protection for Witnesses 

5 Youth Employment

6 Mentoring 

7 Create a Restoration Center 

8 Expansion of Community Center Hours 

9 Alternative Sentencing

10 Mental Health Therapy

11 Lobby for Policies that Address Social Determinants of Violence

12 Remove Offenses on CCAP

13 Court Advocacy

14 Collaboration with Madison Out of School Time and the Madison Metropolitan School District

15 Functional Family Therapy and Parent Management Training