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Easing into hard conversations

Lansing pastors begin discussions of race, history, and community

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (June 14, 2020) – “Hey, welcome, welcome, welcome,” began Pastor Leroy Childress as the Facebook Live event launched. Prompted by events locally and nationally, Childress and four other Lansing pastors and ministry leaders organized a “Pastoral Conversation on Racial Unity” that aired live on Friday, June 12, around 5:15pm. The video is still available here as well as on other Facebook pages.

From left: Living Word tech guy Brandon Evers gives some last-minute instruction to Pastor Thaddeus Searcy, Rev. David Bigsby, Renae Fentress, Pastor Leroy Childress, and Pastor Dave Prince before their Facebook Live event begins. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Childress pastors Grace Church in Lansing (2740 Indiana Avenue). He is a bi-racial man leading a predominantly white church in an almost completely white denomination. He organized the Pastoral Conversation because his background and experience give him unique insights into the kinds of misunderstandings and miscommunications that can happen when people are unaware of how culture informs behavior. “I have a view and a lens, and I can see things that many people can’t see because I get both of the worlds and the worldviews,” he said at the opening of the conversation. “This topic is very near and dear to my heart.”

Childress originally reached out to Village representatives and his fellow pastor Dave Prince in an effort to create a community forum that would allow people to express their feelings. “People want to talk and be heard,” he explained in his June 3 email. “There is a lot of hurt and pain in the community.” Prince was the only one to respond to that email, and he offered the sanctuary of his church, Living Word (2248 186th Street) as a resource. With no response from elected officials, Childress pivoted, and the idea for a Pastoral Conversation began to develop.

“Everything in my world right now is bringing me to this conversation,” said Prince at the opening of the Facebook Live event. Living Word Church has become increasingly multicultural over the past decade, so they have some experience with the conflicts and blessings that are a natural part of a diverse family.

“If we stay in our own silos,” added Rev. David Bigsby, “and don’t communicate and don’t share ideas and concepts, we perish.” Bigsby pastors the flock of In the Upper Room Ministry (17601 Wentworth Avenue) and has been involved in other Lansing conversations about social justice. At the age of 74, he brings decades of experience and memories and perspective to the conversation.

Renae Fentress, a ministry leader at Grace Church, is a white woman married to an African American man, and owner of Troost Coffee & Tea, which used to be located in Lansing. “I want to see change,” she said in her introduction, “in a Godly direction.”

Pastor Thaddeus Searcy leads Freedom Church, which bought the vacated Illiana Christian High School building (2261 Indiana Avenue) earlier this year and is hoping to begin services there once pandemic restrictions are lifted. “This conversation is needed in Lansing,” he said. Searcy is bi-racial, and his church is multi-cultural, so he too has experience in building and maintaining relationships across cultures.

The Pastoral Conversation on Race began and ended with prayer. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

A safe start

Much of the first Facebook Live event was devoted to introductions and acknowledgements of the difficulties of understanding someone whose experience has been so different from one’s own. The conversation was safe and careful, providing a platform on which to build something more vibrant in future meetings.

An hour later, once the video stopped recording and the livestream ended, the five participants took a deep breath and relaxed. In the privacy of the sanctuary, in the safety of friendship, they shared some stories they hadn’t felt ready to share on camera. And they discussed ideas for next steps in Lansing.

For now, the next step will be another Facebook Live conversation, Friday, June 19, at 5:00pm. The participants plan to go even deeper in conversation, acknowledging that only the tip of the iceberg was surfaced in the first event.

To watch the conversation live, visit either Living Word’s or Grace’s Facebook page at the time of the event, Friday, June 19, 5:00pm:

Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


  1. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:27

    Doesn’t get any more equal than this. No matter what happens in this world nor what is said one to another, in God’s eye we are the same. Add to this that Christ died for us all; one death for all sin, I ask myself what more could mankind possibly need. Man is incapable of meeting his own needs yet man will die trying. Our church leaders know this all too well. Pray for them as they do the work of the Lord.

    Hate the sin, love the sinner.

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